June Grant, Founder and Design Principal at blink!LAB Architecture, shares with us her passion for architecture and its potential to change lives and communities. For instance, where families, the elderly, and artists are being forced out of entire areas by rising housing costs, she’s seeing ADU’s open up quality low-cost housing potentials.

*Header image credit: blink!LAB's OAK!LAB Portfolio

Full Podcast Transcript

Grace Mase:

Hi, this is Grace Mase. I'm super excited to have June here. June Grant is the Founder and Principal of Blink!Lab Architecture. I've known June for over a decade and a half and she is one tough lady and just what I like to call a badass. I have tremendous respect for her. So welcome, June.

June Grant:

Grace, it's great to talk to you. And we have known each other for more than 20 years.

Grace:

Oh, there we go. Just to be precise, I've watched how you transformed your career, and even pre-architecture school and how you started. I would love for the audience to learn about how you have transformed over the years and your very interesting path, so if you don’t mind sharing with us that story.

June:

You want the origin story. So I'm originally from Jamaica, a small country. Ever since I was maybe five years old, I have been attracted to construction sites, and watching how a piece of land goes from zero to a house or a building of some type. I just find that whole transformation process to be mind blowing, seeing all these men and women on the side, things are moving. And then suddenly there's identifiable forms, and then it's a closed building. And that interest around physical space, shape, has always been with me. But growing up in a country that was predominantly patriarchal, even though we're a matriarchal society, there are some occupations that were not open to women, and architecture was one of them.

I didn't even know there was such a thing as actually architecture. I just knew I liked buildings. But I studied accounting and business for some time before I graduated from the College of Jamaica, then migrated to the US. After a period of time, I decided that, okay, I was going to go and study what I really wanted to study, which was architecture. At that time, I was working with a financial investment firm doing stock analysis, but at night, taking studio art and sculpture at our students league in New York, an amazing resource. So I had this double life, I had a life of Wall Street stock analysis, daytime, and at nighttime, being in a studio until one in the morning and then heading home to sleep for a few hours and repeat.

Then when we met in Yale School of Architecture, the summer program was, for me, one of the greatest experiences because I was finally pursuing the big dream, which was to study architecture. But my perspective around when I started, I felt kind of behind some of the students while I was really good at perspective drawing and, and could teach it what I realized that some of the students, like yourself came with a deep architecture or architectural language and skill sets that were not not my background. So my history was this accounting perspective, economic perspective, but not economic profit, more about, there's more to architecture than creating a beautiful building, that there are people, culture and economic impact that somehow, as a studio, we were not addressing, because that wasn't what was being taught.

But at the same time, I had a passion for technology. And, you know, avant garde, how should I say approaches that were non traditional, and maybe those non traditional approaches appealed to me because I didn't come from a straight architecture background. And so in a larger SPECT, when we graduated in 1999, I was firmly on the technology path, and chose to work with firms that were looking at the building, and take building technologies, rather than looking at building the object, a beautiful building, and I'm still firmly engaged in emerging technologies and on what they can do because I am interested in the advancement of society, not just the delivery of a building.

And so with that interest in technology and interest in society, I decided to work with a firm called AECOM, one of the largest architectural engineering firms in the world. And the reason why I chose to work with AECOM  was because I was going to be able to work with one of my dream clients, which was NASA. Being a child of Star Trek, there is no way I would have given up the opportunity to lead a team that would design a building for NASA. But not just any building, a building that would integrate smart technology where we're monitoring the air quality, monitoring the light levels of space and transforming electrical lights, in response to light needs, and only turning on the air conditioning assistance for those who need optimal use.

And so this desire around a building that was smart, and more responsive to the environment is kind of a combination of going back to my roots, which was always sensitive to the environment and how that influences how we build. And, that's still how I approach things today. I'm still very much interested in the economic impact of the building, but that economic impact has now transitioned to not just the cost of running the building and making sure I'm paying as little as possible for lights, but how I can have next to zero impact on the land so the building is more of an asset to community than an expense.

Grace:

This is a good segue because you do mean, you possess everything that architects should be doing. You have the knowledge and the experience. I want to get into a little bit more detail to meet your renown expert in this country. What ADU stands for is Accessory Dwelling Unit. You've been working diligently with low income families and helping them to think about ways. So I’d like for you to talk a little bit on that.

June:

Yeah, I was literally dropped into that accessory dwelling unit space, because my studio, and my office went on a 70/30 split. A 70/30 is 70% private clients paid for fee, and then 30% are community projects. So, basically those community projects are either low fee or no fee, or they're supported by grants. And those projects are basically anything that the community comes to me and says, “Can I look at it?” And so far I've not received the request where I said no.

So I was working with one community around a library initiative, which I'd like to have a library built in their community which hadn't had one in 40 years. And one of the residents in that community said she wanted to build it in-law unit and asked could I design one for her?

Now, you have to understand that while I could design an in-law unit for her, I recognized that she would never have been able to afford to build the unit. My interest is making sure we deliver an outcome that's physical and less about leaving something on paper, but in talking to her, she revealed that her family was actually the fifth generation in that house.

So this we're not talking about, and the image  the majority of America has of African Americans is that they either are renters or they don't own. But that negates the history of the Great Migration. Her family was one of the families that came from the south, came to the west, and then came to Oakland to work in the shipyards. As a result, they bought land and built their houses five generations ago.

