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The private sector is unlikely to make up the shortfall. As Tod Lipka, president and CEO of Step Up on Second, which provides housing for the homeless in Santa Monica, explained, “Giving hasn’t stopped, but people aren’t giving at the level they were before the recession.”

But despite the uncertain financial landscape, architects in Los Angeles continue to work closely with nonprofit developers on more affordable and supportive housing. In fact, with a relatively dire commercial market, more architects than ever are receptive to working with much tighter budgets in the public sector, said Lipka.

Nonprofit housing developers stress that they’re looking for architects with an innate sensitivity to the community they’re serving. “We want to create housing that doesn’t feel institutional,” said Rysman. Another criterion is speed. “There’s a certain degree of stop-and-go,” explained Dora Leong Gallo, CEO of A Community of Friends, an affordable housing developer. “Responsiveness is critical, especially for projects funded with tax credits. Delaying any part of the process can jeopardize a project.”

One architect who has transitioned from commercial projects to publicly funded work is Lorcan O’Herlihy, who maintains that lessons learned in the private sector can translate into supportive housing design. “We take programmatic criteria—incorporate green roofs, cable systems for irrigation, landscapes into urban areas—and try to be inventive within strict parameters,” he said.

Is there a silver lining to the budget crisis for affordable and supportive housing? Gallo thinks so, especially as president pro tempore of the California State Senate, Darrell Steinberg, plans to introduce a bill to provide a permanent revenue source for affordable housing. Gallo said the political environment may finally be ripe to pass such a bill: “One good thing that’s come out of [this financial crisis] is an understanding of the importance of having a place to call home.”


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