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Churches Are Becoming Players in Making Cities More Affordable

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 07/06/2021 - 11:45pm in

“Jesus said love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself,” says Bishop George Matthews. “The way I show my love is to help them. I fulfill my mission by being a servant.”

Bishop Matthews, head of East Oakland, California’s Genesis Worship Center, has long appreciated the idea of home as instrumental to his spiritual mission. He mortgaged his own home twice to afford his congregation’s current home on Ritchie Street, a complex that included a parking lot, sanctuary and classroom, all to support his congregant’s various ministries and community efforts. But beginning this summer, home will take on a different meaning at Genesis when the first residents of a new 12-unit apartment complex recently constructed on site move in. 

Matthews’s successful effort to build affordable housing on church grounds is an early example of a wave of similar projects breaking ground at faith-based institutions across the country. These efforts are being aided by a growing number of supportive institutions, which serve to guide churches through the complex process of creating affordable housing. In Genesis’s case, the $2.5 million complex, a joint project with developers New Way Homes and Envision Housing, not only provides the church with another way of serving the community, but helps support the ministry during a trying time for urban churches. 

“My motivation wasn’t just my love for the community, it was also me realizing that if all my members moved out of Oakland, I won’t be there and have a ministry anymore,” says Matthews. “I tried my best to use the sanctuary and classroom for 17 years, but my small congregation of 250 only comes through on weekends.” 

apartmentInside one of the new apartments at Genesis Worship Center. Photo courtesy Genesis Worship Center

Bay Area cities like Oakland, and cities across the nation, have been gripped with an affordable housing crisis for years, exacerbated by the nation’s inability to build affordable units where they’re needed most. Half of Oakland’s renters are cost-burdened, meaning more than 30 percent of their incomes go to housing costs, and California will need an estimated 3.5 million additional homes by 2025 to meet the need for affordable units. (In 2019, the state started construction on just 110,218 new units). 

While Bishop Matthews is the first to admit his 12 units are just a drop in a very large bucket, it’s also true that churches are uniquely positioned to help solve the affordable housing crisis. Their land is owned and controlled by them outright, often located in the middle of residential areas, free of investor concerns, and can be used to advance a core part of their faith and mission statement. 

“Core to most or all faith traditions is an understanding of human dignity and that each person is a unique reflection of the divine,” says Reverend Sophia DeWitt, program director at East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO). “Human dignity as an individual is making sure that everyone has a dignified place to shelter.”

A 2020 report by Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation found roughly 38,800 acres of developable land in California owned by religious institutions, a combined plot the size of the city of Stockton, with 45 percent located in the state’s highest resource area (neighborhoods with lower poverty rates and greater economic and educational amenities) and 256 acres located near public transit.

Faith-based communities have traditionally played a role “at the forefront of providing affordable housing to their congregants,” says Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California Policy Director Pedro Galvao. He points to Mercy Housing, a religious-based nonprofit housing developer. For churches with shrinking congregations and excess property, affordable housing serves not only their mission, but also themselves. 

bishop“My motivation wasn’t just my love for the community, it was also me realizing that if all my members moved out of Oakland, I won’t be there and have a ministry anymore,” says Bishop Matthews. Photo courtesy Genesis Worship Center

“We’ve seen a lot of population shifts in the Bay Area, and many communities that used to have large congregations have lost them,” says Galvao. “Lots of churches are land-rich and cash-poor, but also interested in sticking around and serving their communities. That’s the primary reason why so many congregations are attracted to this concept. It’s a win-win on multiple fronts.” 

Bishop Matthews was able to make the development click, in part, due to his own managerial expertise. Years of being a top administrator at Hewlett-Packard gave him the organizational skills to raise funds — especially via the United Church of Christ Church Building & Loan Fund — connect with a builder and see the project through in just over two years. 

“I used my marketing degree and everything I had from corporate America to run the church, and matched it with my love for God and people,” he says. “Put that together, and I’m a product of that today.”

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Because not every faith leader has a background in business management, a constellation of programs have taken shape to help other church leaders do what Matthews did, teaching them the ins and outs of development timelines, construction and housing regulations. The Bay Area chapter of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution, runs a program that is investing $1 million to train religious leaders, connect them to developers and provide small grants to get them started. (Genesis received $10,000 in support). Right now, the first cohort of church groups involved in the Bay Area program has roughly 300 units of housing in the pipeline, in various stages of design and construction, and the second cohort will be selected in July. 

