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Davis, California

Sunday, March 3, 2024

A new, green direction for low-income housing

Amy Barr is still in shock.

She and four other students from the UC Davis Graduate School of Management were recently awarded top honors in the Bank of America 17th Annual Low-income Housing Challenge.

“It’s still pretty surreal. We were definitely the underdogs, especially since UC Davis hadn’t entered the Challenge in so many years and [had] only participated a few times … so the fact that we won was a huge victory for us,” said Barr, a 2008 GSM alumna, in an e-mail interview.

Competing against teams from the UC Berkeley, Stanford University and Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, this was the first win for UC Davis.

Teams were asked to design an eco-friendly housing development project that included details of “site locations, designs, financing and community support for low-income households,” according to the GSM’s website.

Barr worked with fellow MBA students Cassie Hilder, Liz Collett, Mike Alcheck and J-E Paino and participated under the name SEED (Sustainable, Economical and Equitable Development).

Together, they created a 132-page proposal detailing a wind-powered and solar-powered low-income housing facility with 160 single room occupancy units.

The proposed building would be located on a piece of land in downtown Sacramento currently occupied by the city’s police department.

The project was in direct response to the challenges that Sacramento is facing with low-income housing units, Barr said.

So she and her teammates aimed to provide “a safe, stable and supportive environment with an economically and environmentally sustainable design,” she said.

“Each room would have a kitchenette, personal bathroom and will be furnished with Energy Star appliances and sustainable furniture and materials. There are common dining, lounge and meeting facilities available for all residents, as well as security personnel and an onsite manager,” Barr added.

A computer laboratory, 24-hour mental-health care and job placement service would also be available to residents.

The MBA students decided to form SEED after continuously encountering one another at various real estate functions, Paino said.

Each of them had experience in different areas, he said, which ultimately contributed to the creation of the project.

“[For example] I’ve been in construction for 10 years, so I knew about that and had a mentality for building,” he said. “I believe that architecture is a structural element in relieving homelessness.”

Barr’s extensive background in community development also helped; she’s been coordinating similar voluntary development projects since high school.

“I’ve always felt best when I’m giving back and really feel like I’m missing something if I don’t have some aspect of community involvement in my life,” she said.

“This project was a great way to explore one of my goals of combining sustainable development with community development in a tangible way,” Barr said.

Despite his architecture background, Paino headed the financial component of the project. He described it as “very complex” and an enlightening experience for him.

Barr said that they received help from various sources, including GSM alumni from Mercy Housing, a nonprofit organization that works in the development of affordable housing and supportive programs for people with low-incomes. The organization will, in fact, be the ones taking SEED’s proposal to Sacramento’s city officials.

“The team did a great job and showed a great understanding. They did all the work, we just showed some guidance here and there,” said Paul Ainger, a UC Davis alumnus working for Mercy Housing.

Barr said she hopes that her team’s achievement will get people to start thinking differently about affordable housing and the people who rely on it.

“Hopefully this will at least start people thinking about affordable housing in new ways. With a little creativity, it’s definitely possible to create well designed, sustainable housing for low-income individuals,” Barr said.

[The individuals] are the most important part of these projects,” she said.


DANAI SAKUTUKWA can be reached at features@californiaaggie.com.


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