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Villas on the Park | San Jose, CA

Created on 09-06-2022 | Updated on 14-06-2022

Villas on the Park offers permanent supportive housing options. Rents are affordable for those, who earn the 30-50 percent of area median income per household. With its 83 units it can serve special needs tenants (homeless, formally homeless people). It is a six-story, `GreenPoint rated` building with communal places. It was an ULI Jack Kemp Excellence Award Finalist in 2021 in the category of: `Affordable and Workforce Housing` and it was chosen as the `Best Affordable Apartment Community` by NAHB Multifamily Pillars Award in 2020. It is located at 278 and 286 North Second Street in San Jose. It was developed by Affirmed Housing with collaboration with PATH Ventures, BKF Engineers, Brown Construction, Inc., Dahlin Group, DBF, DCI Engineers, Emerald City Engineers, Inc., HA Builder Group, LLC, Jett Landscape Architecture + Design, The John Stewart Company, and Tarrar Utility Consultants (Dahlin Group, 2022a).

Affirmed Housing Group, Inc.

278 and 286 North Second Street in San Jose

Project (year)

Construction (year)
2019 (october)

Housing type
Permanent Supportive Housing - 84 studio apartments

Urban context

Construction system

Selected option



This case was chosen to highlight the importance of trauma informed design (TID) in the supporting housing sector. It is a socially relevant and transferable example from the US, where TID is a well-established concept. Fighting homelessness is not high enough on the European agenda, even though there is a raise of 70% in the number of homeless people in the European Union in the last ten years (EP, 2021). It was evidenced in the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan that the number of homeless people is unacceptably high and is dramatically rising in Europe (2021, European Commission).

Therefore, a European Platform on Combating Homelessness was launched in June (2021) to promote peer learning among member states. This platform will consider the guidelines of the European Parliament resolution of 21 January 2021 on access to decent and affordable housing for all (2019/2187(INI)) and encourage innovative and permanent housing solutions.  

That is why the transferable `know how` of this permanent supportive housing with trauma informed design can pave the way for future pilot projects and for further research in Europe about this concept.

Trauma informed design use in shelters, social housing can assist tenants to reintegrate into society and into workforce. It offers socially sustainable solutions for vulnerable people (people with special needs, homeless, formally homeless and for the new “housing precariat”).

The design of `Villas on the Park` lower barriers among tenants and minimize stigma of receiving services. Instead of uncomfortable office settings for meetings it offers informal (both indoor and outdoor) spaces for service delivery with relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. The trauma informed design in this building is very detailed and specific to residents. It´s planned with the help of social workers, so that the sense of space and place can provide familiarity, stability, and safety for those who are longing for the feeling of place attachment. A design that is informed by the essential connection between emotional and mental health and our physical environment is a vital component to transition people from the trauma and uncertainty to stable housing and welfare (Dahlin Group, 2022b).



The California Tax Credit Allocation Committee gave the project maximum scores in categories: `Cost Efficiency`, `Credit Reduction` and `Public Funds`.

Average Targeted Affordability of Special Needs/SRO Project Units: 39.88% (California State Treasurer's Office)

Affordabilty Breakdown by units and % (Lowest Income Points):

30% AMI: 42 / 50 %

50% AMI: 41 / 40 % (Source: California State Treasurer, 2022)



It is a highly energy efficient building with an accent on resource conservation.

 The project has onsite renewable generation (it is estimated that it can produce 50% or more of annual tenant electricity use - as indicated in TCAC regulations). The building was planned in line with the requirements of `GreenPoint Rated Program`. It is characterized by the instalment of bamboo, cork, salvaged or FSC-Certified wood, natural linoleum, natural rubber and ceramic tile in all kitchens, living rooms, and bathrooms where no VOC adhesives or backing is used. Also, bamboo, stained concrete, cork, salvaged or FSC-Certified wood, ceramic tile,   or natural linoleum were installed in all common areas.



Some design features: open corridors, natural light, art and nature, colours of nature, natural materials, design with commercial sustainability, elements of privacy and personalization, open areas, adequate and easy access to services

(Source: Dahlin Group website)

Alignment with project research areas

Design, planning and building

  • it is an important innovative permanent supportive housing option
  • with the utilization of trauma informed design
  • this model covers social, environmental, and economic sustainability at the same time


Community participation

  • community involvement characterized the planning and
  • characterizes the operation of this facility
  • community participation is ongoing and happening on different levels at the same time.


Policy and Financing

  • policy makers and investors worked closely together
  • considering multiple rationalities of this project
  • all experiences are being monitored to inform future investments and research

Alignment with SDGs

Villas on the Park responds to the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

GOAL 1: No Poverty / This supporting housing option provide affordable (below market level) prices – above average quality and energy efficient solution for the given price. Having an affordable and secure rent can increase the purchasing power of the tenants in the future.

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being / Tenants can feel themselves part of a community, where their living conditions can be described with the following words: adequate, quality, healthy and accessible. Villas on the Park provides tenants with self-belief and hope for the future, it engages the built environment with an idea of a quality of life. Trauma informed design offers a sense of belonging and safety.

