A public housing agency is the last place you'd expect to find sophisticated software and masterful use of resources. But under executive director Carl Greene, the Philadelphia Housing Authority is demolishing such stereotypes, particularly in the area of technology.
Four years ago, the agency spent millions of dollars to purchase PeopleSoft, a software application popular with the private sector, to handle financial and human resources information with greater efficiency. "It's been a significant investment for us," Greene acknowledges. "But it is changing the way we manage our resources," Greene says.
For example, a PeopleSoft-generated work order also serves as a time sheet for the agency's 1,000 maintenance workers. But that's not all. The integrated system combines that information with maintenance inventories, allowing the PHA to accurately track its maintenance inventories, performance, and staff time. It has worked well–the agency is now expanding the initiative to include customer relationship management software to better serve its residents.
This increased accountability has paid off in more than productivity. It has also translated into newfound respect for the PHA from the financial community, allowing the agency to continue its ambitious campaign to rehabilitate and rebuild Philadelphia's public housing. "We're very proud of our technology," Greene says. "People see our new properties, but they don't know what's under the hood." –Alison Rice
Philadelphia Housing Authority
- What: Implementation of PeopleSoft
- Introduced: 2001
- Cost: $4 million (est. for initial investment)
- Results: Greater efficiency–PHA serves more than 80,000 residents with 20 percent less staff than in the past–and financial respect
Just try telling your residents that they can't get high-speed Internet access at your property. That's the situation that Clark Pinnacle Family Communities faced in Monterey Bay, Calif., where it is redeveloping and managing more than 2,200 units of military housing. Despite the community's obvious need for a fast online connection, Clark Pinnacle couldn't get the community wired.
"Most of the existing houses could not be served with high-speed Internet services by the existing cable TV and telephone providers due to outdated aerial infrastructure on the military installations," says Fran Coen, managing director of Clark Realty Capital in Bethesda, Md. (Clark Pinnacle Family Communities is a joint venture between Clark and Seattle-based Pinnacle.)
Extending DSL or fiber to the community would have taken years, and utility companies were reluctant to spend the time and dollars on wiring homes slated for demolition.
Clark Pinnacle found the answer in WiMax, a new wireless technology that allows signals to travel farther than the more common wi-fi networks. Working with Verizon, Clark Pinnacle established a grid of WiMax and wi-fi radios, which brings broadband to military residences via a home antenna, router, and Ethernet port.
Even better, the company accomplished this in four months at Monterey Bay, which is currently the only Clark Pinnacle project with this technology. –A.R.
Clark Pinnacle Family Communities
- What: In partnership with Verizon, the adoption of WiMax at military housing in Monterey Bay, Calif.
- Cost: $1.7 million
- Results: Cost and time savings as high-speed Internet access was extended to residents within months
Architects and developers often look outside for inspiration when they build projects. When developer Lane Co. worked with architecture firm James, Harwick + Partners to design the Art Foundry Condominiums in Midtown Atlanta, the team looked to a 20th century painter–Piet Mondrian–for inspiration. Drawing on Mondrian's colorful paintings, the property features a grid-like theme in the building's widehallways and door surrounds.
Joel Brockmann, Lane's development director, says the design suits the 25- to 35-year-old crowd. "I think it turned out great," he says. "The sales went well, and the property is exciting from a visual and functional standpoint."
The amenities inside the homes are just as artful with crown molding, 9- to 11-foot ceilings, and sisal-style carpets. Gourmet kitchens offer solid surface countertops, mission-style wood cabinets, ceramic tile, and very hip black appliances. Condo buyers interested in upgrading their artistic surroundings even more can choose granite countertops, hardwood floors, and stainless steel appliances. –L.S.
Take just one glance at this tropical paradise, and you will long to sip a piña colada by the pool.
Clad in a colorful palette of green, blue, pink, and orange, the 469-unit Calypso Bay Apartments boldly brings the look and feel of the West Indies to Gretna, La., located just across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. Such a deluxe product was a first for this Gretna neighborhood. (Fortunately, the project escaped major flood damage, but did sustain wind damage, after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi in late August.)
The West Indies theme was carried throughout the entire project, which was designed by Dallas-based Humphreys & Partners Architects. The apartment buildings–each with only seven units to create a single-family feel–feature metal roofs, Bahama shutters and large balconies. Rock planters, a waterfall, and covered cabana add a Caribbean touch to the pool area. Inside, the common area walls are painted just as festively as the exterior. The billiards room, for instance, features an orange and green striped wall with a palm tree mural.
Competing to some extent with the single-family market, the apartment units offer many of the bells and whistles found in for-sale homes. Units feature stained concrete, stainless steel appliances, upgraded fixtures, and built-in computer stations. The project had reached 95 percent occupancy as of this summer. Here's hoping the project was able to weather the aftermath of the devastating storm. –R.Z.A.
Where do you expect to find great high-rises? The obvious places–New York, Chicago, San Francisco–probably come to mind. Now Urban Condos wants to add Minneapolis to the list, with the advent of its 27-story Grant Park project.
