The Secret to Housing? Building More Than Bedrooms.

Meta Housing Corporation brings supermarkets to food deserts, public-transit alternatives to a car-loving culture, and ‘art colonies’ to an overlooked segment of the senior population

The word “meta” is derived from Greek origins and can mean “subsequent,” “secondary,” or “beyond.” Meta Housing Corporation, since its foundation in 1993, has always been in the business of going beyond the standard. That central philosophy is applied broadly and can be seen clearly in each of the organization’s core tenets, whether it be incorporating sustainability, integrating transportation, or encouraging its senior residents to live actively. “Housing can be a vehicle for other avenues of social betterment,” says Chris Maffris, vice president of the company, speaking on the role that California’s affordable-housing market has grown into since he joined Meta Housing nine years ago. “The affordable-housing industry has changed significantly. Collectively, as developers and financiers, we have seen many funding programs begin to have green and sustainable requirements.”

One big change was Title 24. The current standard, adopted in 2008, lays out a baseline for energy efficiency in residential and nonresidential buildings. Meta Housing consistently surpasses Title 24 by 20–25 percent. Maffris describes the impetus for the company’s green practices as two-pronged: Meta Housing acknowledges both the social imperative to conserve energy and the economic advantages of doing so. “We are long-term owners of all our properties,” Maffris says. “We’re building a portfolio. The operational benefits are valuable to us. Implementing energy efficiency and green building techniques in our work helps the operation of our buildings and improves their economic viability in the long run.”

Designed by PSL Architects, this mixed-income housing development, located near the Metro and other amenities in Long Beach, CA, contains 46 two- and three-bedroom units.

Negotiating the economics of affordable-housing development in California isn’t always easy. The cost of land is high, as are building costs, especially around transit hubs. Luckily, many state funding programs recognize that fact. John Huskey, Meta Housing’s founder, has been working in the housing sector since 1969 and actually comes from a background in transportation. Nearly every Meta Housing development is therefore situated around either transit corridors or the public transportation of Southern California.

One such development is Long Beach Senior Arts Colony, which is located across the street from the Long Beach and Anaheim Metro Stop and was designed by Studio One Eleven, a Long Beach-based architecture firm that also places a high level of importance on creating sustainable communities. The senior-housing project is notable because it incorporates one of the developer’s truly unique concepts—senior communities based on art and creativity. Huskey conducted research on the types of lives that older adults were living in existing senior-housing developments. “What he found was that many seniors were being forgotten,” Maffris says. “The housing wasn’t providing for the healthy continuation of their lives.” The idea was to engage the residents in activities outside their rooms. At Long Beach and other art-focused developments, residents are regularly collaborating and producing creative works alongside other tenants. To encourage this, these communities include editing bays, classrooms, art studios, and theaters.

Another transit-oriented development that has been getting attention is the Adams and Central Mixed-Use Development, which has won four awards in the past year, including the Los Angeles Business Council Architectural Award for Mixed-Use Housing and the National Association of Home Builders’s Pillars Builder Award for Best Affordable Apartment Complex. The development was designed by John Cotton Architects, an award-winning firm in its own right, and it’s succeeded in accomplishing what many have failed to do: it brought a noteworthy commercial food market to South Los Angeles.

“South Los Angeles is what they call a food desert,” Maffris says. “People were paying more for their food than those in West Los Angeles because they had to buy from corner stores or drive long distances to find supermarkets. That has been remedied. Adams and Central includes a Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market.”

The word “meta” can also refer to something self-referential. When asked to reflect on what the legacy of Meta will ultimately be, Maffris pauses for a moment. “We try to not just produce affordable housing,” he says, “but produce affordable housing that accomplishes another objective, a further-reaching social goal.”