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Service Design/Social Innovation

Affordable Housing ReDesign for Pittsburgh


Transition Design "is a new area of design research, practice and study that proposes design-led societal transition toward more sustainable futures."


Note— For a full, in-depth, chronological documentation of this project's process visit my Medium post.

Senior Design Research Studio: Taught by Stacie Rohrbach, Stuart Candy, and Terry Irwin

“Our goal is to gain insight into approaches and methods that aid the study of factors affecting the harmony between ourselves and our environment, and to apply these to designing services and social innovations that help transition societies to sustainable futures.”

Team
Noah Johnson, Adella Guo, Carolyn Zho, Hae Wan Park

Challenge
Using the lens of Transition Design, design new services or social innovations to address Pittsburgh's affordable housing crisis.

Solution
We developed a research tool to understand the dynamics between landlords and renters resulting in the design, named "Section 8+" which included two physical packages: a Tenant Package and a Landlord Package.

Tenant Package: To eliminate the confusion and anxiety tenants feel upon moving to Section 8, we designed a packet containing a reassuring overview to tenants as soon as they dip below the Section 8 threshold, along with a comprehensive list of pre-selected apartments for rents including those with lower rents in higher income neighborhoods.

Landlord Package: Sent to landlords receiving a Section 8 applicant with the goal of attacking the long-term stigma surrounding Section 8 tenants by giving landlords everything they need to know about what it meant to house someone on the program as well as a complete profile of the tenant and their rental history.

Research Tool: Developed a research tool that tested the impact of the Section 8+ design. This tool revealed how the stigma makes the current state Section 8 program inefficient and harmful to all sides and revealed that the Section 8+ solution greatly minimized that.   

The research tool is an interactive activity consisting of three styles of apartment housing, three personas with three rental applications. Users were asked to assume the role of a landlord and were shown three different potential renters along with their rental application and asked to identify which applicant they'd choose as a tenant. 

The tool showed that the majority of test subjects rejected tenants with the standard Section 8 packet attached to their applications because they felt it was difficult to understand and intimidating.  However, when that paperwork was replaced with our redesigned future-state "Section 8+" packet, a much greater number of landlords chose the Section 8+ participants.

The tool showed that the majority of test subjects rejected tenants with the standard Section 8 packet attached to their applications because they felt it was difficult to understand and intimidating.  However, when that paperwork was replaced with our redesigned future-state "Section 8+" packet, a much greater number of landlords chose the Section 8+ participants.

Spent several weeks using Transition Design frameworks and exercises to research affordable housing on both a local and national scale, fully understanding the issues and creating insights and empathy with the many players in this space.

Synthesized all insights to fully understand affordable housing in Pittsburgh and all its pain points, finally focusing on re-design of Section 8, the government-subsidized housing voucher program.

Worked collaboratively and iteratively to develop a concept that attacked the current hardships that lead to being on Section 8 as well as the hardships of living with Section 8, including stigmas surrounding the program on the sides of both tenants and landlords.