Look at me now: A Building Project Post-Occupancy Survey

01.14.16

FRANCESCA CARNEY (M. Arch I ’17)

Conducted by: DAPHNE AGOSIN, FRANCESCA CARNEY, DANTE FURIOSO, CHARLES KANE, JOHN KLEINSCHMIDT, LIZZY NADAI, MADDY SEMBLER AND ANDY STERNAD

“Buildings don’t help make an impact, it’s the people” BP 1993 Owner

The Post-Occupancy Survey reached out to the owners of past Building Project houses to hear about their experience in these homes. Questions included whether they liked the house, how long they had been living there, what issues, if any, they had with the house, and what advice they would offer future students. Of the 27 completed projects around New Haven, our team was able to reach out to 19.

We received a full spectrum of reactions to the most basic question: did they like the house? Some people stated that their houses were “great” especially those with backyards. Others were not so positive. Conceptually, the idea of an affordable house is great for the neighborhood but one owner remarked, “the inside sucks.”

More criticism surfaced when the subject of conversation moved to actually living in the homes. Construction issues have come up in many of the houses. Leaking windows, rotting subfloors, and poorly insulated walls are just a few examples mentioned by home-owners.

Renovations of items such as custom railings and light fixtures, can be incredibly expensive (if not impossible) to replace for those on a restricted budget. Again, maintenance becomes a concern when materials for repairs are inaccessible, and when the skillset needed does not match those of the typical owner of these “affordable” homes.

When asked for advice to give future Yale builders, one homeowner said, “don’t forget the sidewalk.” The fundamentals still matter: the ground, durability of materials, and the first impression of the house when you are standing outside. Although the premise of the project is to design a house in response to the needs of individual families, its impact goes beyond the specific building and greatly affects the surrounding community.

One home was built on the site of a neighborhood park. Removing this community destination negatively affected the neighborhood by eliminating a place for children to play, thereby making for unhappy neighbors. While reflecting on the Building Project, it is important to consider that the needs of the neighbors are also being heard. The owner “feel[s] rich in a poor neighborhood,” but they recognize the repercussions that the location of their house had and see a need for the Building Project to help a larger audience and not just individuals.

In the end, we learned more than just how the houses look today. We heard honest opinions of how the Building Project has impacted individuals, and from this we should reflect critically on how it is constructed. From what we heard, areas to reconsider can be broken into five themes: maintenance, developer owner relationship, materials, construction, and program.

Where does the responsibility of YSOA lie regarding long term maintenance and renovation? What is the ideal ownership model and program for the building project? Should the materials used honestly reflect the financial bracket of the future homeowners? Should the program be open to all students or just to those who apply? And is a house the right program for the Building Project?

Conducting this survey was meant to bring to light both the voices and perspectives of residents living in Building Project homes. BP has the potential to be a much more meaningful experience, as we question how the project can change to positively impact the community.