Hostile by Design

Valerie Johnson
Hostile by Design

Have you ever noticed seemingly-random spikes on sidewalks or ledges outside of a building? Or wondered why benches have metal separators that limit your ability to spread out in public spaces?

That’s what hostile design looks like. Those items were specifically designed to keep people from loitering, sitting, or laying down in those spaces. They’re meant to scream “you aren’t welcome here!” without actually having to say anything at all.

It’s one of the many ways that people experiencing homelessness and housing instability are ostracized. But let's take that a step further. Hostile design can also look like building low-income apartments differently.

Not providing enough overhead lighting and storage is common in low-income units. Energy efficiency is not taken into consideration when choosing appliances, which means that the tenants end up using more energy and paying higher bills. So-called luxuries like balconies or outdoor spaces are not included, despite the relatively low cost of doing so.

Low-income housing is not often designed for tenants to live well. It is, however, designed to pass costs on to the tenant and not the developer. That cheap, inefficient heating installed by the developer? That will make it ultimately more expensive for someone to live in that low income unit, and is just one reason why people often say it costs to be poor.  

That’s why we launched the Pathways Housing Wellness Corporation. We want to rebuild existing homes in Philadelphia into moderate-sized multi-family units that not only fit into the landscape of the neighborhood, but provide all of the amenities needed to live well regardless of your income status.

For-profit developers of affordable housing, of course, want and need to make a profit on their projects. As a nonprofit, we are uniquely situated to be able to provide affordable housing that is actually affordable and not reliant on profit.

As an agency that master leases hundreds of low rent units throughout the city, we see a lot of corners cut to make rental units profitable. We can’t solve all of the issues surrounding affordable housing, but we can do this:

  1. Understand that the digital divide is the new redlining and ensure that any housing we build and/or manage will make internet service accessible to all tenants.
  2. We know that heating and cooling systems that save landlords money to install are much more expensive for tenants to run (i.e. electric heating units at floor level). We will use green sources to help reduce both energy use and cost so that people can put their resources toward moving forward with life goals.
  3. We will make sure there is adequate ceiling light throughout our units. When possible, we will install ceiling fans.
  4. Appliances included in the units will be energy efficient and of good quality.
  5. There will be storage solutions built in so individuals and families have adequate space to store their treasured belongings.

We know that when treated with respect and dignity, people thrive. We believe that investing upfront in providing an elevated standard of low-income housing, without including hostile architecture elements, is an essential need for our community and we are proud to be able to provide that through the Pathways Housing Wellness Corporation