GOAL 4: Quality Education / This project can offer a solid basis for tenants who would like to have a formal or further education (for example after a traumatic experience), and there is an educational possibility for local businesses to promote the positive impact of trauma informed design.  

GOAL 5: Gender Equality / This housing option can reduce inequality through its conscious design and services.

GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation / Villas on the Park was designed in line with SDG6.

GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy / Affordable, reliable, and sustainable modern energy is ensured for tenants.

GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth / In the long term, the function of this housing model is to reintegrate residents back to society and to workforce.

GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality / The whole idea of this place resonates with the aim of conscious help on traumatized groups, and to prevent re-traumatization.

GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities / This housing offers a safe environment for the tenants, and it can improve the quality of the neighbourhood (“hopeful urbanism”).

GOAL 13: Climate Action / Focus on marginalised communities and climate smart planning.

GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions / This social housing option can help women (for example domestic violence survivors) to reintegrate into society. It requires an institutional setting, to have a lasting impact and to provide a safe environment.

GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal


Dahlin Group (2022a). Villas on the Park.

Dahlin Group (2022b). Trauma Informed Design.

California State Treasurer. (2022).

Related vocabulary


Social sustainability

Area: Design, planning and building

Affordability is defined as the state of being cheap enough for people to be able to buy (Combley, 2011). Applied to housing, affordability, housing unaffordability and the mounting housing affordability crisis, are concepts that have come to the fore, especially in the contexts of free-market economies and housing systems led by private initiatives, due to the spiralling house prices that residents of major urban agglomerations across the world have experienced in recent years (Galster & Ok Lee, 2021). Notwithstanding, the seeming simplicity of the concept, the definition of housing affordability can vary depending on the context and approach to the issue, rendering its applicability in practice difficult. Likewise, its measurement implies a multidimensional and multi-disciplinary lens (Haffner & Hulse, 2021). One definition widely referred to of housing affordability is the one provided by Maclennan and Williams (1990, p.9): “‘Affordability’ is concerned with securing some given standard of housing (or different standards) at a price or a rent which does not impose, in the eyes of some third party (usually government) an unreasonable burden on household incomes”. Hence, the maximum expenditure a household should pay for housing is no more than 30% of its income (Paris, 2006). Otherwise, housing is deemed unaffordable. This measure of affordability reduces a complex issue to a simple calculation of the rent-to-income ratio or house-price-to-income ratio. In reality, a plethora of variables can affect affordability and should be considered when assessing it holistically, especially when judging what is acceptable or not in the context of specific individual and societal norms (see Haffner & Hulse, 2021; Hancock, 1993). Other approaches to measure housing affordability consider how much ‘non-housing’ expenditures are unattended after paying for housing. Whether this residual income is not sufficient to adequately cover other household’s needs, then there is an affordability problem (Stone, 2006). These approaches also distinguish between “purchase affordability” (the ability to borrow funds to purchase a house) and “repayment affordability” (the ability to afford housing finance repayments) (Bieri, 2014). Furthermore, housing production and, ultimately affordability, rely upon demand and supply factors that affect both the developers and home buyers. On the supply side, aspects such as the cost of land, high construction costs, stiff land-use regulations, and zoning codes have a crucial role in determining the ultimate price of housing (Paris, 2006). Likewise, on the policy side, insufficient government subsidies and lengthy approval processes may deter smaller developers from embarking on new projects. On the other hand, the demand for affordable housing keeps increasing alongside the prices, which remain high, as a consequence of the, sometimes deliberate incapacity of the construction  sector to meet the consumers' needs (Halligan, 2021). Similarly, the difficulty of decreasing household expenditures while increasing incomes exacerbates the unaffordability of housing (Anacker, 2019). In the end, as more recent scholarship has pointed out (see Haffner & Hulse, 2021; Mulliner & Maliene, 2014), the issue of housing affordability has complex implications that go beyond the purely economic or financial ones. The authors argue that it has a direct impact on the quality of life and well-being of the affected and their relationship with the city, and thus, it requires a multidimensional assessment. Urban and spatial inequalities in the access to city services and resources, gentrification, segregation, fuel and commuting poverty, and suburbanisation are amongst its most notorious consequences. Brysch and Czischke, for example, found through a comparative analysis of 16 collaborative housing projects in Europe that affordability was increased by “strategic design decisions and self-organised activities aiming to reduce building costs” (2021, p.18). This demonstrates that there is a great potential for design and urban planning tools and mechanisms to contribute to the generation of innovative solutions to enable housing affordability considering all the dimensions involved, i.e., spatial, urban, social and economic. Examples range from public-private partnerships, new materials and building techniques, alternative housing schemes and tenure models (e.g., cohousing, housing cooperatives, Community Land Trusts, ‘Baugruppen’), to efficient interior design, (e.g., flexible design, design by layers[1]). Considering affordability from a design point of view can activate different levers to catalyse and bring forward housing solutions for cities; and stakeholders such as socially engaged real estate developers, policymakers, and municipal authorities have a decisive stake in creating an adequate environment for fostering, producing and delivering sustainable and affordable housing.   [1] (see Brand, 1995; Schneider & Till, 2007)

