Latest “Vlock House” Built For Homeless

Allan Appel PhotosA homeless family will be able to look out onto Adeline Street while cooking dinner and also find privacy in a rock garden, thanks to the design of the latest house Yale architecture students built in New Haven.

Some 200 people came out Monday night to tour and celebrate the new house, the 28th annual home that Yale School of Architecture students have built as part of the Jim Vlock First Year Building Project. This is the first year that a home was designed specifically for the homeless.

The distinctive, many-windowed, pitched-roof modernist house is at 54 Adeline St. in the Hill.

Into it one homeless family and one individual will move next month, sharing a common modernist building with the adjoining units separated by an elegant breeze-way and fronted by a flower-lined path gracing the narrow street.

“Imagine if you were sleeping on a bench last week, and someone gave you keys to your own place [like this],” said Columbus House Chief Executive Officer Alison Cunningham.

School of Architecture Dean Deborah Burke said when she arrived she had wanted to “deepen” the Vlock Project. That took the form of a partnership with Columbus House, the city’s lead organization in the struggle to end homelessness.

The Valentine Macri Court houses, 17 units of affordable housing also managed by Columbus House, are adjacent to what was an empty lot, and on which 54 Adeline now rises.

Cunningham interacted with the students, brought them to the neighborhood, had them talk with homeless people, all to inform what they were going to build.

Then 53 students in six teams competed for a winning design. When it was chosen, all 53 learned teamwork by helping to fashion most of the components of the house not on site but as prefabricated elements put together in a warehouse on Yale’s West Campus. That was in June and July.

The walls, roof panels, cabinets—all the elements—were trucked to the lot, which the city arranged to be turned over to Columbus House. A building team of 14 students over a two month period scrounged generous donors of windows, landscaping, and appliances and raised the house from the ground

One of the team leaders, Kerry Garikes, said she learned from consulting with homeless people contemplating their first place that they want living space where they could say, “This is my house, but part of a larger community.”

Her fellow team leader Dan Whitcombe said that was one of the reasons the high-roofed structure ended up having so many windows of different sizes looking out both on Adeline and West Streets.

The two units—a larger two-bedroom for a family and a smaller efficiency — are separated by a common space the students call the breezeway.

Whitcombe stood by the large bay window in the efficiency unit — a bay large enough almost to be a sleeping porch. It has a nook quality, a place to contemplate Adeline Street while the owner is cooking or he or she can be private as well and not be seen. His or her choice.

“It’s very open to the street. [The window is] is trying to bring the house out and the street in,” he said.

Taking their Columbus House clients’ preferences for making privacy important but not in a way that cuts residents off from the street also figured into how the student designers created the front entrance.

Instead of a set of steps going down to the sidewalk (which the city just built), the students came up with a long elegant path, lined by a box of mums and terminating in a rock garden, fed by dropping rainwater from the concealed gutter above.

You exit the house by walking the path and joining the sidewalk at either hand, a kind of gentler transition.

The roof is also longer by several feet over this front, bringing the path, like a terrace, into the house. It is both outside and inside at the same time.

Of this area Jean-Louis Valaise, proud father of student builder Alex Valaise, said, “It draws you in. You want to take shelter.”

The younger Valaise was one of the 14 of the 53 students on the crew who put together the pre-fabricated sections.

He told his son, “Most housing for the poor is you do it fast as you can. This is a proud home to go home to.”

Speakers from Mayor Toni Harp to Yale President Peter Salovey and Burke hailed the program Monday night as not only a contribution to the short supply of affordable housing in the city, and as a means for students to take its lessons out into the world.

Paul Rasmussen had participated in the program back in 2015, helping to build the house at Winthrop and Scranton Streets, when he was a Yale student,

He came back from his job Toshiko Mori Architect in New York City to give a high five to his partner, one of the current student builders. And he stood admiring “the elegant way to terminate the railing” in the steps leading up to the second floor of the family unit.

