The District of Columbia is experimenting with an innovative antidote to chronic homelessness. The city has built its first permanent supportive housing featuring single-occupancy units and facilities on par with the surrounding market-rate condominiums in the middle-class neighborhood of Columbia Heights. The La Casa Supportive Housing project, designed by Studio Twenty Seven Architecture and Leo A Daly for the Department of Human Services, is being eyed as a potential prototype for a housing model that aims to de-stigmatize homelessness.
Stemming from the ethos that quality design inspires pride of ownership, the concept as a whole presupposes that once base survival and shelter needs are met, the homeless can concentrate on achieving upward mobility. “Those who live in La Casa have jobs, they have things that they do—they just aren’t making enough money to afford housing. Now they can devote their attention to other aspects of living,” said John Burke, a principal at Studio Twenty Seven Architecture.
The goal of the design was to avoid an institutional look while distinguishing the building among the area’s high-density residential developments. On the facade, the architects used a solid-void pattern of concrete and Trespa panels to create warmth, while adding economical yet on-trend design flourishes such as offbeat storefront-glass fenestration, a green roof, and a double-height glass-enclosed lobby. The 29,129-square-foot building is seeking LEED Gold certification.
“Very specifically, we attempted to address the street by doing a glass lobby that would glow like a lantern,” said Burke. “The fenestration is an attempt to pick up on some of the energy of the street and define a prototype that’s not really in existence right now. So it’s not really an apartment building but it’s not really a dormitory.” At seven stories high, the project features 40 residential units at 400 square feet each, equipped with a bedroom, living room, bathroom, kitchen, and dining area.
There are seven units per floor—including one ADA-accessible unit—interspersed with offices where residents can seek employment and housing placement, substance abuse counseling, case management, and financial management assistance. A community room on the second floor opens to an outdoor terrace, while the basement is equipped with laundry and storage spaces. “It’s a very vibrant area of DC, it’s a block from the Columbia Heights Metro Station and so there’s a tremendous amount of street life and diversity,” said Burke. “For that reason we wanted the building to blend in and become part of what enhances that neighborhood.”