On Friday, July 19, 2019, more than two hundred and fifty architects, designers, urban planners, land-use attorneys, health professionals, community activists and civic leaders came together to participate in AIA|LA’s 4th annual “Design For Dignity” conference.

AIA Los Angeles cares deeply about our regional housing crisis and have committed ourselves to sustained action to ensure that we solve chronic homelessness with a ‘housing first’ model, which will provide our most vulnerable populations with the safety, health and dignity of shelter.

As our host location, Holman United Methodist Church served as a forum to identify the key challenges impacting our housing affordability and homelessness crisis, as well as an opportunity to highlight the capital, programmatic and human resources available to address those challenges.

The morning session included a series of presentations ‘challenging’ the architects, designers, and community leaders in the room, to offer pro-active solutions related to housing policy, supportive services and community outreach. These challenges ranged from integrating new supportive housing into all neighborhoods to innovative housing typologies that will allow us to deliver housing more expeditiously and affordably. Topics also included the impact of displacement, the rapid rates of eviction, chronic homelessness, bridge housing, and the predicament facing adult residential facilities (group homes) for those experiencing severe mental illness. Additionally, attendees learned about advantages afforded by community land trusts and the macro-economic benefits of policies that promote housing as a human right.

After twelve presentations on challenges, a panel of housing experts discussed funding and programmatic resources available to alleviate the housing and homelessness crisis.

City of Los Angeles’ Chief Design Officer, Christopher Hawthorne, who is an AIA Los Angeles board member, asked participants to think about the ‘missing middle’ and the opportunity we have to transform our neighborhoods into complete communities in a more sustainable, sensitive and integrated way. The missing middle encompasses duplexes, fourplexes, and bungalow courts often integrated into blocks of single-family homes.

The conference cumulated with a series of ten concurrent break-out discussions facilitated by architects and community leaders. The objective of these discussions was to identify a set of specific actions that the AIA Los Angeles membership and our community partners can implement over the course of the next year.


1. To establish an official AIA|LA Housing Committee. Its mission: to explore issues of design, policy, and technology in the development of livable neighborhoods—with new housing, the preservation of existing housing, and the formation of complete communities unique to the distinct needs of the Los Angeles region. This committee would include two different task-forces listed below in Actions 2 & 3.

2. To establish a multi-disciplinary “Design For Dignity” sub-committee. This task-force will focus exclusively on the homelessness crisis. It will organize ongoing “Design for Dignity” programming, support the dissemination of relevant knowledge, insight, and outcomes, create roadmaps to achieve critical ‘action items’. This task-force will also create a toolkit of best-practices on how to distribute supportive and affordable housing throughout all neighborhoods. Lastly, this task force will serve as “resource ambassadors” to neighborhood councils and community organizations, to advise on related matters, help realize local outcomes and provide critical feedback.

3. To establish an “Innovative Housing Typologies” sub-committee. This task-force will
create an online database for reference on innovative typologies, providers, and consultants with the goal of sharing best-practices and cutting-edge solutions.

4. To support and help coordinate an ideas competition on the future of the single-family neighborhood being organized by the City of Los Angeles Chief Design Officer. The competition, informed by similar “Missing Middle” competitions in Edmonton, Sydney and other international cities but also grounded in the particular architectural and cultural history of Los Angeles neighborhoods, will ask teams of architects to help Angelenos imagine new residential typologies in the territory between the ADU and the multifamily apartment block. The goal will be to promote architectural ingenuity alongside social benefits including affordability, safety, resilience, more efficient use of resources, and the ability to age in place. Entrants will consider a range of scenarios, including additions to existing houses, ground-up triplexes and fourplexes and new approaches to courtyard housing as well the potential to subdivide or combine single-family parcels to unlock new solutions to the housing affordability crisis.

5. To author a white paper that demonstrates the applicability of a FEMA-like approval process, treating the homelessness crisis much as that of a natural disaster that is causing unnecessary death and destruction. This white-paper will justify the need to advance temporary rules to spear-head high-production housing project approvals through a FEMA-like approval process.

