Our approach to creating great spaces for affordable and permanent supportive housing.

By: Lindsey Talmo, Joseph Rosenberg, Scott Capps ASLA

As landscape architects, we have the privilege and responsibility to create outdoor spaces that provide inspiration, comfort, connectivity, and inclusivity. In our ongoing work providing landscape design services to organizations who are focused building affordable and permanent supportive housing solutions, it is critical to design with the end user in mind. Just as a one size fits all approach doesn’t work for typical multi-family housing projects, designing for those who do not have secure housing or struggle with their mental health requires research, thoughtfulness, and empathy.


Centered around residents’ needs, Aria in Los Angeles offers 57 supportive housing units for formerly homeless veterans. More than housing, through their partnership with Homeless Health Care Los Angeles, Aria provides supplemental care, assessments, and holistic support. An interior community room opens to the rear courtyard and features an outdoor kitchen, communal dining spaces and gathering areas, as well as a community garden program designed to foster education, responsibility, and wellness.

Taking advantage of views to downtown Los Angeles, the roof deck provides multiple gathering areas and a fitness lawn. Working closely with Affirmed Housing and AC Martin Architects, the design aimed to create an open and inviting sense of place within the surrounding dense, urban neighborhood. By maximizing program within the landscape, the residents of Aria have a variety of spaces to enjoy and call home.


Situated on a very narrow and long site, Westhaven has 56 affordable apartment units for the formerly homeless. To maximize the site design, EPTDESIGN worked with Affirmed Housing, AC Martin and the rest of the project team to coordinate the building placement to straddle over the main vehicular entry roadway, creating a wider pedestrian corridor layered with softscape. Introducing planting along this tight concrete walkway between the buildings was key – upright trees bringing the scale down to pedestrian level, softening adjacent building walls with vines, and lower-level grasses along the walkway for movement and maintaining visibility. The softening of “hard surfaces” through planting plays an especially critical role in recovery and healing efforts for those who have experienced homelessness.

Connected strongly to the landscape, indoor spaces spill outward to the site, giving way to a series of outdoor rooms including spaces for gathering, cooking, and dining. Bench seating lines the walkways, providing outdoor seating for small groups or individuals to meet with case managers. As you approach the rear of the site, the space widens to a more park-like setting, complete with a passive lawn for recreation, pet relief area, secured bike storage, and elevated veggie garden beds. The programming of these spaces meets not only the needs of individuals on their path to recovery but provides opportunities for residents to grow as a community and establish relationships.


EPTDESIGN has teamed up with Community Development Partners and Architecture Design Collaborative on a new 5 story, Supportive Housing and Shelter project in Oxnard, CA. This unique project not only meets the immediate needs of those who are experiencing homelessness as a traditional shelter but has purposeful programming to include long-term support with permanent supportive housing, case management services, and intentional spaces for shared amenities. The ground floor community shelter provides space for individuals to have their basic needs met, such as meals, showering and laundry, and approximately 110 beds for those in need. The exterior entry plaza serves as a platform for community events, art displays, and integration of stormwater management practices.

The second level podium serves the 56 affordable & supportive housing units, with a sizeable central courtyard filled with communal kitchen and dining spaces, shaded lounge areas, tree groves and raised perimeter planters, a resident-run community garden program, and well-lit spaces with festoon string lighting to provide safe access for all hours to the courtyards. A secondary space extends south from the staff offices, media room, and communal kitchen, filling the spaces with natural light. The flexible outdoor patio offers a place for larger groups to gather on event nights, or smaller groups to meet for lifelong learning classes. By implementing these thoughtful types of amenities that encourage shared spaces, we can design opportunities for social connectivity and improved quality of life.

A significantly complex problem, the issue of people experiencing homelessness is expected to rise. Designers have the opportunity to play a critical role in how to meet the basic needs of housing, safety, and places for recovery to happen. By partnering with clients who believe in a holistic approach to recovery, we can help transform underutilized spaces – vacant properties, motels, and parking lots – into hubs of healing.

We have found that successful projects are located close to public transportation, have parking, accommodates pets, provides support services, and is supported by the greater community. One of our main goals is to design spaces that maximize landscape areas across the site. Studies show plants help provide people with faster recovery and enhance quality of life, critical for those who are transitioning from homelessness.

In addition to the above, it is important for us to design with the end user in mind – each targeted user group will have their own set of needs. Listed below are a few design considerations that we keep in mind during the design process.

Affordable or Low-Income Housing for Families
– Dedicated place for play away from main vehicular circulation and with open visibility for parents/guardians.
– Communal gathering areas for families.

Veteran Housing and SRO (Single Resident Occupancy)
– Areas for fitness equipment and outdoor recreation.
– Increase in accessible features.

Senior Housing
– Enhanced accessibility – wider walkways, high contrast materials or planting for visibility, sensory gardens.

Women’s Shelters
– Secured perimeter conditions and controlled/monitored access points for visitors and guests, as many are recovering from domestic violence.



Many public spaces have been deemed “unsuccessful projects” if they’re attracting those who are experiencing homelessness, and this dichotomy is often where landscape architects find ourselves.

There are hostile strategies for ‘defensive architecture’, including uncomfortable benches or spikes in window sills, but these do not actually make our cities safer. What has been proven is that ending chronic homelessness saves taxpayers money and that can create a lasting impact on society. We have a role to play in this complex issue, and a responsibility to design healing landscapes for everyone – especially the marginalized people who have experienced homelessness. To help create spaces for not just environmental impacts, but lasting social ones as well is what the entire design industry should be aiming for. It is the difference between a “hand-out vs. a hand-up” that can transform lives of these residents, and it all starts with intentional community-oriented development.

To learn more, reach out to us at [email protected]