But the company saw Grant Park as more than an attention-getting residential high-rise. Urban Condos, a joint venture between Minnesota's Opus Northwest and Apex Asset Management Corp., saw Grant Park as a chance to change the perception of the neglected Elliot Park neighborhood, located on the fringes of the Minneapolis' central business district.
Urban Condos built upon the architectural features of the surrounding blocks, stacking two-story homes and townhouses along the street edges. Along each major street, Grant Park has "front doors" to provide an urban edge. Up high, Grant Park adds to the distinctive downtown Minneapolis skyline with stepped massing and multiple colors (brick and two types of limestone) and incorporating large cornices.
This new high-rise also offers all the amenities you might expect. Grant Park's perks include a fitness area and locker rooms, an indoor pool and hot tub, a board room and other common areas and a connected 510-car parking garage. For those who prefer pedaling to driving, Grant Park also offers multiple entryways and convenient bicycle storage for cyclists.
One of the biggest challenges of an urban infill project is designing a building that responds to the historical and residential context of the neighborhood. Just ask the developers of The Metro, a 53-unit loft-style condominium in Washington, D.C.'s burgeoning Church Street area.
Developers PN Hoffman and SJG Properties met this challenge by dividing the mass into several discrete building elements with varying materials, heights, and setbacks to both fit with the neighboring warehouse and loft-style buildings and resemble historic elements found throughout the District. The Metro also incorporates warehouse-style window systems to play up the neighborhood's past as an old show-room district. The back of the building features a sawtooth pattern of windows to maximize light and air in living rooms and bedrooms.
In addition to the large windows, the units feature everything else you would expect to find in a loft-style condo–open floor plans, hardwood flooring, stainless steel appliances, and exposed ductwork. The Metro marks PN Hoffman's fourth project on the block.
When 600 public housing units at the east end of San Antonio's central business district were destroyed, it set the stage for a community-wide effort to decide the fate of the 36-acre plot where those units once sat. What eventually came out of it: a groundbreaking project led by Dallas-based Beeler Guest Owens Architects.
The San Antonio Housing Authority got things started, hosting a series of community meetings to establish the direction for the land. Beeler Guest Owens came aboard next, joined by Lake Flato Architects of San Antonio.
But money comes before aesthetics. To make Refugio Place financially feasible, Refugio Street Limited Partnership–a community group overseeing the project–had to make the new development appealing to both market-rate renters and lower-income residents. To overcome the site's public housing history, the partnership changed the property's name and created a community bearing little resemblance to garden-variety garden-style apartments.
To do this, Beeler Guest Owens kept three things in mind when designing Refugio Place: the neighborhood's character, San Antonio's heritage, and preservation of the site's large oak and pecan trees. The architects drew up plans for six three-story buildings with courtyard structures that faced the street with landscaped minimal setbacks. To be compatible with the historic neighborhood, the architects divided the block-long facades into smaller sections of varying character and material, including stone, brick, stucco, and fiber cement siding. –L.S.
RMJ Development Group discovered an untapped niche in the Washington, D.C./Maryland market: equity-rich baby boomers who want to swap their homes for a maintenance-free lifestyle, but don't want to pour all the equity back into a high-priced condo. Enter Evergreens at Columbia Town Center: a 156-unit active adult rental community offering all the luxury finishes and amenities found in the for-sale market, but at a price competitive with market-rate rental housing.
Of course, finding a large chunk of land that works financially as a rental project, versus for-sale housing, is no easy feat with today's soaring land prices. But RMJ Development dug deep, finding a 5.85 acre site in Columbia, Md. The only problem: The site was zoned for office use. So the developer worked with the county government and the Rouse Co. (who owned the land), eventually obtaining zoning for age-restricted residential use, promising to help bring a "town center, pedestrian-friendly" experience to the neighborhood.
The project features an amenity-rich outdoor area. A heated pool, gazebo, golf putting green, walking trails, and a community greenhouse all front to an existing three-acre open space preservation parcel. –R.Z.A.
Talk about a total transformation. The redevelopment of the Perry Homes HOPE VI project in Atlanta keeps getting better and better. The latest gem on the block: Columbia Heritage Senior Residences, a 132-unit, 100 percent affordable senior community developed by Atlanta-based Columbia Residential.
Architect James, Harwick + Partners continues to set a new standard for affordable design. (Last year the company won a Multifamily Executive award for Columbia Estates, a mixed-income project just down the street.) The project resembles a large estate or country club with its craftsman-style design and an intricate porte cochere drop-off area. The deluxe grounds feature a meditation area overlooking a koi pond, a community vegetable garden, and a garden gazebo.
The building features just as many lavish touches on the inside. Naturally lit hallways provide semi-private seating areas for residents and guests to gather. Instead of institutional-looking metal doors, the doors to the units are made of fiberglass stained to resemble oak. Small shelves outside each unit provide a place for residents to display photos and other knickknacks. –R.Z.A.