Other LISC chapters run similar programs in other cities, including San Antonio, which partnered with the city to help local churches build. More local California groups attempting to turn churches into developers include Making Housing and Community Happen (Pasadena), LA Voice (Los Angeles), and Yes, In God’s Backyard (San Diego). And a bill that’s repeatedly been introduced and defeated in the state legislature, SB899, would give faith institutions the ability to build 100 percent affordable housing on their land “by right,” meaning they could skip the often onerous zoning approval process.

As the contractors put the final touches on Genesis’s 12-unit complex, Bishop Matthews is as excited about what the units look like — “they’re extremely nice, dishwasher, laundry, everything is in unit, it’ll look like those apartments people are paying $2,500 a month for” — as he is for what they mean for the incoming residents. It’s also a gratifying experience building a new home — Matthews lost his own home in the 2008 housing crisis, which had a devastating impact on his family. Now, his oldest son, who will help him oversee the church housing project, will be working by his side. 

The post Churches Are Becoming Players in Making Cities More Affordable appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

The Cities Trailblazing Transit Service into the Wilderness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 25/05/2021 - 6:00pm in

On a recent spring morning, Kamal Adhikari hopped in his Chrysler 200S and made the 30-minute drive from his home in a Seattle suburb to the Poo Poo Point Trailhead in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. When he arrived at 10 a.m. the trailhead parking lot was full. He ended up paying for parking at a private lot down the road. Then he hit the trail for the nearly four-mile round-trip hike that winds 1,800 vertical feet up Tiger Mountain to its namesake vista, Poo Poo Point, where paragliders soar into the air and views on a clear day stretch all the way to the Coast Mountains of British Columbia.

“It’s a very busy trail with a moderate hike,” Adhikari says. “Everybody wants to be here.”

The 30-year-old Bhutanese immigrant doesn’t begrudge his fellow hikers for flocking to the trail. “As you gain elevation you can see Mt. Rainier from one angle and you think, ‘Oh wow, this is going to be awesome,’” he says. “A cool breeze hits your face, flowers are blooming in the springtime. It’s so spectacular, so priceless. Out here in the middle of the busy streets, nobody expects those things.”

But the parking snafu makes Adhikari pine for Trailhead Direct, a seasonal bus service that runs from Seattle and its suburbs to nearby trailheads. The service did not run in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but on May 11, King County announced that the popular route would return next month. 

transit to trailsSeattle’s Trailhead Direct launched as a pilot project that ran transit vans from two park and rides to an area known colloquially as the Issaquah Alps. Credit: King County Parks

In whisking hikers from busy downtown streets and light rail stations out to hundreds of miles of backcountry trails, Trailhead Direct represents what outdoor recreation groups and transit planners alike believe will be increasingly necessary in years to come: an alternative to driving for people who want to spend some time in nature.

“Not everyone has a car,” says Yvette Lopez-Ledesma, the Urban to Wild Director for the Wilderness Society. “Transit agencies need to ensure that whatever their limitations, people can access public lands with public resources like transit.” With interest in outdoor recreation booming during the pandemic, an analysis by the Outdoor Industry Association found that newer participants in activities like hiking are more likely to be female, younger, living in an urban area and more ethnically diverse than existing participants.

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The Adhikaris are a prime example. The family lives in Kent, a city in south King County that is considered relatively affordable and popular with first-generation immigrants. Their seven-person household — two parents, three siblings, Kamal and his girlfriend — can’t all fit in the one car. So in years past, Adhikari would make two round-trips in each direction just for a family hike.

“It took hours,” he says. “In that amount of time, you could already be up on Poo Poo Point.”

