Community Matters: Remaking Affordable Housing in Harlem
News By integrating housing, art and education, the Sugar Hill development is shaking things up.
When internationally renowned architect Sir David Adjaye was selected to design a building for an affordable housing not-for-profit, people took notice. When the project included a children’s museum of art and storytelling along with a preschool — in addition to 124 beautifully appointed, permanent living spaces for low-income and formerly homeless people and families — it transformed any preconception of what supportive housing is “supposed” to be. The development, where many residents also work, is called Sugar Hill, a truly mixed-use building where Harlem residents interact daily with working artists, educators and neighbors to create a place of belonging and opportunity.
Ellen Baxter is the executive director of Broadway Housing Communities, the non-profit behind Sugar Hill. She has found that prioritizing the arts and culture in the project has “elevated the spirit of community engagement, enriched the space for everyone” and brought “inspiration and relief” to struggling communities.
It transformed any preconception of what supportive housing is “supposed” to be.
No stigma attached
When a building truly speaks to the people it impacts, as Sugar Hill does, neither the building nor its residents are stigmatized in the way that supportive housing too often is. Entering the building doesn’t “mark you.” The preschool builds a sense of ownership in young residents and in the community — kids mix with children from other backgrounds, interact with their teachers in the neighborhood, and visit with each other at the museum’s family days, festivals and art exhibits. The museum, too, combats the stigma of poverty and homelessness, with 17,000 square feet of space designed to fuel the imaginations and dreams of its visitors. Sugar Hill is a true integration of art, housing, economic development and education, a place for the neighborhood to celebrate its history and culture while creating its future.