The Housing Authority of the County of Kern in Bakersfield, Calif., has taken seriously its mission to improve the quality of life for low-income residents by providing safe, affordable housing; helping residents become self-sufficient; and helping them work toward homeownership. Currently, the city provides more than 2,000 affordable housing units at 38 properties, and it has done so by becoming an active developer.
But need greatly exceeds supply. Families in Kern County and the county seat of Bakersfield typically wait five years or more on the Housing Authority’s list. Demand is particularly high for one- and two-bedroom units. So when the city’s former redevelopment agency purchased a site several years ago as part of a multiphase project, the Authority was eager to develop the property and brought on board Mogavero Notestine Associates architects.
Project architect Renner Johnston designed the building, named Residences at Old Town Kern, as five adjoining buildings, each three levels high, and made them fit in contextually with an existing historic building on the site, the Cornet, which would be adapted for more apartments and shared space.
Because the two-story, 1950s Cornet was constructed in a midcentury modern style, Johnston took his cue from its low height, horizontal lines, and brick tower but added pops of color in the new buildings as vibrant, complementary hues.
“We wanted the buildings to feel like a home, and not modern commercial space,” Johnston says. Together, the six buildings include 50 units. And since so many of the potential residents benefit from access to educational and employment services, space for a job training center is being developed on the Cornet’s first level. All residents, except the elderly and disabled, will participate in a family self-sufficiency program.
To slow traffic, because a public alley bisects the site, Johnston introduced design elements such as a speed table for pedestrians to cross. He kept the original front entry, because of the building’s historic status, and added a new entrance on the alley, or side, to connect with and unite the new buildings, showing how new and old can comingle and improve life for those less fortunate.