That changed in 2019 when King County Metro, which operates bus service throughout the county, began offering the Trailhead Direct service from the light rail station in Tukwila, about eight miles north of Kent, to Poo Poo Point. Adhikari would drive some family members to the Tukwila station’s park and ride and the rest would catch a ride with a friend. Then everyone would pile onto the Trailhead Direct bus. Or they could all take a bus from Kent to Tukwila and never get in their car in the first place, although that ended up making for a long trip. The $2.75 fare was the same as any local bus ride.

trailhead directAn event for the launch of Trailhead Direct service from the Tukwila light rail station. Credit: King County Parks

“Black, Latinx and Asian communities are three times less likely to live near parks and open spaces as white communities,” says Jackie Ostfield, Director of the Sierra Club’s Outdoors For All campaign. “It’s an environmental injustice that there are so many people who don’t have access to parks and green spaces.”

The Adhikaris used the service a half dozen times that year to go on family hikes, which is exactly what King County Parks and Recreation’s Ryan Dotson hoped would happen. “A lot of these trailheads are full by 8 a.m.,” he says. “With Trailhead Direct, a family can take their time and catch a 10 o’clock bus and get to the trailhead at 11 with guaranteed access.”

Serving families like the Adhikaris was not what King County had in mind when it piloted the service in 2017. At first, they were just trying to stem a literal accident waiting to happen with hikers parking on the shoulder of a busy high-speed road.

“The booming population growth across our region over the past decade-plus has put tremendous pressure on all of our backcountry trailheads,” Dotson says.

trailhead directTraffic and parking limitations at trailheads are part of why planners say transit to trails is essential to keep up with growing interest from urbanites in outdoors activities. Credit: King County Parks

With neither the available land nor funds to expand the existing trailhead parking lot, King County Parks and Recreation turned to another branch of local government. King County Metro’s Community Connections program offers transit in parts of the county that don’t have the density or infrastructure for regular fixed-route bus service. Parks and Recreation submitted an application and in 2017, Trailhead Direct was born as a pilot project that ran transit vans from two park and rides on Interstate 90 along a loop to 200 miles of trails (including to Poo Poo Point) in an area known colloquially as the Issaquah Alps.

After that trial run in 2017, the county surveyed riders and the general public. “What we found out was that more important than alleviating parking, our customers didn’t have access to their own personal vehicles,” says King County Metro service planner Ryan Miller. “That really changed our thinking. Instead of a satellite parking model, we realized the importance of connecting major urban centers and areas with concentrated transit service directly out to trailheads.”

In 2018, the county added routes from downtown Seattle and the densely populated Capitol Hill neighborhood to other popular trailheads deeper in the Cascades, like Mt. Si and Mailbox Peak. Looking to provide service in more socio-economically, racially and ethnically diverse parts of King County, the Trailhead Direct line from Tukwila was added in 2019.

transit trails“It’s an environmental injustice that there are so many people who don’t have access to parks and green spaces.” Credit: King County Parks

Existing small buses that served different routes during the week allowed King County Metro to scale up this weekend and holiday service. “We had this fleet of coaches sitting otherwise unused in our bus depot,” says Miller. These small buses proved adequate to the demand, which rose to 35,838 boardings (or roughly 17,500 hikes) in 2019. Running a smaller bus is also significantly cheaper in King County, about $100 per vehicle hour versus the $150-180 per vehicle hour for regular bus service.

A long haul

Transit-accessible hiking is not totally new in North America. Metro areas with that sweet spot of fairly robust public transit and geographic proximity to trails offer car-free hikes in places like Boston, Denver, New York City and Vancouver. But many of these trips are viewed as “transit hacks” that require catching a regular bus or train depositing the rider close enough to a trailhead. Trailhead Direct’s innovation is to make the service a feature rather than a bug by providing dedicated service for those who might not otherwise piece together an itinerary that incidentally brings them close to a trail.

“That intentionality is pretty important, whether it’s advertising a quicker line to get somewhere or providing really clear instructions,” says Ostfield. She cited TriMet, the transit agency serving greater Portland, Oregon, that marks parks on the region’s transit map and even features as a component of the city’s signature 4T Trail. Likewise, she said, the club’s Minneapolis chapter has spent a decade mapping out transit-assisted hiking and cycling outings, including an overnight camping trip to a state park. Trailhead Direct seized on its status as not-your-average bus to teach basic hiking etiquette via signage and brochures.

