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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame, Habitat for Humanity partner to increase affordable housing near campus

Notre Dame is collaborating with Habitat for Humanity to prioritize housing affordability and build seven new homes in South Bend over the course of five years. 

Habitat for Humanity is in charge of the building process while Notre Dame donated four vacant lots located six blocks south of campus, $50,000 per year in financial support for the project and free design services from students in the School of Architecture.

Mike Hastings, the director of Notre Dame’s Treasury Services in the finance division, said that the collaboration with Habitat for Humanity is somewhat of “a first phase” project for its goals to increase housing affordability near Notre Dame’s campus. 

Notre Dame is also working with the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Organization and South Bend Heritage to develop the potential for slightly higher housing density near campus. Alongside their Habitat for Humanity collaboration, Hastings estimated that their work will “hopefully help 12 to 14 households have access to more affordable housing opportunities close to campus.”

“Every family counts, and every opportunity can make a huge impact,” Hastings said.

Hastings added that Notre Dame is providing the financial support by using funding from a benefactor who prefers to remain anonymous. The money, he said, will help Habitat for Humanity provide a mortgage subsidy for residents once the homes are constructed.

“This was just a perfect timing and perfect fit for the University to pass on this commitment to Habitat,” Hastings said.

Professor in the School of Architecture John Mellor said the project's use of student-designed homes benefits his students, who typically create designs which won’t come to fruition during their time in school.

“The hardest thing about teaching architecture is the abstract-ness of it … We ask them to do think about real things in real places, with the understanding that we're not actually ever going to build them,” Mellor said. “What they're doing through this course is they're making a very strong connection between the graphics that they produce and the built reality of the lines that they put on paper, and so it becomes more meaningful for them.”

Mellor said his class consists of individual design projects for the first half of the semester. After spring break, students work together in three or four groups to combine their ideas. Each group presents a polished design using feedback from a panel of professional architects, from which Habitat for Humanity chose the design they will use when constructing the houses.

In the first year of the agreement, Habitat for Humanity prioritized accessibility, choosing a two-bedroom house which had all living, dining, laundry, bathing and sleeping accommodations on one floor.

Last year, however, they chose a two-story design that, while not considered “fully accessible,” lended itself to “visitability.” A visitor who is in a wheelchair, Mellor said, might not be able to climb the stairs but would still be able to enjoy a visit and even potentially stay in the house temporarily.

“I've had six completely designed houses,” Mellor said about his classes. “They could all be built anywhere in South Bend. They're all good work. Habitat, unfortunately, only can build one a year, so they have a hard choice to make.”

As the collaboration aims at providing affordable housing, Mellor said the designs must “try and control the things that we can control, that we know will have a positive effect on affordability.” Most notably, this entails working to be as efficient as possible with the size of each house, keeping them as small as they can be while providing everything that is needed in a well-designed but neighborly home.

“At the end of the day, what Habitat is looking for from us is to be able to build houses that don't look like low income affordability houses,” Mellor said. “They don't want you to be able to drive by and pick out, ‘that's the Habitat house on the block.’ They want it to blend in seamlessly with the rest of the surroundings so that any stigma that might be attached to somebody who lives in an affordable-rate house is eliminated, because you won't be able to identify just by looking. And what we're doing with them is we're trying to help them identify those things that will help their houses blend in with the rest of the fabric.”