Affordable Housing: Community-Based Supportive Housing Offers Infill Solutions to Serve the Most Vulnerable

April 23, 2019

New Brunswick (Middlesex County) – This building presents as two traditional homes in a more urban neighborhood, yet it is actually a single apartment building with 11 units serving formerly homeless individuals. Project by Stephen L. Schoch, AIA


Affordable Housing: Community-Based Supportive Housing Offers Infill Solutions to Serve the Most Vulnerable

by Stephen L. Schoch, AIA

edited by Stacey Ruhle Kliesch, AIA

National Architecture Week Day 3 Recognizes Affordable Housing. Cities across the world are facing affordable housing challenges and architects are developing solutions. Community-based supportive housing offers infill solutions to serve the most vulnerable.

The philosophy of Supportive Housing is to provide community-based homes for people with special needs, where they can live in the least restrictive environment possible, and participate fully in the life of the community around them. Many people struggle with some form of disability across a wide spectrum, and are living ‘at home’ with support from parents or family – some well into their 50s – so these individuals are already a part of our communities. Supportive Housing allows for these individuals to live independent of their families, in an environment that suits their needs. 

Many communities resist the inclusion of community-based affordable housing, especially housing that provides for people with special needs, for fear of ‘institutionalizing’ residential neighborhoods – but careful planning and design can often alleviate those concerns. Community engagement is something many municipalities struggle with, but it can be very useful to explain the underlying concepts of why affordable housing is needed,  who the residents really are, where the best locations for affordable housing are,  how affordable housing development will impact the town (especially fears of declining property value), and what the housing is likely to look and feel like. Facilitating this kind of dialogue with community stakeholders is often led by the Architect, and supported by local leadership and any professional assistance deemed necessary.

Supportive housing often serves the lowest-income residents, because many people with special needs and disabilities can only find minimum-wage, part-time work, if they are able to work at all. Supportive Housing populations may have physical disabilities to deal with, but many populations are fully ambulatory. Some examples of populations that fall into this group:

  • Veterans (disabled or not)
  • Youth aging-out of Foster Care
  • Homeless / Formerly Homeless
  • Those with Mental Illness issues
  • Those with Autism or on the Developmental Disabilities spectrum
  • Ex-offenders who have completed their sentences
  • Victims of Domestic Violence

Supportive Housing can be established as a set-aside in larger projects (ie: 20% of an affordable project funded by tax credits can be reserved for Supportive Housing) or as independent facilities. Small-scale projects are an excellent way to provide affordable housing with in-fill development. Smaller buildings often fit well into established neighborhoods – and the best examples do not provide outward evidence of disabled or low-income residents. Conversion of single-family homes into group homes is very common. Nonprofit groups are often the catalyst to develop these smaller infill solutions to serve this growing need. Inconspicuous conversions often are more acceptable by the larger audience, which breaks down barriers and reduces stigma, creating stronger, more welcoming communities. A strong vision toward supportive housing acknowledges the whole spectrum of affordable housing needs and provides for balance towards a stronger overall community.

Good design doesn’t happen by accident. Here are some wonderful examples of Supportive Housing designed by Stephen L. Schoch, AIA, Managing Principal and Director of Housing at Kitchen & Associates.



Cape May (Cape May County) – appearing like any other single-family home, this building provides 7 separate studio apartments, plus space for support staff, to serve residents with Mental Illness. 



Closter (Bergen County) – Sponsored by a local Healthcare Organization, this building uses traditional detailing and a compact footprint to provide 17 studio apartments plus management and common space within an affluent north Jersey community.



Franklin Lakes (Bergen County) – Appearing as market-rate townhouses, this project offers 40 units of stacked-flat apartments – all of which serve populations with special needs. A central community building provides meeting space as well as a location to manage the supportive services needed by residents.

Intentionally trained to bridge across disciplines, Architects can help shape policy, create vision, advocate for change, engage and align stakeholders, and provide input to not only set the stage but to push for excellence in the end result. Architects often think beyond ‘the project’ to recognize connections to transit, other infrastructure in a community, and the long-term catalytic impact that new development creates (or, when not done well, can hinder).  Engaging creative professionals early in the process is the best way to implement a Supportive Housing strategy that will yield superior results.

Stephen L. Schoch, AIA is the Managing Principal / Director of Housing, Kitchen & Associates in Collingswood, NJ. As Managing Principal, Steve’s dedication and influence on the staff has helped to establish the firm’s leadership in the fields of mixed-use/mixed-income developments, neighborhood revitalization, and affordable and supportive housing for nearly three decades. Schoch recently completed a 6-year term on the Board of the Supportive Housing Association of NJ. 


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