Some High Point units open
The architect who designed the newly completed rental housing units at High Point has a valuable perspective on how to design low-income apartments.
"I lived in public housing," he said.
Tyrone Jordan-Oliver is an architect with the Seattle firm Mithun, which won the contract to design the extreme makeover of High Point. Born in New York, Jordan-Oliver grew up in Harlem until he was 8 and then his family moved to Cabrini Green in Chicago, where he lived until he went off to college in Minneapolis. He calls the big-city towers of identical low-income apartments "science projects."
In designing the Seattle Housing Authority's new rental units at High Point, Jordan-Oliver wanted to make people proud to live there. Neighborhoods function better when residents feel a sense of ownership, even though they might not own the houses.
The most distinguishing aspect of High Point's new housing is that it doesn't look like government housing. Instead of cookie-cutter apartment units, High Point's new rentals are components of stately two- and three-story homes that vary in configuration, color and roof style. Some houses have front porches, others have covered decks. Some units have two bedrooms while others have three or even four.
The rental units have small, fenced and landscaped backyards. That was important to Jordan-Oliver too because having your own backyard means you don't have to go to one mass gathering place like all those who have no backyard of their own. That's another source of pride, he said.
"I want people to be able to say, 'I don't feel like I have less than,'" Jordan-Oliver said.
Creating a sense of spaciousness in a comparatively small room was another important factor guiding the design, Jordan-Oliver said. That's why there's a half wall between the entry staircase and the living room in some units. A complete wall would make the living room feel much smaller.
There's also a half wall between the living room and the kitchen. "It allows mom to make sure the kid is doing his homework while she's cooking dinner," Jordan-Oliver said.
Having windows on two walls is another way Jordan-Oliver opened up the spaces.
"There is so much open space here," Jordan-Oliver said. "In New York, to find a patch of grass, it's not there. That's why kids play in the street.
"If people from Harlem saw this (High Point), they wouldn't believe it," he said. "You got a backyard, a pond, a nice walking path. They would view this like the 'Fresh Prince of Bel Air.'"
The new rental units have new water-heating systems too. Gone are the big free-standing hot-water tanks that empty after a few successive showers. They've been replaced by a new system of small heat exchangers in each unit that heat water as it comes through the pipe at the rate of about three gallons per minute. The system not only provides hot water for the kitchen and bathroom, but also the 3-inch thick radiators that keep the apartments warm in winter.
Some units also have stacked washer-dryer combinations.
Also opened last week were the so-called "Breathe Easy" units for asthma patients and their families. The units have filtered ventilation systems, airtight wall construction, moisture-removing fans, low-pile carpeting, flooring made from raw materials, no asbestos, and paints with some of the common toxins removed.
Construction continues on other parts of the new High Point. An important aspect is the mixing of medium-income people who will own their homes in the new High Point among the low-income residents renting from the Seattle Housing Authority. The theory is mixing houses containing low-income units with single-family houses to be sold by private developers at market rates provides a blending of different income levels that sustains a neighborhood much better than an island of poor people.
Jordan-Oliver said he had the good fortune to have an aunt who asked him when he was little what he wanted to do when he grew up. He told her he wanted to build houses.
"When you see people on the front porch," he said as he smiled and pumped his fist in celebration. "It's a lifelong dream coming true."
Tim St. Clair can be contacted at 932-0300 or firstname.lastname@example.org