He said he’s working with that firm on the renovation of the Berlin Central Library. He credited the Yale program with his wanting to work on projects benefiting the public good, not just the well-to-do.

“It’s really nice to benefit the lives of everyday people,” he said.

This is the first of five homes that Yale Architecture School students will build in the partnership with Columbus House.

Alex Valaise noted that lots of community people were at the event, including the kids who were riding bikes and doing wheelies during the course of the construction this summer.

Cunningham said that in the winter during the “point-in-time survey,” New Haven counted 534 homeless people, including 80 families. Now there will be one less homeless family and one less homeless individual.

And they will be living on Adeline Street in a building that Cunningham—and she was not alone—called “stunning.”

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posted by: Kevin McCarthy on October 3, 2017  2:50pm

Nice design - how much did it cost?

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 3, 2017  3:02pm

Kevin McCarthy -

You identically mimicked the post I didn’t post yet….

posted by: Dwightstreeter on October 3, 2017  5:43pm

We still need new Single Room Occupancy housing for individuals.
But yes, the design is attractive and every family in a home, every person in a home, makes for a better quality of life.
The Federal government used to invest in housing but then it discovered that war is way more profitable for its “base” of contributors.

posted by: Esbey on October 3, 2017  9:38pm

@Dwightstreeter is completely correct. It is a great project, much to be admired, and it makes an elegant little dent in problem.  We need SROs and more subsidized housing. 

Dwightstreeter might disagree with the next part (not sure), but we also need to reform zoning and building codes to make it legal to build lower cost housing that will benefit lower-income families and singles. 

For example, buildings should always be safe, but safety codes are often out-dated, driving up costs.  Small apartments are just fine and should be legal.  Shared bathrooms (dorm/SRO style) should be legal.  Boarding houses should be legal.  Single family owners should be free to add a legal apartment to their attic, etc (subject to safety, etc.)

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on October 3, 2017  9:48pm

Bill - great minds :-).

Seriously, the reason I ask is to get an idea of how feasible it is to replicate this design. The Vlock program is very useful. It would be even more useful if it can identify low-cost ways of creating affordable housing. Does Yale share the designs created by the program with Neighborhood Housing Services or other nonprofit housing developers.

And Dwightstreeter is right. We need to amend the zoning ordinance to facilitate the development of SRO housing.

posted by: new havener on October 3, 2017  11:59pm

I like the design, kind of like the “IHOP meets the ‘Hood”, but I’d like to see some rules in place similar to the HANH—-having the occupants demonstrate continual responsibility for upkeep, rather than let it atrophy.

Further, the Vlock program should be challenged to come up with small-footprint, super energy-efficient, low-maintenance, near-indestructible design that would/could get the homeless off the streets and out of the shelters. That would be something…

posted by: wendy1 on October 4, 2017  10:18am

Please build more ASAP.  We need more and in every neighborhood near the hosp., mass transit, bike paths, and other cirty services.  Please please please, more, more, more.

posted by: JCFremont on October 4, 2017  1:59pm

Like others I would like to now the cost. Also what is the venting process and the rules for “being handed the keys.” How will the rest of the block be affected? Will the city re-assess the other property on the block? Who is responsible for upkeep? Age of children for these families? What happens if the “family” expands? Who owns these houses? Is The Columbus House the landlord or Property Manager? Are these temporary or transitional housing? Wouldn’t you love to be living in a lousy apartment next door paying rent? The term homeless of course has been corrupted by politics. If I walked across The Green at 10p.m would I see a family of mom, dad and three young kids making up a bench for the night? No, they are probably at one of the hotels out by the Merrit Parkway. I do see adults, with various problems. All across the city there are monuments (or ruins) to the city’s urban utopia. These Vlock houses look wonderful but what is the common denominator in a house’s upkeep, be it a mansion or a small cottage? A Person who cares about it and financial resources and or skills for the repairs and upkeep.