The Hegeman: Fighting Homelessness in Style

I’ve written about a couple of unique housing projects in the past ­– but honestly, there are so many great ones out there, I can almost never get enough. Typically, housing projects are filled with mushy, gushy social goodness that makes you feel all warm inside and even, if only for a moment, causes you to consider dedicating your life to more than just the typical, hum-drum rat race. Sigh. And this one that I’m about to share with you…well, I’m happy to say is no exception.

First thing is first – who are the big-hearted masterminds behind this project? In this case it is Cook + Fox Architects in collaboration with the Common Ground Community. The Common Ground Community is a uniquely modern non-profit with a mission to end homelessness. Specifically, as written on their website, it goes as follows:

“Common Ground’s mission is to strengthen individuals, families and communities by developing and sustaining exceptional supportive and affordable housing as well as programs for homeless and other vulnerable New Yorkers. “

So far, as documented on their website, the initiative has created and continuously operated thousands of affordable and transitional housing units in the northeastern part of the US…and they aren’t stopping for a breather anytime soon. On top of what they already have, there are 1,000 more units reportedly in development. And, as if all of that wasn’t already enough, they also back an outreach program called Street to Home, which connects long-term homeless individuals with “housing and other supportive services.”

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The Hegeman, located in Brownsville, Brooklyn, is one of their beloved projects. As a whole, the Brownsville community has somewhat of a notorious reputation for problems with poverty. The residents struggle to battle against crime and drug addiction while low test scores and high truancy rates act as part of a vicious cycle.

Unique in comparison to other nonprofits, Common Ground acts on the belief that housing should be first. In the simplest of terms, this is the idea that before a chronically homeless person can reach past limitations such as a drug habit, mental health issue, or something similar, they need a stable housing scenario. Their idea has recently gained more traction, and Common Ground’s personal track record of helping more than 7,000 people to overcome or avoid homelessness in their 25 years of existence doesn’t hurt either.

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The Hegeman is a LEED Silver building with 161 efficiency unites meant for low-income and previously homeless men and women. The studios are nothing to gawk at, either. They have natural light, views to greenery (in the middle of the city, that’s a gift), non-toxic furniture and energy conservation-friendly design. In total, ithe building reaches five stories and features a 3,400 square foot green roof for generating outdoor lighting, a central glass atrium and a common space equipped with a fitness room, computer lab, laundry, social support services and admin offices.

Costing $26.2 million to construct, the building gives people a chance. Residents pay anywhere from $215 to $600 a month. When talking about their stroke of luck in working with highly regarded architecture firms, Common Ground CEO Brenda Rosen says:

“They don’t normally do affordable buildings, let alone supportive buildings, but all of the design elements they bring to their much high-priced buildings, they bring to Common Ground as well – and figure out how to do it on a much smaller budget.”

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If anything, Common Ground has proved with a little planning and a lot of foresight, low budget doesn’t have to mean low impact – or low-cool factor. The digs are stylish enough to evoke some serious studio-envy. Rosen says that when they speak about the building, people tend to think of someplace with an institutionalized look, like a jail – but The Hegeman is nothing of the sort. Speaking further about their purpose, Rosen emphasizes:

“The message that we want to get across to people that have been dismissed and really have been isolated from society for years at a time is ‘you matter’ and ‘you’re valued’ and ‘you should take pride in yourself’. To that end, having a physical environment that you feel proud of goes a long way.”

With claims like reducing homelessness by 87% in the Times Square area, Common Ground displays a certain kind of confidence as it continues to tackle homelessness in other struggling areas of the one and only New York City.

No matter who is behind them, I think projects to battle homelessness are important and pivotal in today’s society. Once people have fallen into a certain way, it can be hard to stand on their own two feet again – and I applaud anyone who gives them a hand (or a swoon-worthy place to live) while helping them up. Other Common Ground projects worth checking out include: The Andrews, The Brook, The Christopher, The Price George, The Times Square and more.

3 responses to “The Hegeman: Fighting Homelessness in Style

  1. Surprised you went so far afield to find an example of . DC’s La Casa on Irving Street is winning architecture awards, and is a remarkably similar transitional housing program. A little DC pride please!

    • Hi Nieuwenhuis! No shortage of DC pride here. I wasn’t familiar with DC’s La Casa program, but it sounds worthy of high praise. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  2. Pingback: “You Can Van” Takes NYC Homelessness Head On | Urban Scrawl·

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