Providing a seamless transit-to-trails connection was the impetus behind Pasadena Transit’s Route 88, which ran shuttle vans on weekends in 2018 to connect riders from an LA Metro subway station to the popular Sam Merrill Trailhead, where hikers can access over 550 miles of trails in the San Gabriel Mountains. An existing bus serves the residential Altadena neighborhood that backs up against the mountains, but it stops 1.2 miles from the trailhead, while this service took riders straight from subway to trail. The pilot service only lasted six months, however, and resident complaints about noise appear to have stymied the trail shuttle’s return.

Ultimately, Trailhead Direct and Pasadena Transit Route 88 illustrate how specially branded transit-to-trails service can be a double-edged sword. Both operated with dedicated funding streams. In Trailhead Direct’s case, money from Seattle-based outdoor industry powerhouse REI shored up the service along with funds from the voter-approved Seattle Transportation Benefit District. In Pasadena, the $72,000 to run the pilot came from city and county discretionary funds as well as a corporate donation from Edison International. As “nice to have” rather than “need to have” services, they were easier to cut than a workhorse bus route considered essential, whether in the face of neighborhood opposition or a crisis like the pandemic.

But more sustainable funding may be on the way. On April 29, Congressman Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) reintroduced the Transit to Trails Act, which if passed would fund approved transit projects with federal dollars up to 80 percent of their total cost for routes within 175 miles of the service area.

That injection of funding would allow places around the country to consider solving the puzzle of getting people to trails without overloading trailheads or relying on private car ownership. Los Angeles-based Nature For All, one of the groups behind the Pasadena pilot, has big plans if the act passes for a whole network of trail shuttles from LA Metro’s Gold Line into the San Gabriel Mountains. But Lopez-Ledesma recommends anyone planning a transit to trails system to take a hard look at Trailhead Direct.

“Their program is a real model for these types of services, especially in big cities,” she said.

Back in King County, meanwhile, Adhikari is rooting for Trailhead Direct’s return, with one caveat: “I’m hoping for service in Kent.”

The post The Cities Trailblazing Transit Service into the Wilderness appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

The Era of the Wood Skyscraper Is Arriving

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 09/03/2021 - 1:39am in

At Vancouver’s University of British Columbia, the Brock Commons Tallwood House, sheathed in sleek blond wood, stands out among the neighboring gray concrete towers. This striking facade isn’t just an aesthetic choice. When it opened in 2017, the 18-story residence hall was the tallest building constructed of timber in the world. Erected from prefabricated components in just 70 days, it was faster and cheaper to build than a conventional building. What’s more, its material saved over 2,400 metric tons of carbon emissions.

Brock Commons defies a century of high-rise construction norms. Since the dawn of the skyscraper age, cement, concrete and steel have molded our vertical urban realms. But the environmental consequences of these materials has led some in the construction industry back to wood, a material that’s more sustainable and, with each technological leap, an increasingly viable option for large-scale projects. 

wood buildingBrock Commons Tallwood House was built of prefabricated wood components in just 70 days. Credit: UBC

Proponents of wood construction argue that it is carbon negative, in that it effectively takes CO2 captured by trees and locks it into the buildings it supports. But wood construction has its challenges. Only in the last few years has it begun to come into its own, shepherded by a wave of government incentives, pent-up demand and technological advancements.

New technologies, evolving codes

Construction is one of the world’s most environmentally destructive forces, accounting for nearly 40 percent of global emissions. And the industry’s favorite material, concrete, is perhaps its least sustainable. Concrete’s production causes up to eight percent of global emissions. It also consumes a lot of sand — a disappearing resource — gobbling up 40 to 50 billion tons of it each year.

wood buildingA rendering of Brock Commons’s skeletal structure. Credit: UBC

Reducing reliance on concrete would represent a major climate action victory, but the challenges are formidable: Over the last 30 years, global production of concrete has quadrupled. It is the substrate upon which the world’s urbanization boom is being built. China alone pours more concrete every two years than the United States used in the entire 20th century. 

