Designing Affordable Housing with People at the Center:
Equity in Motion

by Bora Architects

Bora is currently designing Dartmouth Crossing for REACH Community Development as a people-centered affordable housing community on a two-block parcel in an emerging district of Tigard, Oregon.

Dartmouth Crossing will be a welcoming community that embraces sustainable urbanism and community partnerships while countering the negative impacts of investments such as anti-displacement and gentrification. As a pedestrian-friendly community, the site will provide 250+ units. The effort will leverage trauma-informed design and Critical Race Theory to provide an equitable place to call home that serves an intergenerational, multicultural population.

To realize this vision, REACH and Bora are leveraging their shared commitment to social justice to ensure a thoughtful, equitable approach to meeting the community’s needs. We recently sat down with Alma Flores, Director of Housing Development with REACH, to discuss Dartmouth Crossing.

Q (Bora): What excites you most about this development?
A (Alma): It’s rare to find a 2.4-acre site in such a landlocked region, especially one so well positioned to strengthen community within the Tigard Triangle. It’s one block away from a future light rail line as part of the SW Corridor Project, and has bus service adjacent to the site; large-scale grocers and retail are all within walking distance. Our goal is to develop affordable housing to mitigate the potential displacement of residents and presents a golden opportunity to be proactive. We see the community-commercial development offering affordable commercial space and feeding into the community’s stated needs by providing childcare, a multicultural food and wares market, and a community recreational center.

Q: We are engaging multiple focus groups to lend ongoing input into the design. What strategies can help bring a diversity of people together under one roof?
A: Community engagement is critical to a people-centered approach to development. It also takes a lot of time in order to establish relationships and build trust with community partners. We can’t make assumptions or base things on market reports to understand what the community needs. People want to be heard. Talk with them. Ask questions. Listen. Roughly 25% of Tigard is comprised of people of color. So it is critical that this development honors diverse walks of life, accommodates multigenerational families, and offers a range of indoor and outdoor spaces for gathering.

Q: How do you envision Dartmouth Crossing contributing to more sustainable, environmentally just outcomes for residents and their neighbors?
A: One of the challenges for this project is its proximity to the highway, reinforcing the perception that affordable housing is “only meant for marginal pieces of land.” Environmental justice goes beyond sustainability to create healthy environments for people. This means making sure they aren’t breathing in pollutants, have ample access to sunlight, and are provided with inviting outdoor spaces that promote wellness. Our “resident-first” vision for sustainability involves clean air and PVC-free materials, prioritizing resident health and facilitating community. We also want to make sure this project is inclusive, and part of environmental justice is making sure historically marginalized voices are heard and welcome in the development of the built environment.

Q: How can architects and others in our industry be advocates for your work?
A: Be partners. Be disruptors. Architects and planners are trained in a particular way that can reinforce historic inequities. State requirements for affordable housing don’t necessarily reflect a people-centered approach to racial equity goals, so push back. There’s much work to be done to address systemic disparities in thinking. Continue to proactively educate yourselves. Ensure your artistic contribution in the built environment is for the people. For housing, this is people’s personal space. In affordable housing work, because so much justice and advocacy are woven in, it is critical that marginalized voices are heard.

Read more about Dartmouth Crossing here.

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