Courtesy of Elise Barker Limon

A joint course between the School of Architecture, School of Management and Yale Law School on affordable housing is set to yield four new two-family houses, resulting from the work of students who took the class when it was first offered in fall 2022. 

The houses, which will be in Newhallville, one of New Haven’s majority Black neighborhoods, are less than two miles away from Yale and are expected to start construction in June. 

The course pairs cross-disciplinary teams of students with local nonprofit housing developers to generate proposals for affordable housing projects. The course, titled “Housing Connecticut: Developing Healthy and Sustainable Neighborhoods” in its first semester, allowed students to collaborate with three New Haven nonprofits including Neighborhood Housing Services, Beulah Land Development Corporation and NeighborWorks New Horizons. The Neighborhood Housing Services proposal from the first round received zoning approvals from the city in the fall.

Andrei Harwell ARC ’06, a professor at the School of Architecture who co-taught the course, told the News  that the course began as an experiment as the faculty involved wanted to establish a new kind of community-based, interdisciplinary course that could have “a concrete impact on the housing crisis in our state.”

“In architecture, we talk a lot about the importance of interdisciplinarity, but it is rare to find an opportunity to demonstrate and model what true interdisciplinarity means within a single class,” Harwell told the News.  “So much of the learning and creativity in the clinic happens in the dialog between the disciplines — inside the classroom and outside. Students learn to speak each other’s languages and understand each other’s points of view, and the clinic provides a scaffold for that dialog to develop.”

Harwell added that the faculty involved thought that if they gave students the tools they needed, helped them understand what was at stake and empowered them to work with real, mission-driven clients, their proposals could make real contributions to the community.

Per the course syllabus, which was drafted in 2022, the course aims to address issues of racial inequality and affordable housing in Connecticut’s low-income neighborhoods. 

Anika Singh Lemar ’01, a professor at the Law School and another one of the instructors of the course, told the News the course was developed out of earlier work Lemar did. 

Before its inception, Lemar taught a housing clinic at the Law School and frequently collaborated with Kate Cooney, a lecturer at the SOM, who is also an instructor for the course, along with the Yale Urban Design Workshop. During this time, the clinic engaged in discussions with the state associate commissioner of housing, who expressed interest in modeling a course at Yale after an affordable housing design competition in Boston.

Lemar added that, in collaboration with the commissioner, they gathered input to design the class and worked with them and their partners to identify available state funding. She said this funding not only supported the projects but also advanced community organization initiatives for the nonprofits involved.

“The faculty were less interested in the competitive element and were more interested in putting together a course that would really partner with community organizations in Connecticut and help them advance projects that they were really interested in working on,” Lemar told the News.

Lemar told the News that before meeting with their community partners, students attended an affordable housing design and development bootcamp. They met for three hours a week in the classroom component and taught students about zoning and land use politics. The bootcamp also taught students about real estate and multifamily residential developments.

She added that the course uses teaching methods from all three of the schools that collaborated on the course, exposing students to classroom practices outside their area of study. All students in the course experience clinical rounds from law, studio critiques from architecture and case studies from business.

Lemar said that the students in the class do significant development work that any developer would have to do in order to assess the viability of a project.

Darrell Brooks, CEO of the Beulah Land Development Corporation, explained to the News how the students in the course helped assist the work that the nonprofit conducts.

“They were primarily assuming the role of the nonprofit,” Brooks told the News. “That means when you look at a project, you first come up with the ideas of its feasibility, the conceptual concept and design, what the building might look like, what resources are available, how it would be assembled and the legal ramifications of that project.”

Jim Paley, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven, outlined the “critical” skills that students from each graduate school contributed to the project. He noted that architecture students aided in the initial design of the two-family houses, law students handled legal matters including zoning and paperwork and students at the SOM conceptualized the overall project. Despite these distinct roles, Paley emphasized that collaboration was integral among all students involved in the project.

Paley told the News that the Neighborhood Housing Services came up with the project design for the four two-family homes in Newhallville. He said that people from the nonprofit talked to students about the idea of providing homeownership opportunities on the three contiguous vacant lands in that neighborhood. In collaboration with the students, they were assigned an architect who is currently finishing the drawing so that they can get the project under construction, with the goal of starting construction at the beginning of June and to be finished by the end of the year. 

The clinic’s work in housing has also recently been highlighted at the national level as an example of design education. On Feb. 7, the course was awarded the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture’s Housing Design Education Award.  The award, presented alongside the American Institute for Architecture, “recognizes the importance of good education in housing design to produce architects ready for practice in a wide range of areas and able to be capable leaders and contributors to their communities,” per the ACIA’s website.

“It was wonderful to have the clinic faculty recognized on a national level by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the American Institute of Architects as the recipient of the 2024 Housing Design Education Award,” Harwell told the News.

Harwell, who accepted the award on behalf of the group in Vancouver on March 16, added that he spoke about the clinic as part of one of the panels at the conference and that there was a lot of interest in the potential to replicate the model of the clinic at other universities across the country.

He added that he was excited about the new housing opportunities from the work of the clinic and the impact it had on the students who took the course. 

“We need more creative, motivated young professionals entering the affordable housing space, and it is really gratifying to hear that graduates of the course are pursuing work in housing in the real world,” Harwell said. 

The homes will be located across 88, 94 and 98 Hazel St.

Update, April 13: The article has been updated to clarify the timeline of the city’s approvals and fix a misquote of Lemar.

Adam Walker covers Yale Law School for the University desk. Originally from Long Island, New York, he is a sophomore in Branford College double majoring in Economics and American Studies.