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Kanye West takes on California’s housing crisis, with help from Star Wars

Iconic rapper, entrepreneur and sneaker tycoon Kanye West is trying something different for his latest business venture — he’s taking on the affordable housing crisis.

On a lot in the woods 15 minutes outside of Los Angeles, West reportedly is building prototypes of Star Wars-inspired structures he intends to develop as affordable housing for low-income residents. He’s even met with investors in San Francisco to discuss funding the proposal, Forbes recently reported.

Details on the venture are scant, and there’s no word on where West plans to put these space-aged structures. Attempts to reach West, the husband of reality TV star Kim Kardashian, were unsuccessful. But his plans represent yet another creative attempt to solve California’s housing crisis, and they’re joining a field already crowded with apartments made out of converted shipping containers, co-living spaces styled like grown-up dorms, and bunk beds rented for $1,200 a month. While Bay Area housing activists aren’t rushing to embrace West’s proposal, his very interest in the housing shortage shines a spotlight on the issue that could help pull in resources to build more affordable homes.

“We welcome his interest in finding solutions to housing low-income families and seniors and the homeless,” said Matt Schwartz, president and CEO of the housing nonprofit California Housing Partnership. “But instead of focusing on a new design aesthetic, we would ask him to focus on what’s most needed, which are financing solutions.”

Forbes describes the celebrity’s prototype low-income homes as a trio of structures rising up out of the woods. All three are oblong in shape and dozens of feet tall, resembling “the skeletons of wooden spaceships.” Apparently, they are inspired by the Star Wars planet of Tatooine, where Luke Skywalker lived as a child in an austere, igloo-shaped bungalow. West’s vision, according to the Forbes article published online Tuesday, is to perhaps house the homeless in the structures. He pictures the buildings possibly sunk into the ground, with light coming into the rooms through the ceiling.

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But Schwartz says West’s plans may not be the most effective way to address California’s housing shortage, or to house the state’s homeless. Affordable housing experts favor building high-density apartments that are centrally located, providing easy access to public transportation, jobs and services to help residents thrive. Instead, West appears to be proposing low-density units that likely won’t be welcomed into any city center — and as a result threaten to isolate their low-income residents without access to important amenities, Schwartz said.

Instead of designing Star Wars-inspired structures, West would do better to invest resources into the many low-income housing projects already in the pipeline, or to partner with experienced affordable housing organizations, Schwartz said.

West’s plan also calls to mind the cautionary tale of another celebrity turned developer — actor Brad Pitt, who attempted to rebuild the storm-ravaged Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. His foundation, Make It Right, built more than 100 homes, but then faced litigation claiming the homes were defective and falling apart.

Source: The Mercury News

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