Design Affordable Housing for Coachella Valley, Earn IDP Credit

Breaking New Ground

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). 

As part of a 10-year initiative called “Building Healthy Communities,” the California Endowment, a private statewide health organization based in Los Angeles, is sponsoring an architecture and ideas competition to design housing for farm and service workers in the Eastern Coachella Valley.

The competition, Breaking New Ground: Designing Affordable Housing for the Coachella Valley Workforce, is a way to bring the focus of architecture, design, and related disciplines to envision a healthy, sustainable, affordable community in a region where the affordable housing needs of low-income workers has been overlooked for decades. “The essence of the competition is to spark new and bold thinking about affordable housing for a community of people who desperately need it,” said Beatriz Solis, Director of Healthy Communities (South Region) at the California Endowment.

Interns can earn up to 40 core hours in each IDP experience area (except Leadership and Service) for the completion and submission of a design competition entry outside of a recognized experience setting or academic requirement. For this competition to qualify for IDP credit, interns must submit NCARB’s Design Competition Verification Form before the experience occurs.

Background: The Coachella Valley, one of the nation’s most vital agricultural and tourist economies, generating $4 billion in economic activity annually, suffers from a chronic shortage of affordable housing. This economy relies on both a permanent and seasonal workforce to harvest crops and work in tourism-related service sector jobs. The region is facing an unprecedented crisis in which thousands of families and individuals are forced to live in unhealthful, substandard conditions. Many workers and their families live in vehicles, on streets, in parking lots, and even outdoors in makeshift camps. They have little or no access to healthcare, transportation, and other supportive social services. Lacking alternatives, many end up living in unpermitted mobile home parks that are not kept up to code. Trailers are sometimes held together by nothing more than plywood and duct tape, while residents dodge wild dogs, rats, open sewers, and exposed wires.

Goals: Breaking New Ground seeks implementable architectural, policy, and financial ideas to re-envision holistic housing solutions for these farm and service workers and their families. Through compelling design and innovative thinking the competition will fundamentally uplift these communities, transforming the landscape of the Coachella Valley and improving health for all.

The ambitious scope of the competition is matched by an unprecedented award package of $300,000 to be shared by four finalist professional teams. One student team will win $25,000 and an additional $25,000 will be provided for merit and recognition. This is the largest competition in the nation and the only one of its kind to focus on building affordable housing for low-income households and families in need.

Breaking New Ground will be a springboard to building an affordable housing community in partnership with the County of Riverside. “This is something that is going to happen,” says Solis. “For the past decade, we have been laying the groundwork for building real healthy homes for people.”

Registration opens October 2014. For more information and updates please visit the competition webpage:

Guy HortonGuy Horton is a Los Angeles-based writer and a frequent contributor to The Architect's Newspaper, Metropolis Magazine, The Atlantic Cities, and Huffington Post. He has also written for ArchDaily, Architectural Record, GOOD Magazine, and Architect Magazine. Guy also blogs and guest hosts for the radio show and podcast DnA: Design & Architecture on 89.9 FM KCRW. Follow Guy on Twitter @GuyHorton.

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