Portfolio — From the November 2012 issue

The Invisible Stimulus

In search of what Obama built

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From six stories above the corner of Cedar Street and Sixth Avenue, San Diego looked unaccustomedly quaint—an old-growth seaside town of mission-style churches and midcentury office towers strung along tidy streets leading down to a sunny harbor. The interstate, bane of the southern California metropolis, was just a block north, but on a Monday afternoon in early spring traffic was thin, so the freeway noise was hard-ly detectable.

Since March, this 3,500-square-foot rooftop prospect has been a private reserve for tenants of the newly built Cedar Gateway Apartments. The residents, installed in sixty-five units, have full use of the building’s deck, and they don’t come up here just for the views: laundry machines are housed to one side in a room with broad windows designed to let parents keep an eye on children as they play outdoors. A green roof, kept fresh by a concealed irrigation system, retains storm water and absorbs solar heat.

“It’s a beautiful place, an awesome place,” said Patrick Muzio, a new tenant who came here from an apartment in San Diego’s blighted Southeast section. Muzio, who is fifty-seven, unemployed, and studying full-time for his GED, was able to afford the move thanks to a government-funded housing initiative that places low-income families in multi-unit buildings alongside individuals who, like Muzio, are suffering from debilitating mental disorders. The families get spacious new homes in a prime location at below-market cost, while those who need it can receive on-site care from trained staff.

The exterior of Cedar Gateway is made up of an irregular pattern of steel and plaster panels, an aesthetic perfectly in step with the condo-contemporary mode popular among developers in downtown San Diego. John Silber, the architect who designed the building, said his goal was to make the building as inconspicuous as possible in a neighborhood of more upscale developments.

Silber was retained in 2007, but the project was put on hold as both private and public investment disappeared after the 2008 economic crisis. With the development’s fate uncertain, its prime backers—San Diego’s Centre City Development Corporation, the nonprofit Corporation for Supportive Housing, and a consortium of real estate companies—turned to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for help. In 2009, HUD came through with a $14 million commitment from TCAP, its Tax Credit Assistance Program; the grant was enough to allow construction to begin.

And the reason HUD had the money available? The $2.25 billion pool of funds that became TCAP was appropriated by Congress in February 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)—the oft-debated, frequently maligned stimulus bill, the centerpiece (along with the 2010 Affordable Care Act) of the Obama Administration’s domestic policy. Cedar Gateway is a stimulus project.

But since the construction signs on Sixth bearing the telltale circular insignia came down, no one would have any reason to suspect the building’s origins. Asked whether he knew that Cedar Gateway was funded by ARRA, resident Bruce Smith said he didn’t really know how the development was financed.

“It’s all publicly funded or something like that,” said Smith. “All I know is, whoever paid for buildings like these, they’re doing San Diego the biggest favor.”

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has contributed articles on architecture, design, and urban culture to <em>Dwell, Interior Design, New York</em> magazine, and the <em>New York Observer.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QF3ISA26NELPK2NXX5CBPGAJRI vinnie

    Finally located this story online. I read and viewed the photos of stimulus projects. The most ridiculous one is the realignment and grouting of the Santa Maria River in California. $40 million for the feds to destroy a watershed!!! There are actually two rivers destroyed by the stimulus in this feature. The other is in Corona CA.
    Readers! Ask yourselves why $40 million in federal funds is used to *realign and grout” a river. Was the river in the wrong place? Was the river causing problems for local residents?
    OR…. did the river stand in the way of developers, such as KB Home? I already know the answer because I live in Southern Califiornia. Everything is about house-building here. The stimulus, the kick-start of the economy… all of this is built on development. The developers can even get the fed government to prep the land for them!

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