When most people think of low income housing, bright colored homes in a community-focused atmosphere aren’t usually what come to mind. But Otto Merida Desert Villas, the development on Honolulu St. near U.S. 95, paints an entirely different picture with bright colors and a nod to traditional old-time America of what subsidized housing can look like.

Otto Merida Desert Villas is a low-income tax credit development created as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986. The purpose was to help meet a growing need for subsidized housing in the United States.

The Housing Authority of the City of Las Vegas hired LGA to design the homes and the layout of the more than 12-acre property. Instead of earth-tones and drab-looking materials, bright and inviting colors, including blue and orange, along with kid-friendly landscaping was used to create a distinctive neighborhood, said Jason Jorjorian, the project designer.

“We’re changing the paradigm of low-income housing; it’s a departure from traditional low-income housing to community housing,” Jorjorian said. “It appears and feels as though we were able to achieve an atmosphere rooted in family and community. It’s grounded in the community and the people as opposed to the architecture.”

Otto Merida Desert Villas has experienced full capacity of the 60 detached single-family and duplex rental units since opening in June 2007.  The socially and environmentally sustainable design, along with the inviting appearance, earned the complex a National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials Merit Award for housing and community development in 2007. The complex was also nominated for a national award for excellence by the same association that same year.

The crime rate in the low-income development is also lower than in similar housing complexes in the Las Vegas area, said Jose Montoya, a public information officer for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

“I feel honored and proud to have been a part in this change in public housing and what housing is trying to be,” said John Haddad, partner at LGA. “I feel good, the Housing Authority of the City of Las Vegas feels good, about what we were able to accomplish; it’s not just about the dollars.”

Each unit has a one-car garage and access to community outdoor areas including barbecue pits, a community center and a water-spray play area. LGA designed the individual homes to have front-porches in order to break away from the conventional feel of low-income housing.

“The Housing Authority didn’t want it to look like low-income housing, so they added garages and front porches,” Haddad said. “They also removed the big dumpsters common to apartments and allowed for individual residential trash pickup. In addition, a property management company takes care of the landscaping and community spaces, which is similar to other residential complexes in the area.”

The Otto Merida development is in a redevelopment area, but the existing structures were torn down. LGA was able to increase the density of the neighborhood from 48 to 60 units while using a modular unit design organized into a variety of arrangements, evoking a sense of belonging and community. The $15 million project was paid for by private funding along with tax credits.

Individuals who qualify to rent a unit in the new development have clean records and are working toward improving their quality of life.

“Some people will move here and live with their families for the rest of their lives,” said Amparo Gamazo, who works for the Housing Authority of the City of Las Vegas. “As individuals get back on their feet and make more money, however, many will move into other parts of the community where they can own a home or condo.”

The overall goal is to help people who are struggling financially get off subsidized housing while still having a place that feels like a home, Gamazo said. The Otto Merida Desert Villas have been well-received by its inhabitants and surrounding members of the community. Neighboring homes have been painted to mirror the low-income housing development in the past year in order to continue the feel of a cohesive community.

“We really see this project as a model for all affordable community housing, not just subsidized housing,” Jorjorian said.

NATIONAL AWARD OF MERIT, HOUSING AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT – NAHRO | 2008
NATIONAL AWARD OF MERIT, PROGRAM INNOVATION FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING – NAHRO | 2008
AWARD OF MERIT, WATER-CONSCIOUS RESIDENTIAL LANDSCAPE DESIGN – SOUTHERN NEVADA WATER AUTHORITY | 2008
HONOR AWARD, RESIDENTIAL/MODEL HOMES- AMERICAN SOCIETY OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS | 2007