We don’t have money for fancy materials, but abundant light and air, which can make a huge difference in your living environment, are free,” says Joan Ling, executive director of the Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM). Since her organization’s founding in 1982, this nonprofit agency has dedicated itself to “preserving social and economic diversity” in Santa Monica, California, by creating high-quality low-income housing. As Ling points out, this very desirable and ever-gentrifying community on Los Angeles’s West Side relies on tourism and other service industries (with the low-wage jobs that the sector generates), yet the immediate area has not otherwise provided affordable housing for workers and their families. With 1,400 completed units and 200 more in the works, her nonprofit has successfully become one of Santa Monica’s biggest landlords.
Each time the agency converts existing buildings or erects affordable new ones, it makes a point of engaging local, design-oriented architects—including well-known firms such as Frederick Fisher and Partners, Pugh + Scarpa, and Daly Genik—whom “we can count on to deliver thoughtful, sustainable, easy-to-maintain, contextually responsive housing,” explains Ling. “The pool of architects in Santa Monica alone is phenomenal, so we have no need to go far afield.” For 26th Street Housing, one of the organization’s most recent projects [record, May 2008, page 133; July 2008, page 197], CCSM chose Kanner Architects. Though most of Kanner’s multifamily work has been market rate, even luxurious, the firm entered the low-income housing realm in 2003 with Metro Hollywood [record, July 2006, page 208], a visually playful, energy-efficient, mixed-use development that caught CCSM’s attention. “Whether our single-level units are high-end or low-income,” maintains Stephen Kanner, FAIA, president of Kanner Architects, “the spatial design principles are the same.”