6. To advocate for the following policy, procedural and regulatory reforms:

· To advocate for housing as a human right.
· To synchronize the multiple design guidelines specifications mandated by numerous levels of affordable housing funding sources so that architects follow one comprehensive set.
· To reform the site-plan review and the entitlement process with greater flexibility so that it correlates with the timeline for acquiring affordable housing project financing.
· To allow 100% multi-family housing in every commercial zone. We have an over-abundance of ground floor retail.
· To allow a minimum 3:1 FAR and 45 feet for every parcel zoned for multi-family projects wherever and whenever they’re permitted via a community plan.
· In zones where multi-family is permitted, to exempt multi-family housing from CEQA review, as well as from ‘discretionary’ review. To set planning and design standards in the community planning process and move compliance review to Building & Safety Departments.
· To let the market determine multi-family amenities such as parking, private open space, unit size and product diversity rather than through the regulatory processes.
· To end ‘exactions’ which will lower housing costs by separating political decisions about housing projects from decisions about land-use, open space, parks and transportation policy.
· To end project “mitigation” of transportation impacts, and instead, establish and fund transportation policy in a separate, regional process.
· To establish a statewide inclusionary housing policy, which will level the playing field and provide greater certainty for the funding and underwriting markets.
· To update Costa-Hawkins to establish a state-wide reasonable, rolling time-period for when older apartments may become rent-controlled while keeping vacancy de-control.
· To update Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) goals for the amount of housing needed to reduce prices over time & mandate compliance.
· To promote density-bonus incentives in order to encourage the development of workforce housing (80% to 120% AMI).

7. To create and maintain an inventory of all of the building code and zoning code-related impediments that are slowing down the market’s ability to deliver housing more expeditiously and more affordably.

8. To create a media campaign on the wellness benefits of healthy and complete communities, as well as, the dynamic relationship between housing, health, community interaction and a sense of belonging.

9. To produce a well-designed, graphically compelling “document” that demonstrates the many stellar examples of density in the city with a greater emphasis on well-designed affordable housing. This “document” can also clarify the positive economic, environmental and cultural impacts that affordable and supportive housing have on neighborhoods.

Due to many factors, now more than ever, LA architects have a responsibility to offer solutions and creative resources to solve this crisis immediately — as if our currently 59,000+ unsheltered Angelenos were displaced by an earthquake or a wildfire.

Although we celebrate that many LA architects are taking the lead on designing beautiful and highly functional affordable housing, we recognize that we’re not necessarily going to ‘build’ our way out of the homelessness crisis. Therefore, what architects can do is offer solutions that go beyond the creation of affordable housing (and the built environment) through design solutions that illustrate stronger, more human-centric systems to address the root causes of homelessness, disenfranchisement and disconnected communities.

Our current homelessness crisis is the explicit symptom of a multitude of dire and inter-related challenges (housing, health & community). For us to uplift our collective human spirit and to restore a sense of dignity to the lives of us all, we must take pro-active steps to solve each of these unique challenges with custom-made tools tailored to the exact challenge at hand. Some of these solutions will conflict with the priorities of other solutions, indeed. But for us to make immediate progress we all must be willing to embrace a shifting dynamic of priorities and hold within ourselves a high tolerance for opposable ideas that demand integration, compassion, flexibility and forgiveness.

In addition, we are also here to commit ourselves to solve our housing affordability challenge by identifying ways to deliver more housing to the market as strategic, expeditious and integrative as possible: housing that creates healthy, complete and inclusive communities.

However, homelessness and housing affordability are separate, equally complex challenges. Yes, lack of affordable housing does directly contribute to homelessness. Yet, to solve both of these multi-faceted issues, we need to embrace ourselves to a wide-range of concurrent actions, and administer resources proportionately to the urgency at hand.

Thank you for making “Design For Dignity” such a deep, meaningful and passionate gathering. We intend to keep the energy alive and the momentum strong.

The conference demonstrated members commitment to take meaningful actions to address this crisis. Take the next step with your colleagues and the AIA|LA.

If you’re interested in joining AIA Los Angeles in solving our housing affordability and homelessness crisis, then please connect directly with Will Wright at

Please indicate which of the above nine actions you’d most like to help advance. You’re welcome to select more than one, but we need you to dedicate the time and resources required to execute these ideas. Your leadership and involvement will be integral to the success of moving these actions forward.

Please connect with Will Wright by August 16, so that you may be included along with others in future discussions and action.

The AIA|LA’s next meeting regarding homelessness, housing, and the actions listed above will take place on August 20.