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July 2017

Architects unveil bold project to end homelessness

BLOCK Project homeA Seattle architectural firm is promoting a "housing initiative and community building project" to end homelessness.

Titled the BLOCK Project, the concept seeks to place a BLOCK Home in the backyard of one single-family lot on every residentially zoned block within the City of Seattle. The idea originated with BLOCK Architects, which bills itself as Seattle's social justice architecture firm.

As envisioned, a BLOCK home would be "integrated, dignified and sustainable." Each 125 sq. ft. structure is "beautifully designed to be off-grid, self-sufficient, and amenity-rich with a kitchen, bathroom, sleeping area, solar panels, greywater system and composting toilet."

Architects Rex Hohlbein and Jenn LaFreniere, a father-daughter team and founders of the BLOCK Project, say it is designed with the goal of setting a new precedent in housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness. Earlier this year they enlisted Facing Homelessness to bring their "Yes, in my backyard" initiative to the community. That group, whose mission is to remove the negative stereotype against those living on the streets, now owns and manages the project with support from BLOCK Architects and more than a dozen other partners.

BLOCK Project founders believe it "represents an innovative leap forward on the issues of homelessness, cross-class integration, social inclusion, and architectural design." A statement on the project's website says it will "not only offer opportunities for healing and advancement to those formerly living on the fringes of society, but it will also bring connection, relationship, and compassion to the center of our lives and communities.  They hope a "Yes, in my backyard" approach will nurture the empathy needed to catalyze a global movement.

Fundraising is underway to build 20 block houses in Seattle by the end of the year.

"If we put one block house on every residential zone block in the city, we would have twice the amount of housing as there are homeless in the city," said Hohlbein, during an interview on KING TV. The first four families who volunteered their backyards for block homes live in Crown Hill, Greenwood, Beacon Hill, and the Central District.