This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Jim Vlock First Year Building Project, which this year partnered with the homelessness nonprofit Columbus House to construct the first-ever house for a homeless family under the program.
Every year, students at the Yale School of Architecture are required to take part in the Jim Vlock First Year Building Project. But unlike previous years, in which students built pavilions and houses to sell, the school decided this year to provide a home for individuals who do not already have one. The project represents an effort by program leaders to bridge the wealth gap between Yale and New Haven, yet some community members think this lone attempt is not enough to close the divide.
“The partnership with the Columbus House has been a great experience, and now we will keep in mind the community when we are building in the future,” said Jim Vlock Project Manager Kerry Garikes ARC ’19. “It really took away the ego that is sometimes behind design.”
At the start, program coordinators had difficulties acquiring enough land since the project required a plot large enough to fit five houses, said Katrina Yin ARC ’19, the Jim Vlock community coordinator. In addition, students received initial pushback from residents near the Adeline Street project who looked down on rental properties and would rather not have homeless people moving into their community, Yin said.
After acquiring the land, students began the process of designing and building the two-unit house, which can accommodate a single adult and family. The project’s focus on affordable housing has allowed students to exercise more freedom in the design process, Yin said, because students did not have to take market expectations into account or worry about selling the house.
After construction over the summer, occupants will move into the property this month. The family living in the house will receive case-management support, which includes employment services and access to health care, as well as help with daily living and assimilating into the community, said John Brooks, chief development officer at the Columbus House.
The services will help ensure the family remains housed, Brooks added. Occupants of the new home will pay one third of their income toward rent.
As of January, 3,387 people in Connecticut are homeless, according to the Columbus House’s website. Six hundred of them are based in New Haven, according to the Jim Vlock Project’s website.
Yale School of Architecture administrators made an effort to mitigate the region’s homelessness rather than building another house that would remain empty, like one constructed last year that has yet to sell, Yin said.
“In the political environment, it just didn’t feel right anymore — given the problems with homelessness in New Haven — that we should build a custom house that would just sit empty,” he said.
Garikes said she believes the project will help bridge the gap between the University and the city, “especially when many excited residents stopped by the house construction site asking what we were up to.”
“It’s very important to keep having these small partnerships with organizations such as the Columbus House,” Yin said. “The Yale community, not just us — but law, medicine, everyone — needs to cultivate more of that.”
The house is located in New Haven’s Hill neighborhood.
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