As the world is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history, cities are densifying at a tremendous rate. In metropolises like New York City the land is scarce and the rents are at a record high. As a direct-result of these soaring numbers, more and more people are unable to afford a place to live and find themselves homeless. Over the last few years, homelessness in New York City has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Over the course of 2015, more than 109,000 men, women and children slept in the New York City municipal shelter system [1]. Simultaneously, thousands of unsheltered homeless people sleep on the streets, in the subway system, and in other public spaces.

New York City - one of the most admired cities in the world needs to step up to the plate and treat this like the major crisis it is. The people of New York deserve better.





2015 - ongoing

New York, NY

Concept, Architectural Design

Pre-Fab, Housing, Product Design, Architecture

Homeless Population, New York City [2]

New York City Population Growth Rate [3]


Then / Now

The explanation for New York's high homeless population has its roots in the late 1970s. During these years the city turned against the single-room occupancy (SRO) units. These were a form of housing units that once dominated the New York housing market. They accommodated one or two people in individual rooms and were very modest in size. Because of their affordability they played a vital role in providing housing for the city's poorest. In 1955 changes in the housing code prohibited conversion or construction of new SRO units and at the end of the 1970s there were only a small number of them left. To provide context: the estimated 175,000 SRO units that were eliminated from 1955 on were roughly equivalent in number to New York’s entire public housing system [4].

As the graph above illustrates, the homeless population has been growing steadily since then. But, at it's tail end, a drastic increase occurs. Since 2012, the city has seen a 40% increase [5]. Three factors in particular are responsible for this:

1. Widening housing affordability gap.

Between 2005 and 2013, the median rent increased by nearly 12 percent while the median income of renter households increased by only 2.3 percent [2].

2. Cutback on housing assistance.

There has been a steady decline in rental subsidy for low-income households in New York. On top of that, the allocated budget for investments in building and preserving affordable housing has been reduced.

3. Weakening of rent regulation laws. 

The number of rent-regulated apartments has steadily gone down. Between 1991 and 2011, the city lost over 100,000 rent-regulated apartment. Meanwhile, the total number of rental units had increased by 200,000 [10].

1. Widening housing affordability gap

2. Cut-back on housing assistance

3. Weakening of rent regulation laws

This is the East Village in Manhattan - a neighborhood with one of the highest population densities in New York. It's 62,000 [6] inhabitants equal that of the city's current homeless population.

"a true human crisis that is a litmus test for society’s compassion and government’s competence"

Gov. Andrew Cuomo [7]

Another consequence of the growth of NYC, is the increase in land prices and the reduction of available land to build on. But although almost every square foot of space in NYC has been claimed and utilized, there still manages to exist an abundant amount of “vertical lots” sitting idle. These are the blank sidewalls of buildings that emerges and disappears as new developments come and go. In aggregate they make up hundreds of acres of available "land".


The evolution of empty lots in the city

View of a HOMED cluster on Lafayette St. [8]

This massive and acute problem, is not only a tragedy for the affected people, but it is also a large economical burden for the city. For perspective, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has an annual operating budget of $955,300,000 [9].


Although the situation is incredibly complex, the steps towards reducing the homeless population can be boiled down to two clear actions:

1. Provide more low-income housing 

2. Bolster the housing assistance programs to reduce the eviction rate.

Step one seems plain and simple: Create less high-end housing for the high-income households and more affordable housing for the low-income households. But, this involves a steep uphill battle - against the city's powerful real-estate sector. To provide context: Low income households made up 63% of renters in 2011, only 26% of rental units in the city were low-income affordable [9].

As an intermediate step to reduce the shelter population, the city needs a lot of temporary housing that can enable an effective and sequential reduction of the shelter population. A key challenge in achieving this, is competing against the city's real-estate moguls for the required land to build.


HOMED is a proposal that bypasses this challenge. It does so by utilizing the available "vertical sites", in conjunction with a flexible framework that already exist in the city - scaffolding.

Hexagon-shaped housing modules, manufactured locally in NY, are designed to connect to the scaffolding structure, pack densely, and create a second, active layer of the empty wall. In aggregate this forms cluster of suspended micro-neighborhoods of shelters for the city’s least fortunate.


These units give its resident a temporary place of safety, privacy, self-expression and pride. Each unit measures 7x7x7 - giving a typical seven-story building a capacity of 95 units and 285 sleeping areas.


The situation / The opportunity / The proposal







The objectives of the HOMED unit

View of a HOMED cluster on Crosby St.


The system components

View of a HOMED cluster on Mulberry St.

Exploded diagram of the unit components

View of a HOMED cluster on Broome St. by day

View of a HOMED cluster on Broome St. by night


The front face of the pod is made up of a smart-glass assembly with a layer of thin film diodes, This allows the face to be clear (aligned particles/light transmitted) and open to the city outside, opaque (particles in random positions/light absorbed) and provide privacy for the resident, or thirdly, transmit digital content. This can be artwork curated/created by the resident, public information, or commercial content - effectively enabling revenue opportunities.

The three modes of the HOMED unit's front face

View of a HOMED cluster on Houston St.



The unit is designed to provide a year-round space that can withstand harsh, cold weather and provide a cool space during summer. While the exterior construction of steel and oxidized aluminum deals with the wear and tear of the city, the interior is cladded with sheets of plywood - creating a warm and friendly environment. Integrated into the assembly are compartments for a lighting fixture, electrical outlets and storage. A suspended PVC membrane allows the space to be broken down into smaller rooms and functions as a furniture for the inhabitant. The resulting space is a minimal, secluded room, with a hexagonal view of the cityscape outside

Interior configurations of the HOMED unit

View from inside the HOMED unit

On a parting note, it is important to stress that this proposal is not intended as a singular solution to the situation. Rather, it is intended to be an instrument that plays a part in the solution. The massive extent and complexity of the situation requires work on a broad regulatory and policy-making level. But, the design community has an obligation to be a part of the process.


Please consider helping by becoming an advocate and signing up as a volunteer at Coalition for the homeless.


1:   Basic Facts About Homelessness: New York City, Coalition for the Homeless, http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/basic-facts-about-homelessness-new-york-city/

2:   Homeless shelter population. New York City Department of Homeless Services, NYU Furman Center

3:   New York City Population 1970 - 2025, Urbanomics for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC), September 2004

4:   The New York City Housing Authority estimates that there are 178,914 public housing units as of March 1, 2013. About NYCHA Fact Sheet, N.Y.C. HOUS.               AUTH., http:/ /www.nyc.gov/html/nycha/html/about/factsheet.shtml (last visited Jan. 24, 2014).

5:   "Why New York City’s Homeless Family Policies Keep Failing", The Huffington Post, February 24, 2016, by Ralph da Costa Nunez, PhD

6:   "East Village, Manhattan" Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Village,_Manhattan

7:   Transcript of Cuomo’s 2016 State of the State Address, January 13, 2016,

8:   Portrait artwork by Viktor Miller-Gausa https://www.behance.net/viktormillergausa

9:   "Innovations in NYC Health and Human Services Policy: Homelessness Prevention, Intake, and Shelter for Single Adults and Families", February, 2014, by Christin           Durham and Martha Johnson http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/413060-Innovations-in-NYC-Health-and-Human-Services-Policy-         Homelessness-Prevention-Intake-and-Shelter-for-Single-Adults-and-Families.PDF

10: "Rent Stabilization in New York City" , NYU Furman Center


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