Media Mentions

Wall Street Journal: Housing Gets Architect Lift

by Laura Kusisto

A penthouse in the Robert A.M. Stern-designed 15 Central Park West sold last year for $88 million. But in nearby Connecticut, residents of the first "affordable housing" development designed by the architect will pay as little as $330 a month.

The new 60-unit project, called Cedarwoods, is tucked into a 19-acre site in the Willimantic section of the town of Windham on Connecticut's eastern edge. Mr. Stern said he wanted the project—which features three low-slung wood
buildings arranged in a gentle semicircle—to emulate a country mansion.

The $14 million project represents a step forward for Connecticut, which has been trying to boost affordable-housing production, bringing together a high-profile architect and Common Ground, one of New York City's largest developers of housing for the formerly homeless. Common Ground, which primarily develops housing in New York City, has built only one other project in Connecticut, in Hartford. The group became interested in the site after helping to rehabilitate a supportive housing project in Willimantic, in a building formerly known as Hotel Hooker, which closed in 2009.

Brenda Rosen, executive director of Common Ground, said they initially pursued the Cedarwoods site to house residents of that building after it closed.

Nonetheless, winning community support for the Cedarwoods project was difficult initially, according to Common Ground executives.

"They had concerns about having a formerly homeless population, people potentially with special needs including histories of substance abuse and mental illness," Ms. Rosen said.
She said Mr. Stern's design helped win community support for the project, where 700-square-foot, single-person units rent for up to $770 a month.

"The picture [of affordable housing] is an emergency shelter and chaos. When you see Cedarwoods, it is quite frankly so much more attractive than anything else in the surrounding area," Ms. Rosen said.

While 15 Central Park West is crafted from limestone and marble, he said, but in this case he turned to more basic materials and used the semicircle design with nodes of common space to avoid the long institutional hallways common in affordable housing projects and high-rises alike.

"I object to 90% of apartment houses," Mr. Stern said, where hallways "are better suited to bowling."

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, a former mayor of Stanford, said he has increased the allocation for affordable housing in the state budget to about $100 million a year from about $6 million. The Cedarwoods project alone received more than $7 million of state funding.

The investment in affordable projects "is important in housing people we need to work in our state but may not have an income that approaches the average salary. If you have hotels, you need people to work in them. You can't bring them up on buses from New York City," Mr. Malloy said.