Michael Anderson, AIA’s, Plan to Increase Home Ownership for Black and Brown Communities

Michael Anderson, AIA’s, work tends to involve big questions. The latest from his firm Anderson-Barker is the Accelerated Wealth and Transit Development program; it could be his most ambitious.

The plan, essentially, reverses redlining (Anderson, himself, prefers to say it makes amends) and creates a pathway to wealth accumulation for Black and Brown people through property ownership. 

The question it answers is: how to keep (and increase) homes in the hands of Black and Brown owners and communities while providing a vehicle for residential renovations, furnishing infrastructure and environmental improvements, and increasing affordable housing stock.

A firm-generated project, Anderson is presently engaged with an established think-tank to produce an economic impact and risk mitigation study that would serve as a basis for him to gain and formalize support from local officials and, more pertinently, secure the federal funding it needs.

For Anderson, this type of big thinking is not unusual. His work frequently intersects not only architecture, urban planning, city building, and public policy, but the identification and securing of financing. In fact, when we asked him “what the most important thing about architecture is,” that’s where he started.

Michael Anderson, AIA: What I want our profession to start looking at is that architecture shapes quality of life. We are still, sort of, looking at architecture as the historical practice of, almost, how it was created to do work for people [with wealth].

But now, as diversity has expanded, as more people are conscious about buildings’ influence, I think architects should also start considering our role as: how to direct capital investments into making life better for communities.

Firms tend to have their niche. If you’re an affordable housing developer, you can grow very well based on low-income tax credits and your clients’ nonprofits. If you’re doing airports, you can do very well. But the gap is the underserved communities—what are their needs? So, I see architecture starting to figure out more the financial: [how to make financing] happen, where it’s needed most.

I didn’t become an architect just to do great buildings, I wanted to become an architect to make communities a better quality of life.

[Concurrently] if we start to look at how to influence real estate developers and capital sources… if architects [do] that, they will probably have better pay because you’re influencing the money that architects do architecture with.

AIA California: The Accelerated Wealth and Transit Development program leverages existing elements of the Metro’s Transit Oriented Communities initiative specifically for Black and Brown communities, increasing quality of life in many ways.

MA: It targets investments around the Metro light rail transit stations of underserved communities–such as South Los Angeles, the Crenshaw community, and the West Santa Ana Branch corridor, which is in South East Los Angeles—a 90% Latino community.

It has three components. The primary component is for existing families, to remodel their house into a fourplex. And the other housing component is for middle-income families, workforce people–if you’re Black or Brown—to get a subsidy to purchase a brand new fourplex, in a Black or Brown community around these transit stations.

If you’re an existing homeowner, you get about $250,000 in federal subsidy. It’s called Remodel Mom’s House. If she has a Craftsman house, [it’s] basically modernize[d] to function in the 21st century, with solar panels, battery packs to store energy, and more. And she would add three prefabricated units, one a three-bedroom and two one-bedroom units. [To access] the federal subsidy, one unit would be designated very-low income for 30 years. This is a cheaper way of making affordable housing happen and spreading it to the community.

First-time buyers, they would get about $500,000 to $600,000—if you’re Black or Brown, to [subsidize the purchase of] a brand new fourplex prefabricated house.

For the first level of the project, we’re targeting [the area around] 18 [Metro] transit stations of predominantly Latino and Black communities.

The second two components [are] basically infrastructure improvement. […] It’s a way of creating a horizontal beautification throughout communities where, even if somebody doesn’t remodel their house, the neighborhood still, it’s beautiful. It makes it a safe environment. And also, it creates an abundance of local jobs. Basically, what we’ve done is: we’ve taken the model that was used to approach building suburbs, and we reverse-engineered it in terms of a modernization community project for underserved communities.

The third component involves sites identified by the community during design workshops that Metro held in regards to the light rail line coming in. Developers producing housing and commercial spaces on properties identified by the community.

AIA CA: Something that’s fascinating to me is: you didn’t just approach elected officials and policy-makers about implementing the project; you went after financing on a federal level.

MA: One of the things I found out [over time] is while there are a lot of studies of underserved communities, there’s never a next step involved in terms of implementation. Nothing happens without capital.

When President Biden [was] elected, he made an executive order to advance racial equity: Justice 40 is an Executive Order that says out of the $1.2 trillion in investment in the Infrastructure and Jobs Act and the $490 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act, 40% is to go to underserved communities, indigenous communities, as a priority.

So, what we did is use those Executive Orders to lobby for funding for these projects, because often what happens is: underserved Black and Brown communities, Communities of Color, they get out-politicked when funding is approved.

The federal funds that have been approved must be allocated by 2026. The benefit for Los Angeles accessing these funds is the Accelerated Wealth and Transit Development project is what’s called a shovel-ready strategy.

AIA CA: You directly connected with the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank.

MA: I’ve talked to [them] to gain their interest, […] to hear what their response was. They liked this project tremendously, they said, because it makes amends to communities that were redlined.

It’s a vehicle to implement Justice 40. It becomes the government’s way of saying, “I harmed you; I’m going to make amends and make it possible for you to catch up in a way that’s mutually beneficial to everyone.” And they also like it because: if a person loses their job, they still have three income units, so they don’t lose their assets.

AIA CA: You’re also having conversations with private capital.

MA: I’m seeking social impact investors. […] One of the key things about this strategy is that we have designed it so that it creates a return on investment and profit in three areas.

There’s an economic profit. There’s a return on capital profit and profit to local and federal government. There’s a social profit in terms of correcting the quality of life and communities. And then there’s an environmental profit, because underserved communities, housing stock, that is pre-1970s, has a huge impact on our emissions, our CO2 gases that are put out, and by modernizing so many of these facilities and underserved communities, we lower the greenhouse gas impact, the carbon emissions that are put out, and we make it climate-smart. And having this occur around transit stations, makes for a better transit passenger experience encouraging more people to use public transit,

So overall, the strategy is to start making Los Angeles and California show a way that’s replicable–have modernized and underserved communities so that we can make a better quality of life but also improve our impact on the environment.

AIA CA: Your earlier commissions included Compton MLK, Jr, Transit and Community Center, and Metro Housing in Compton. Did facilitating these types of projects inspire your interest in public policy, or were you already interested in public policy and started going after these kinds of projects?

MA: I became an architect to try to figure out how to make Black and Brown communities places where everybody wanted to live. My experience growing up—most Black communities were only getting affordable housing developments or low-income housing, and I saw that as having a negative impact on the quality of life because you’re still creating low-income impaction.

As I started in my career, I started working on different studies in Crenshaw; I started to see what the redevelopment agencies were doing and what didn’t work. […] At the same time, we did some studies on Third Street Promenade around 1984 and ’85. And [I saw] how Santa Monica made Third Street Promenade successful through infrastructure, public space, and parking structures.

I started analyzing what worked in other communities and what wasn’t being applied here and underserved communities. I looked at the evolution of West Hollywood, which was an unincorporated area becoming a city and how its development spiraled up, how Santa Monica Boulevard could beautify. And I started just transforming real-life solutions in terms of how to make deals in our communities. And so when you drill down, the thing you learned is: where do they get the money from and how each city leveraged capital to build each project.

I realized transportation funding has the greatest influence for beautifying existing communities. And I started looking at how do I apply that to Black and Brown communities.

This interview has been edited and condensed for flow and brevity.

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