Making Room

UPDATE: Videos of the presentations and panels from the CHPC/Architectural League Making Room symposium are now available on the Making Room website.

UPDATE: Michael Kimmelman’s New York Times coverage of the CHPC/Architectural League Making Room project and symposium is now available at

New York City has a remarkably diverse population and, in many respects, a remarkably heterogeneous housing stock to provide it shelter. From Riverdale to Tottenville, Flushing to Chelsea, Washington Heights to Jackson Heights to Brooklyn Heights, New Yorkers inhabit an amazing spectrum of residential building types, developed and accumulated over the history of the city. At many critical junctures over the last century and a half, New York City has been an innovative leader in housing regulation and finance, encouraging and shaping development to ensure that dwellings are safe and respond to evolving standards of livability.

But even with the great resources of its varied housing stock and its strong tradition of housing advocacy and reform, New York has a hard time producing enough housing to meet demand. And in moments of economic and social transition, housing supply and housing need can get seriously out of whack.

Over the last several years, the Citizens Housing & Planning Council (CHPC) has been researching and analyzing how and where New York’s residents live and the housing that is available to them. Their findings have revealed many discrepancies between the kinds of houses and apartments people need and those they can find. CHPC has identified New York City’s accreted mass of housing regulations and standards — all created with progressive and worthy goals in mind — as one of the factors that contributes to this mismatch. For example, regulations have tilted what the housing market produces towards larger units, for households assumed to be “families,” even though only 17% of New York’s dwelling units are occupied by traditional nuclear families. A huge underground or improvised housing market has developed over the last two decades as people try, often in desperation, to find places to live that are affordable and can accommodate their particular needs.

Around the world, architects, developers and policymakers are responding to the shifting demands of urban dwellers with new forms of housing in ways New York is not. If our city wants to continue to respond to the needs of its dynamic population, it must continue to innovate in the types of housing it produces. In 2009, CHPC brought architects from Tokyo, Barcelona, San Diego, Montreal and Leipzig to New York for a landmark symposium (read UO‘s coverage of that event here) that introduced an audience of housing experts from design, development, law, policy and government to the vanguard of housing design for 21st century cities.

This symposium was part of a broader project — called Making Room — to take a fresh look at how housing and space standards constrict the choices architects and developers are able to introduce into New York’s housing market. To move that project forward, CHPC asked the Architectural League to join with them to carry out a design study to produce new models for comfortable, desirable dwellings. Four teams of leading New York architects, each with expertise and a particular perspective, have been asked to respond to this challenge. On Monday, November 7, 2011, the architects and their teams — Stan Allen and Rafi Segal; Deborah Gans; Peter Gluck; and Jonathan Kirschenfeld — will present their ideas in an all-day symposium. This event is only one part of a much larger research and advocacy project that will include exhibiting these designs publicly and identifying what laws and codes currently on the books are preventing new modes of residential living from becoming available.

In the video above, CHPC Executive Director Jerilyn Perine (who was formerly the commissioner of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development), Architectural League Executive Director Rosalie Genevro, Chhaya Community Development Corporation Executive Director Seema Agnani, and Blesso Properties President and Founder Matthew Blesso discuss the state of the city’s housing, the underground housing market and some of the kinds of changes that could make New York housing more responsive to the ways we live now. Over the coming months, Urban Omnibus will be providing regular updates on the Making Room project as it develops. Stay tuned.

Seema Agnani is Executive Director of Chhaya CDC and was one of its initial founders. Before returning to Chhaya as Executive Director in 2007, she was the Coordinating Consultant to the Fund for New Citizens at The New York Community Trust, a donor collaborative supporting immigrant rights work. She was also the Director of Training and Technical Assistance at Citizens for NYC. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development. She is a former recipient of The Charles H. Revson Fellowship at Columbia University, earned her Bachelors at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a Masters of Urban Planning and Public Administration at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

Matthew Blesso is President and Founder of Blesso Properties. Prior to founding Blesso Properties, he worked as a commercial lender, most recently in the Real Estate Finance Group at BHF Bank (now PB Capital), a German bank. Matt is a member of the Real Estate Board of New York, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, the Municipal Arts Society, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the Urban Land Institute, the New York Preservation Archive Project, and the Manhattan Real Estate Network. He is also a member of Executive Committee of the Board of Directors for the Citizen Housing and Planning Counsel and a founding member and the chairman of the Leadership Board of the Fourth Arts Block as well as Board member of the Institute For Urban Design.

In over 20 years as executive director of the Architectural League of New York, Rosalie Genevro has pursued the League’s mission – to nurture excellence and engagement in architecture, design and urbanism – through consistent innovation in the content and format of live events, exhibitions and publications (both in print and online). She has conceived and developed projects that have mobilized the expertise of the League’s international network of architects and designers towards applied projects in the public interest, including Vacant Lots, New Schools for New York, Envisioning East New York, Ten Shades of Green, Worldview Cities and Urban Omnibus.

Jerilyn Perine is the executive director of the Citizens Housing & Planning Council (CHPC) where she spearheads a high impact agenda to improve the quality of public debate, inform public policy, promote new ideas, and engage a wide audience as well as a diverse and active Board Membership to improve NYC neighborhoods. Ms. Perine is an urban planner with 30 years of experience in housing and community development. She was appointed Commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development by both Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to lead America’s largest municipal housing agency with more than 3000 employees and an annual operating and capital budget of $800 million. As Commissioner, Ms. Perine was the author of Mayor Bloomberg’s New Housing Marketplace Plan, announced in December 2002 that provided $3 billion over 5 years to preserve and create over 65,000 units of affordable housing. Under Mayor Giuliani she designed and oversaw the management and operation of programs designed to return a significant inventory of tax foreclosed residential property to local, private ownership. Ms. Perine is an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and was a member of the International Brownfield Exchange between 1998 and 2002. She serves on the board of Highbridge Voices, a children’s choir in the South Bronx; West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing; and the New York Housing Conference.