When building for the military, architecture is only one factor in the project. Public amenities such as parks and neighborhood centers are often equally important in the community's success, as shown by the Monterey Bay Military Housing development in California.
Handled by Clark Pinnacle Family Communities of Bethesda, Md., the Monterey Bay project involved the replacement and renovation of 2,268 housing units at the Ord Military Community, the Presidio of Monterey, La Mesa Village, and the Naval Postgraduate School, which are all in Monterey Bay. Among the highlights: Hayes Park, which includes a 2,406-square-foot neighborhood center, two tennis courts, a basketball court, three soccer fields, and five tot lots.
In land planning, Clark Pinnacle turned to tree-lined streets and common areas to encourage interaction, offering plenty of community spaces for residents to meet, talk, and play. But the developer also provided privacy and security to mothers and fathers of young children, thanks to fenced-in backyards. Finally, since many military families accumulate lots of belongings (and storage boxes) during their many moves around the world, Clark Pinnacle built two storage rooms in each new home at Monterey Bay. –L.S.
Who knew an auto body shop could look this good? Rainbow Lofts, once home to the Rainbow Auto Body Shop, now features 21 industrial chic for-sale lofts boasting 13-foot ceilings, expansive windows, original brick walls, exposed ductwork, and steel beams. Units sell from the $200,000s to the $700,000s.
Dan Redmond Photography Rainbow Lofts, located in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C., touts a distinctive blend of old and new elements. The developer, Fairfax, Va.-based Walnut Street Development, connected the former body shop to a new structure that was built on the site of an adjacent parking lot. Instead of matching the two facades, the developer opted for a contrasting modernist addition with smooth, metal panels and a sleek metal-framed window system.
The building creatively plays up its unique history. Units feature sliding steel bedrooms and closet doors that resemble refurbished parts from an auto body shop. Plus, Rainbow Lofts proudly displays the building's original name, and photos of the former body shop line the lobby and hallways. –R.Z.A.
One look at Wasylean Hall at Worcester State College in Massachusetts will elicit a "wow." The most striking feature of this 348-bed student residence hall is its beaming, six-story, all-glass front entrance. The building's unusual, tilted shape makes it a real eye-popper, too.
Warren Jagger Photography A striking yet energy-conscious residence hall is what the architects at ADD had in mind for this project. The Cambridge, Mass.-based architectural firm and the Massachusetts State Building Authority came together to revitalize the image and functionality of the campus.
Worcester College initially was perceived as a commuter school, but the campus eventually began its transformation into a more traditional liberal arts school. When Worcester began attracting students from other parts of the state as well as international students, the need for more housing became the driver for a new residence hall.
ADD had quite a task to fulfill. The campus spans a mere 17 acres–hardly enough room for any new structures, much less a residence hall. So ADD conjured up an idea to situate the building on part of the campus' parking lot, removing about 100 parking spaces. The firm also planted the structure at the crest of a road, the site's highest point.
To do this, the firm designed the building with an L-shape, taking advantage of its sweeping views of the campus. "We wanted the residence hall to be like a beacon to students," says Frances Hughes, project manager and senior associate principal at the firm. "The building became a symbol of a changing student body and a growing presence of residential students on campus." –Abby Garcia Telleria
All too often, apartment ads and brochures get tossed into the recycling bin. But one marketing piece is sure to remain firmly planted on coffee tables across California's Orange County. Rental Living magazine, created by Irvine Co. Apartment Communities, is a handy guide to the company's property offerings throughout the entire county. Even people who aren't looking to move right away may want to keep a copy, just for future reference–or daydreaming.
Rental Living is distributed at more than 780 locations in or around the O.C. Organized by city, each community–organized by city–is listed with prices, amenity offerings, driving directions, and key contact information. Convenient touches include an alphabetical index by property, city map, notes pages, and list of nearby attractions. And for those who prefer to surf the 'Net, the companion Web site www.rental-living.com provides the same information as the hard copy version, with a few bonuses: 360-degree virtual tours and real-time pricing.
The apartment firm's branding effort, dubbed "Love Where You Live," is paying off. Rental Living has generated more than 3,600 visits and 600 new leases this year, outperforming all the company's other print media in both productivity and cost-per-lease. In fact, the leases that are generated from magazine traffic account for more than $8.7 million in annual revenue for the company. –R.Z.A.
THE 2005 MFE AWARDS JUDGES
EXPERT EYES: A diverse group of judges chose this year's award winners during an all-day judging session in Washington, D.C. this summer. They were (back row, left to right): Daniel Ashtary, Torti Gallas & Partners, Silver Spring, Md.; Les Shaver, Multifamily Executive; Doug Bibby, NMHC, Washington, D.C.; Mark Stahl, PN Hoffman, Washington, D.C.; Greg Bonifield, Woodfield Investments, Ashburn, Va.; (front row, left to right) Rachel Azoff, Multifamily Executive; Alison Rice, Multifamily Executive; and Julie Smith, Bozzuto Management Co., Greenbelt, Md. (Not pictured: Boyce Thompson, Multifamily Executive)