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)


Area: Community participation

From the three pillars of sustainable development, economic, environmental and social, the latter  involving social equity and the sustainability of communities, has  been especially neglected. Ongoing problems caused by conflicting economic, environmental and social goals with regard to the processes of urbanisation continue. underpinning economic growth that contradict principles of environmental and social justice (Boström, 2012; Cuthill, 2010; Winston, 2009). Research on sustainable development highlights the need for further investigation of social sustainability (Murphy, 2012; Vallance et al., 2011). Social sustainability has been interpreted as an umbrella term encompassing many other related concepts; “social equity and justice, social capital, social cohesion, social exclusion, environmental justice, quality of life, and urban liveability” (Shirazi & Keivani, 2019, p. 4). A vast number of studies have been dedicated to defining social sustainability by developing theoretical frameworks and indicators particularly relevant to urban development and housing discourse (Cuthill, 2010; Dempsey et al., 2011; Murphy, 2012; Woodcraft, 2012). However, with a lack of consensus on the way of utilising these frameworks in a practical way, especially when applied to planning, social sustainability has remained difficult to evaluate or measure. Consequently, planning experts, housing providers and inhabitants alike understand social sustainability as a normative concept, according to established social norms, and less as an opportunity to critically examine existing institutions. Vallance et al (2011) provide three categories to analyse social sustainability, development, bridge and maintenance sustainability: (a) social development improves conditions of poverty and inequity, from the provision of basic needs to the redistribution of power to influence existing development paradigms; (b) the conditions necessary to bridge social with ecological sustainability, overcoming currently disconnected social and ecological concerns; and (c) the social practices, cultural preferences as well as the environments which are maintained over time. Maintenance social sustainability particularly deals with how people interpret what is to be maintained and includes “new housing developments, the layout of streets, open spaces, residential densities, the location of services, an awareness of habitual movements in place, and how they connect with housing cultures, preferences, practices and values, particularly those for low-density, suburban lifestyles” (Vallance et al., 2011, p. 345). Therefore, the notion of maintenance is especially important in defining social sustainability by directly investigating the established institutions, or “sets of norms” that constitute the social practices and rules, that in turn, affect responsibilities for planning urban spaces. A conceptual framework that appears frequently in social sustainability literature is that of Dempsey et al. (2011)⁠ following Bramley et al. (2009), defining social sustainability according to the variables of social equity and sustainability of community and their relationship to urban form, significantly at the local scale of the neighbourhood. In terms of the built environment, social equity (used interchangeably with social justice) is understood as the accessibility and equal opportunities to frequently used services, facilities, decent and affordable housing, and good public transport. In this description of local, as opposed to regional services, proximity and accessibility are important. Equitable access to such local services effectively connects housing to key aspects of everyday life and to the wider urban infrastructures that support it. Sustainability of community is associated with the abilities of society to develop networks of collective organisation and action and is dependent on social interaction. The associated term social capital has also been used extensively to describe social norms and networks that can be witnessed particularly at the community level to facilitate collective action (Woolcock, 2001, p. 70). They might include a diversity of issues such as resident interaction, reciprocity, cooperation and trust expressed by common exchanges between residents, civic engagement, lower crime rates and other positive neighbourhood qualities that are dependent on sharing a commitment to place (Foster, 2006; Putnam, 1995; Temkin & Rohe, 1998). In fact, “the heightened sense of ownership and belonging to a locale” is considered to encourage the development of social relations (Hamiduddin & Adelfio, 2019, p. 188). However, the gap between theoretical discussions about social sustainability and their practical application has continued. For example, the emphasis of social sustainability as a target outcome rather than as a process has been prioritised in technocratic approaches to planning new housing developments and to measuring their success by factors which are tangible and easier to count and audit. Private housing developers that deal with urban regeneration make bold claims to social sustainability yet profound questions are raised regarding the effects of gentrification (Dixon, 2019). Accordingly, the attempted methods of public participation as planning tools for integrating the ‘social’ have been found to be less effective - their potential being undercut due to the reality that decision-making power has remained at the top (Eizenberg & Jabareen, 2017). Therefore, social sustainability is not a fixed concept, it is contingent on the interdependence of the procedural aspects (how to achieve social sustainability) and substantive aspects (what are the outcomes of social sustainability goals) (Boström, 2012). From this point of view, social sustainability reveals its process-oriented nature and the need to establish processes of practicing social sustainability that begin with the participation of citizens in decision-making processes in producing equitable (i.e. socially sustainable) development. As a dimension of sustainable development that is harder to quantify than the economic or environmental aspects, the operationalisation of social sustainability goals into spatial, actionable principles has remained a burgeoning area of research. In such research, methods for enhancing citizen participation are a particularly important concern in order to engage and empower people with “non-expert” knowledge to collaborate with academic researchers.

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: A.Panagidis (ESR8)



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