AUGUSTA — Andrew Treworgy was pretty clear that the housing he spent a semester designing might be the kind of place he will find himself in a couple of years.

As a fourth-year student in the University of Maine at Augusta’s newly fully accredited architecture program, he’ll be done with his education in another year and working toward his license, which will take several more years. And he’ll need a place to live.

“The selection of housing for people like myself is rough,” Treworgy said.

Just a week ago, he was facing a panel of reviewers, his classmates and other interested people to present his final version of a semester-long design project — the affordable home of the future. His was the first of 11 projects presented in the Richmond Gallery in Handley Hall, on Water Street in Augusta.

The subject is not a coincidence. Celebrating its 50th anniversary later this year, the Maine State Housing Authority reached out to the UMA architecture program with an idea of broadening the range of possibilities for housing that people in Maine can afford.

“It’s a good time to be not only retrospective and thinking about what we’ve done,” Denise Lord said, “but to also be thinking about the future, what the next 50 years will look like.”

Lord, the senior director of communications and planning at the Maine State Housing Authority, said the current state of housing both in Maine and across the United States shows the need.

“The labor pool is shrinking in the construction trades. The cost of labor and supplies is increasing, and we see affordability touching more and more Maine families,” she said. “So how do we begin a long-term change process to flatten that trajectory and make housing more affordable? It was clear to us we need to be thinking about people who are coming into the field, who have fresh ideas, people who will be living in the housing they are designing.”

It’s also important to find the people who may stay in Maine over the next five decades and help to make inroads into the availability of affordability, Lord said.

Eric Stark, an associate professor of architecture and the architecture program coordinator, said the project drew the attention of the Augusta Housing Authority.

“The Maine State Housing Authority is basically a bank, and people bring them projects to fund,” Stark said. “Amanda Olson and the Augusta Housing Authority are who get the projects done, and with their input, they helped me create the project brief.”

Olson, executive director of the Augusta Housing Authority, grew up in Augusta and said the city she sees now is different from the city of her childhood.

For decades, Augusta was a manufacturing city, with a number of mills producing products for export. But as economic conditions changed, the mills closed down, and what grew up in its wake is a service economy, where wages are generally lower.

“There’s so much restaurant and retail business here now, and the number of hotels here have increased,” Olson said.

The growth in that job sector has created a workforce that doesn’t earn enough money to live in market-rate housing.

“There is a huge need to have affordable housing for the workforce we have,” Olson said.

At the same time, more people are needed across the region, which is experiencing low unemployment rates and lacks the workers to fill chronic vacancies.

“Workforce housing is one of the cornerstones of a good economic development strategy,” said Keith Luke, deputy director for Development Services for the city of Augusta.

His focus is economic development, and he, like Olson, was on the panel giving Treworgy and his colleagues feedback on their designs.

“Housing that is affordable to the people who are active in the workforce or are just starting out in the workforce — there are few things more important than that,” Luke said.

One of the factors that’s limiting business growth and expansion is the lack of workers in central Maine, he said.

“One of the things we can do in government is compete for and help attract workers by adopting and supporting a program that provides affordable housing,” Luke said.

Berta Trafton, center, of Corinth, is congratulated May 6 by fellow students following her presentation for affordable housing designs at the University of Maine Augusta. Students enrolled in the school’s architecture program devoted a semester to studying affordable housing and presented their plans to a group of housing advocates, architects and designers. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

The students, now in the fourth year of a five-year program, were given a number of constraints to guide their design. They had to include elements of universal design to ensure the spaces are accessible to people regardless of age or ability. They followed the principles of passive house design, which promotes energy efficiency and requires minimal energy for heating or cooling.

And their designs — whether for single units, row houses or three-family homes — had to be designed to suit one of three specific properties in Augusta: one on Gage Street, one on Willow Street and one on Malta Street on the grounds of the Hodgkins School, which has been converted into senior apartments.

The designs that resulted spanned a wide range of possibilities, from pre-fab units that would be assembled on site and be easy to replicate to developments designed to meet unique and sometimes very individual needs.

While the students’ designs are not ready for development, the housing market in Maine is hungry for housing options residents can afford.

“Something like 20,000 affordable housing units are needed, and we’re making our students aware of that,” Stark said.

Olson said those working in affordable housing have been restrained over time by the limited financial resources that are available.

“We are literally stuck in a box without a ton of innovation,” she said. “The results of this collaboration showed us we don’t have to be stuck in that box. A couple of the designs demonstrated to me that we could do more in terms of innovation and include more passive house design and universal design components.”

In the first years of the program, Treworgy said, students have complete freedom and design projects that, in his own words, “aren’t based in reality.” But as they progress through the program, they learn more about the technical aspects of the craft and the constraints imposed by limits of costs, materials, building codes and zoning laws, among others.

For this class, the students were made to feel they were designing something for real that would please clients and take into consideration costs and demographics.

They presented their projects at three different points. After the first two, Treworgy said his project changed quite a bit, from a single home to a multi-unit home to a complex home based on feedback and critique.

“We were trying to show something innovative that they might use for the next 50 years in the design realm,” he said. “My innovation was a design that would fit any site.”

The three sites considered for the project had different characteristics, and that reflects the reality of design and highlights the need for flexibility.

His design, for a series of multi-unit buildings catering to single people, couples and families, could fit on all three sites.

Treworgy is still looking for the professional path he will pursue. He’s worked for a sole practitioner designing high-end vacation homes and in a firm that does commercial design and dense housing projects. His interest now is in homes and housing.

“The Maine State Housing people have worked in the development industry for a long time but not necessarily the design aspect — more the buildability, the cost, the technical stuff. It’s fun to see people who don’t have any knowledge of the design side appreciate and learn,” he said. “That’s the satisfaction of it.”

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