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June 2015

UW team wins low-income housing challenge, beating competitors from nine other universities

UW Low Income Housing Challenge - UW TeamSeven students from the College of Built Environment at the University of Washington won the 24th annual Bank of America Merrill Lynch Low-Income Housing Challenge in San Francisco. The UW team beat competitors from nine other universities on the West Coast, sweeping all judging criteria, including design, financial feasibility and community engagement.

The UW's interdisciplinary team of graduate students proposed a hypothetical 69-unit project in Tacoma called the Spur in the Wedge Village. Team members were from four disciplines: real estate, urban planning, architecture and public policy.

Organized by the Runstad Center for Real Estate, the UW team worked with Professor Mike Pyatok whose Affordable Housing Design Studio lined up a site, the Tacoma Housing Authority, and the Salvation Army. As part of the project, they also interacted with neighborhood residents and community organizations.

Teams are challenged to envision new and innovative models of housing for low-to-moderate income residents. Submissions are required to be "forward looking but feasible" in the current economic and fiscal climate.

UW Low Income Housing Challenge - winning entryEntries were evaluated by a six-member jury of affordable housing experts plus officials representing development, finance, planning, architecture and government. Jurors said the UW team presented the most feasible proposal of the four finalists and commented its oral and written presentations  "clearly demonstrated the high level of teamwork necessary to develop affordable housing."

Now in its 24th year, the BofA contest has resulted in the construction of a number of developments. Organizers say the Housing Challenge is intended to inform, educate and attract the next generation of affordable housing professionals. This was only the second time a team from UW entered the competition.

Stephen Whyte, head of Vitus Group, underwrote the UW team's travel expenses. His Seattle-based company is a national leader in renovating and revitalizing affordable housing communities in high-cost urban areas. Since 1996, Vitus has developed and/or acquired more than 9,000 units of tax-credit-financed affordable housing in over 90 projects located across 17 states.