UTSOA Team Wins HUD Affordable Housing Contest

Rendering from the project

A rendering from the team's presentation illustrates the project's sustainability. – rendering courtesy UTSOA

On April 19, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced the winner of its third annual Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition. Sarah Simpson, Brett Clark, Megan Richer, Brianna Garner Frey, and Tatum Lau from The University of Texas at Austin took home top honors.

Designed to represent a real-life approach, the contest challenges graduate students from a variety of fields to “address social, economic, and environmental issues in responding to a specific housing problem developed by an actual public housing agency.” The jury sought projects that were first and foremost innovative, with sustainability and affordability serving as important factors. 

For the project, HUD partnered with the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara to provide a real-world scenario for the participating teams. The year’s focus was family housing, and projects could either perform a rehab or create an entirely new building. The four finalist teams, which were announced in February, visited the site in Santa Barbara in March to prepare for their final presentations before the jury on April 19.

The UT team’s diverse areas of expertise helped them to look at the project broadly. Team member Sarah Simpson, an urban design student, says: “We first started building an understanding of the site by conducting background research on the host city and regional context to identify potential relationships and adjacencies from which the project could benefit. The planning and design process also involved researching existing regulations and laws in the region, primarily pertaining to zoning and financing, as well as identifying key conceptual goals based on our teams collective housing experience.”

The UT Austin team was granted $20,000 for its winning project, which was a renovation of the existing development. The design added 39 units, for a total of 67 homes. The project emphasized increased density as well as incorporating a Family Opportunity Center, an Education Center, and a water filtration and capture system on site. There is a butterfly garden and community garden, making for lots of green space. A car-sharing program is incorporated into the site’s parking plan. Simpson described the team’s goals as threefold: emphasizing “lifelong education, holistic sustainability, and a more nuanced understanding of the more informal networks relied upon by 21st century families.”

Due to the project’s multidisciplinary nature, the team generated in-depth information about budget and funding sources. Simpson, Richer, Garner Frey, and Lau are all graduate students in the School of Architecture, but Clark is a graduate student at the McCombs School of Business. Four of the five team members will be graduating this year.

The UTSOA team was advised by professors Elizabeth Mueller, Jake Wegmann, Dean Almy, and Simon Atkinson. Mueller described her role in the process by saying: “I hope I was able to help them refine their ideas and avoid any missteps related to program details. But really, the ideas were their own and the result of their own internal process and the great working relationship they had built among themselves.”

Simpson says the university “lit the campus tower in honor of our win on April 27, and we all commemorated the moment with photos on the south mall.”