Those whizzing by the intersection of Griggs Road on the Gulf Freeway can't help but notice blocks of crisp cobalt blue and punchy tangerine buttressing monumental metal murals, topped off with a sleek, aluminum-framed pitched roof.
Is this a new boutique hotel? The latest work of a Miami-import architect? Perhaps a new artist collective's outpost east of EaDo?
No — this is subsidized housing.
Brays Crossing, a project of New Hope Housing and the vision of Ernesto Maldonado of architecture firm Glassman Shoemake Maldonado, is a prime example of how low-income apartments don't have to be dull.
Originally built in 1963 to house NASA contractors, the development fell into disrepair as the Houtex Inn and was a haven for crime until New Hope Housing swooped in to give it a much-needed facelift. In its updated state, Brays Crossing boasts 149 single room occupancy (SRO) efficiency apartments for low-income adults living alone.
"Brays Crossing shatters the stereotype of affordable SRO housing by reflecting New Hope's philosophy that SRO housing must offer residents quality, attractive, affordable housing with dignity," New Hope housing board chair Mack Fowler says. "This 'deep renovation' incorporates public art components into the design and will serve as a significant addition to the East End's well-established artistic tradition."
The façade functions as a colossal canvas for artist Carmen Lomas Garza, who constructed four steel murals that also serve as sound barriers from the nearby interstate highway. Considering the East End's rich Hispanic heritage, the works couldn't be more appropriate — they each depict part of the Mexican-American experience: Las Mañanitas (Singers), El Jardín (The Garden), Papel Peado (Paper Cutouts) and Baile (Dance).
Each installation, towering 14 feet high and stretching 48 feet long, draws inspiration from papel picado, the paper cut-outs that flutter in taquerias and at Day of the Dead parties.
The art initiative is more than skin-deep: Colors dance inside the lobby from original stained glass windows punctuating the building entry. They're the work of Houston-based artist Kim Clark Renteria.
"Garza and Renteria are renowned for their work and we are extremely fortunate to have their art displayed in this community," New Hope Housing executive director Joy Horak-Brown says.
Although the average resident makes no more than $13,000 a year, the building's redesign is on a caliber that beats out Midtown and Washington Corridor's expensive corporate housing compounds, whose one-room units can cost more than three times the $405-440 monthly rent at Brays Crossing.
Inside the complex's showroom, contemporary novels sit by the beds, and the kitchen is stocked with ample amounts of Perrier, organic oatmeal and imported Italian olive oil. It's a scene to put any frugalista to shame. Brays Crossing's other amenities include a cozy library, business center and community kitchen.
Funding came from the City of Houston, private foundations and corporations and Low Income Housing Tax Credits allocated by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
Although Brays Crossing is a landmark achievement in humane public housing, New Hope isn't stopping anytime soon. Other major New Hope projects opening this year include the newly renovated 57-unit historic hotel-turned-SRO, located downtown at 1414 Congress, and the 166-unit Sakowitz Apartments at 2424 Sakowitz Street in Houston's Fifth Ward/Denver Harbor area. Eco-conscious paupers will fall in love with the Sakowitz, as it's the city's first LEED-certified supportive multifamily property.
New Hope's projects are also substantial PR for positioning Houston as a progressive metropolis with A-list affordable housing. Their Canal Street Apartments was one of 25 best practice finalists chosen from a broad mix of exemplary projects in North and South America for the 2009 Urban Land Institute Awards for Excellence. The site also earned an ULI-Houston Development of Distinction Award.