03/02/21 Architecture in Small Spaces: Students Create Affordable Housing Designs for the Homeless Community


By Xinyi Liu

This story was originally published by the USC Homelessness Initiative.

Two USC Architecture students, Anshia Badyal (‘2021) and Aishwarya Pai (‘2021), partnered with Alex Tucciarone of Volunteers of America, Los Angeles (VOALA) to design small house units for the homeless community in LA. VOALA is a non-profit human services organization committed to serving people in need and has been developing affordable housing programs to accommodate at-risk communities. 

Joining in October 2020 as interns, they have designed a housing community of 40 single-unit houses in one acre with a community area. The designs encompass creativity, cost-effectiveness, and efficiency to occupancy addressing the current homeless crises in Los Angeles with dignity for the future residents.

“A respectful space” is how Badyal described her design. Together Badyal and Pai came up with a two-person housing design that’s under 170 sq. feet in total. They also employed a bathroom structure that is inspired by the Jack & Jill bathroom design to make full use of the room while maintaining the privacy of the co-living space.

To build a community, the students decided to keep every two houses facing each other, with a small walkway in between. In the center of every eight houses is a green space, which serves as a community space with a public kitchenette, where people can socialize and meet other residents. “Green spaces, personal areas, hygiene, everything is taken care of. We checked all the boxes,” said Badyal.

For this project, Badyal drew experience from her father who has developed land and built homes in India’s real estate industry. “He has worked on a township for a lower-income community, so he knows how to make full use of the space,” Badyal said. She continued, “That’s how I knew, when I was creating the 5-by-5 feet bathroom space, I knew it was enough for one person to shower. The knowledge and mindset I learned from my father really helped me through this design.”

When designing the floorplan, Badyal was also inspired by the dorm life at USC, saying that it gives her a positive mentality that the best spaces are the smallest spaces because they bring intimacy among people. When talking about her work, Badyal said she would never be satisfied, but would keep changing and evolving the concept. 

“Their design is creative, simple, and functional,” Tucciarone said about Badyal and Pai’s project. According to him, housing designs for the homeless faced a significant challenge: “Many of the housing projects I’ve seen have no storage place. So the assumption is that, if you’re homeless, you have no change of clothes or any belongings. Where do you put your bike? What if you have a pet? There’s this lack of respect and dignity, and that’s to me a big challenge.”

“Homelessness in Los Angeles has increased 13% from 2019 to 2020, according to the LA Times…” and almost 75% of the homeless population are living outside. While the size of the homeless community grows, the number of affordable housing units is shrinking as homes eventually flip to market rate, according to the California Housing Partnership, which estimates that there is a gap of more than half a million housing units. 

Along with that huge gap between the demand and supply of affordable housing, the quality of housing is also a concern for Tucciarone, a view that Badyal shares. Badyal has seen how a terrible living situation affects the lives of Indian people in cities and slums, and she has brought that experience into this project. “People talk about it all the time, but they only just talk ….” 

Badyal said she always felt like industry professionals, scholars, and even students, should do more about housing the homeless. When she received the email about Tucciarone’s affordable housing internship, she saw it as a chance to do meaningful work. “I am not political, and I don’t stand out for things as a political person,” Badyal said, “but I have my own way of doing it, like architecture.”


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