Design fellow focuses on housing in south side neighborhoods

By Sonam Vashi

Through the Enterprise Rose Fellowship, one designer will focus on creating affordable housing design in Sylvan Hills and Browns Mill Park.

With other fellows at three other locations nationwide, Deborah Pérez Centeno will work with Atlanta Habitat for Humanity to design affordable housing and engage the surrounding neighborhoods.

A designer, Pérez Centeno says she applied for the fellowship because she was looking for a little bit more.”

“Many of us architects are interested in doing good design that also has a social impact,” she says.

Deborah Pérez Centeno (Courtesy of Enterprise)

Previously, Pérez Centeno worked in affordable housing financing in her home, Puerto Rico, both before and after Hurricane Maria, which decimated the U.S. territory. “Before [the hurricane], in an urban context, we were dealing with a lot of blight, gentrification in certain areas—quite similar to Atlanta,” she says. “But right after the hurricane, our main problem was that a lot of low-income people did not have a safe house… The infrastructure, the water, the electricity basically collapsed. There were a lot of systemic issues that even housing can’t fix.”

Pérez Centeno herself went three months without water. “Out of that experience, I really became focused in sustainable housing.”

Since her recent arrival in Atlanta, Pérez Centeno has been learning about Atlanta. “The city is very big, and it’s experiencing a population shift very drastically… A lot of locations are gentrifying very quickly, at a rate that I had not experienced before. Here, it’s on a very different scale, on a very extreme scale.”

As she’ll be working on creating housing at a similar scale as she did in Puerto Rico, “Deborah’s skillsets really fit well with what Atlanta Habitat for Humanity is doing,” says Mark Matel, director of the Enterprise fellowship.

He added that Atlanta presents unique opportunities to do this kind of work. “A lot of the affordable housing issues around the country are different than Atlanta’s, in that homeownership is much more viable [here],” Matel says. “In Atlanta, you get to look at both options: multifamily density and the single-family housing market.”

Now, Pérez Centeno will continue engaging the communities of Sylvan Hills and Browns Mill Park, learning about their needs to create responsive design. “The way they envision their future, I want to try and make that a reality,” she says.

Sonam Vashi is an award-winning freelance journalist in Atlanta writing about affordable housing for Saporta Report. Her reporting, which usually focuses on criminal justice, equity, and the South, has also appeared with CNN, the Washington Post, Atlanta magazine, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, among others. She is the vice president of the Atlanta chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, and she grew up in Gwinnett County.

3 replies
  1. Avatar
    Christopher Johnston says:

    Is Ms. Perez a designer or an architect? This article mentions both. Anyone may legally call themselves a designer, but only a graduate architect who is registered by the State of Georgia can legally call themselves an architect in Georgia. Designers must work under the supervision of architects.Report

    Reply

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