U gets grant to design St. Paul affordable housing

Beth Hornby

Architecture faculty will use a federal government grant they received this week to design more affordable housing for a low-income St. Paul neighborhood.

The College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture received the $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Architecture professor Mary Guzowski said the College of Architecture collaborated with the Wilder Foundation – a nonprofit health and human services organization serving St. Paul – to design environmentally sound and energy-efficient housing.

Wilder Foundation director Tom Schirber said he asked the University two years ago to get involved. Schirber applied for the HUD grant in July after building a model home.

Schirber said the University and Wilder Foundation plan to design nine more prototype houses in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood in the next three years. The money will be used to improve the houses’ designs.

Private companies will build the houses, which will be sold to people who qualify for affordable housing.

The University will offer more courses on constructing lower-cost housing because of Minnesota’s need for more affordable urban housing, Guzowski said. Students will learn how different building materials can lower heating and electricity bills, she said.

While no students will be involved with the design project, 14 University faculty members will be.

“Students may not design houses, but they will learn from faculty members who are leading the design project,” Guzowski said. “It’s not just about technology and energy. The most important thing is to expose students to social and cultural diversity so they design more flexible ways of living for people who have different concepts of what constitutes a home.”

Pat Huelman, Cold Climate Housing Program coordinator, said he has worked with University architects to discover better building materials such as improved insulation and new waterproof siding. The program is a department of wood and paper science initiative to create more energy-efficient housing. Ultimately, Huelman said, the project’s research might reduce winter heating bills for Minnesotans.

Using building plans from the finished design prototype, Schirber said, he hopes to oversee the Wilder Foundation’s construction of more than 10,000 affordable homes in St. Paul.

Guzowski said researchers will make the information available on a Web site after the project’s completion.

“I hope after three years we will be able to influence housing more broadly, because the cost has gotten outrageous,” she said. “We will get the material out and disseminate it so builders will make use of what we’ve created.”