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Young Architect Plan: Aid for Service

Monday, March 24, 2014

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Young architects have as much to offer their communities as new doctors, teachers and lawyers—and should be offered the same incentive to serve.

That's the theory behind the newly proposed National Design Services Act (NDSA), a financial-aid bill introduced March 12 in Congress with the hearty support of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

Sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), H.R. 4205 would amend Title I of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 to authorize the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to develop a loan repayment program for "eligible architects."

Dreams and Development

The bill aims to "promote sustainable economic development and jobs by ensuring aspiring architects are able to gain valuable experience while giving back to their communities designing public projects such as schools, health clinics, housing facilities and libraries,” Perlmutter said in announcing the measure.

Portland OR Sustainable Housing Blacksburg, VA Sustainable Housing
Enterprise Cmty Partners via NRDC

Eligible projects for loan forgiveness would include design and research for public housing, like these projects by the Smart Growth Network in Portland, OR (left), and Blacksburg, VA.

“In return, the bill will alleviate some of the barriers new students face as they pursue their dreams in architecture."

The program is patterned after similar debt-relief programs that draw new doctors, lawyers and others into underserved areas starved for professional assistance and support, backers say.

On average, Perlmutter said, newly licensed architects graduate with $40,000 in student loans after at least five years of education and training.

Community Service

The broadly drawn bill would allow unspecified loan relief for architects who offer at least one year of design or research service to a so-called "Commmunity Design Center" on behalf of most public facilities, excluding general government office space.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter
Official photo

Sponsor Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) says the National Design Services Act will allow young architects to give back to communities that need them.

A Community Design Center is a nonprofit organization operated and managed by a licensed architect that provides community development services.

Eligible service projects may include:

  • Rehabilitation or conservation planning for blighted or deteriorating neighborhoods;
  • Long-range community development planning;
  • Preservation or rehabilitation of historic sites;
  • Design and construction expertise for building retrofits for energy and water efficiency;
  • Assessment of structures damaged by manmade or natural disasters;
  • Architectural design work to improve accessibility; and
  • Redevelopment of traditional main streets and business districts.

AIA: 'Build a Better Future'

The AIA has long pushed for such a measure, saying new architecture graduates have one of the highest average debt loads of any profession.

“Millions of young people aspire to help their communities build a better future, but a lack of opportunity and the crushing cost of education hold them back,” said AIA CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA.

“As a result, the design and construction industry faces a severe shortage of talent at exactly the moment America needs to rebuild for the future."

The National Design Services Act will benefit underserved communities and promote civic engagement by offering debt relief to young architects, backers say.

The AIA and its companion, the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS), are rallying members to see the bill through to passage as soon as possible.

“There is no shortage of enthusiasm in our membership for passing this bill,” said Joshua Caulfield, CEO of the student group. “And we intend to leverage that enthusiasm to the hilt as we go forward and call on our members of Congress.”

Advocacy and Action

The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Greg Meeks (D-NY), Gwen Moore (D-WI) and Dennis Ross (R-FL).

AIA and AIAS spell out their legislative game plan on behalf of the bill in an online legislative advocacy toolkit. Kickoff efforts began last week at AIA's Grassroots 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Going forward, the plans include:

  • Student phone banks;
  • Meetings with members of Congress; and
  • A change.org petition supporting the Act.

As of Friday (March 21), the petition had just over 4,500 signatures, and organizers were seeking about 3,000 more.


Tagged categories: American Institute of Architects (AIA); Architects; Commercial Construction; Community service; Design; Government; Laws and litigation; Residential Construction; Schools

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