But buildings like Brock Commons point to nascent change in course. Last year, a group of Yale University scientists proposed that wood could largely replace concrete and steel in building construction. In a research paper entitled Buildings as a Global Carbon Sink, they run through various scenarios, the most ambitious of which finds that 90 percent of all new buildings could be constructed of wood by 2050. Doing so, they found, would prevent up to 75 gigatons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere — twice what the world produces in an entire year by burning coal, oil and gas.

wood buildingThe Woodcube, built in 2013, was Europe’s first five-story wood building. Credit: Wojtek Gurak / Flickr

These findings represent what is theoretically possible, not what is likely to happen. But they spotlight wood’s enormous potential to green the construction industry. Matthias Korff, managing director of DeepGreen Development in  Hamburg, Germany has been using wood in large-scale buildings for years. For Hamburg’s 2013 International Building Exhibition, he built “the Woodcube,” Europe’s first five-story wood building. It was built entirely without glue or chemicals — the walls are held together with beechwood plugs — and because of its density can withstand a 1,000 degree Celsius fire for over five hours.

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Korff speaks passionately of wood construction’s potential to help stabilize the climate. “Every cubic meter of wood that replaces other building materials reduces CO2 emissions in the production of a building by an average of 1.1 [metric] tons,” he says. In addition, says Korff, 0.9 metric tons of CO2 are bound up in the wood, absorbed from the atmosphere by the tree it came from. By this calculation, two metric tons of CO2 are saved per cubic meter of wood used. 

wood buildingThe more wood buildings that emerge, the easier the process becomes. Credit: UBC

Korff is currently planning an eight-story building and a senior citizens’ complex, both made of wood. These will join a growing list of wood construction projects in Hamburg, including an 18-story apartment building and a large housing estate. These projects benefit from the pro-timber construction policies recently adopted by the city — incentives like a 30-cent subsidy per kilogram of wood used in construction. Munich and Freiburg have similar incentives, and Berlin — which will soon break ground on the country’s tallest wood building — recently adjusted its building code to allow large-scale wood structures. 

These local incentives build on Germany’s “Charter for Wood 2.0,” which encourages the use of sustainable wood across a range of contexts to help fight climate change. The charter asserts that “consistently using wood as a substitute for energy-intensive materials that have a harmful CO2 impact can make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

wood buildingA communal area at Brock Commons Tallwood House. By one builder’s calculation, two metric tons of CO2 are saved for every cubic meter of wood that is used instead of a conventional building material. Credit: UBC

Such policies are key to helping the construction industry transition to more sustainable materials. When Brock Commons was built, British Columbia’s height limit for wood buildings was six stories. (The developer was granted an exemption to the code.) Soon afterward, the 2020 revision to Canada’s National Building Code doubled wood building heights to 12 stories. There’s reason to expect this could lead to a boom in wood construction across the country. Back in 2015, when the code was revised to allow six-story wood buildings, some 500 mid-rise wood buildings were built nationwide.

wood buildingA study by Yale University researchers found that 90 percent of all new buildings could be constructed of wood by 2050. Credit: UBC

These policy tweaks and the rise in demand that has followed them has sparked the development of a new generation of innovative wood-based construction products, such as cross-laminated timber, panels and beams. Pre-fabricated in factories, these components reduce cost, noise and pollution on construction sites. And the more wood buildings that emerge, the easier the process becomes. When Korff built the Woodcube, for instance, he had to figure out how to make the building fire-resistant and structurally sound because there were no regulations in Germany spelling out how to do so with a tall wood building. Now there are.

wood buildingThe 2020 revision to Canada’s National Building Code doubled wood building heights to 12 stories. There’s reason to expect this could lead to a boom in wood construction across the country. Credit: UBC

Deforestation is not a concern — in Germany, like in Europe in general, the forest stock is growing, and the government is careful about preventing imports of illegal, unsustainable wood. “By 2042, about 78.2 million cubic meters of raw wood will be cut annually,” says Korff. “Only eight percent of this amount would be enough to build the entire volume of new residential construction from solid wood.” Even if 90 percent of all new buildings were constructed from wood, as the Yale researchers posit in their hypothetical, that volume of wood could easily be produced in sustainably managed forests. In Korff’s senior citizens complex, he’s going one step further by incorporating waste wood into the design. “This is deep, deep green development,” he says. 

The post The Era of the Wood Skyscraper Is Arriving appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Giving Back to Themselves

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/06/2020 - 1:03am in

Police foundations exemplify the logic of racial capitalism.