So this was a fifth generation homeowner, and she explained that her community, and these historic families have been selling their homes because now they had gone from worth practically nothing to being worth millions because the economy had been so aggressive. So they had these beautiful, big houses that they're selling for millions, and my thought was that was wrong. They actually should reap the asset value and build an in-law unit to increase their local wealth. But wealth was the fact that they own this house, which is now valuable. Most of these parcels had a space to build an in-law unit.

So her story about being a child of the Great Migration and this economic story that these families were selling instead of reinvesting made me take a look at not just designing the in-law unit but rather the economic positive that the In-Law Unit could be. And if, we could find a way to help these historic home owners to reinvest in their property by building another small unit on that parcel, and then what I would be doing was helping to solve an income and wealth problem they could reinvest in their own property and afford it.

That was far more important than actually designing just a single in-law unit. So her request to build one in-law unit became this massive study about how many in-law units we need in Oakland so that we can retain the African American population in Oakland. And they're not that expanded to be,well, who else is being forced off their land because it was now valuable, and where are they going?

And that's how the story began, a similar quest became a cultural story and became an economic impact story. Then AARP somehow heard about what I was doing, and they sponsored the design of three units, three models, which they gave, to give away to their members. It became a national story because I was focused on four cities, Oakland, Denver, DC, and Austin.

And we're still working on it. In fact, just this week, I was selected to be a cohort for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, where they are going to be sponsoring continued focus on the design effort, but pivoting to integrate how in-law units are also a solution for the arts community, because we are losing our arts. The arts community is being forced out of Oakland as well, because they simply can't afford to pay existing rents. And now we're looking at how in-law units and an economic strategy around that assist artists at staying local.

Grace:

Well, first of all, congratulations, this is a huge endeavor, and we talk about the economic story, and so forth, and  changing, effectively, the fabric of a city. And currently, my understanding, in the Bay area, is the homeless situation is pretty serious.

Having these adu units will help to make it more affordable for people to live in. And even as a transition from the streets, that would change the entire fabric of the city, or the community.

I’m really excited to learn more about it, and I'm really glad that you're really spearheading this effort, because that makes a huge difference. Not only looking at what's going on with your community, but overall seeing how we address the systemic issue with homeless problems.

June:

Yeah, and the other part about the in-law units, in addition to the homeless population now, is that very little of the conversation is actually about the next wave. The next wave is actually the elderly community, the average age of the homeless population in San Francisco is 50. Not young and strung out, but it's 50. And it's because after 50, you typically  have some kind of major medical disaster that happens and that results in a massive medical bill.

That medical incident snowballs into not being able to pay mortgage, or fall back on mortgage payments, and all of a sudden, you're forced to sell the house that you've been living in, and then you're on the streets. So the bigger concern for me while doing a study and starting to look at the census data. Because I work with data quite a bit and look at the map. I realized, oh, we've been talking about the existing homeless, but we're not talking enough about the ones that are coming next.  And if we don't build, we are going to see an even greater number of elderly on the street because we have no system in place for elder care and senior care. And so that's my focus on in-law units. It has been less about homeless and more about stabilizing existing homeowners and giving them a pathway to be able to help with existing family members, teachers, nurses, everybody who's a service worker, and restaurant workers. My focus on in-law units has been about that tier, that we talk about but haven’t done much about. They are actually the most vulnerable, which we're seeing currently with the pandemic.

Grace:

Exactly I was thinking that with the current pandemic and with the economy extremely unstable, they are the most vulnerable group of folks that will be impacted dramatically. Just like anything and having a systematic way of just a shelter that's affordable, that they can live in and be able to buy one of some (unintelligible, draw some income while they continue to sustain in this economy is huge. So it doesn't have to be the other side.

June:

Most of the solutions I have seen, you know we are as architects we’re always critiquing design. But one of the things I've noticed is that the conversation tends to be about providing shelter or not about providing a home, right? And that, for me, is concerning, because as an architect, I'm very much interested in the design, but I'm also interested in what the impact of the community and how we can make sure we're designing homes and providing homes and what is a home versus what a shelter is.

I agree, we need to provide something that protects the ideas of health, safety and welfare of the individual, but we are more than a functioning body. I really hope that we start to talk about the quality of the environments that we're creating along the street, a lot in that home. I think it's essential that we take a look at the design of in-law units, and their impact from a humanist approach, from a human centered approach, and  from a community centered approach, not just a building technology approach.

Grace:

Now, I'm sure everyone understands why I respect this woman, she is incredible. Something I know well, you talked about creating homes for these elderly and so forth. Do you also use your past experience working with integrating technology into homes, how have you done so with these ADU units?

June:

So my design approach addresses a couple of things. They all come with their design, all with solar panels. And we're also looking at installing new pneumatic heating systems, water based systems that flow in the floor, so there are more floor based that pushed air or pushed heating systems.

And for a couple reasons why I'm looking at pneumatic systems rather than forced air in spaces is that as you get older, you're more sensitive to temperature swings. So having the heat come from the floor, which is actually how we used to design way back when, having the heat come from the floor, the heat rises through the space, which is actually how air travels, heat rises. What we have been designing in the past is centralized systems, and you push the air from the top because we put the HVAC systems in the ceiling and they were that you need a pump to push the air down to where we're occupying the lowest, you know, we actually sit more than we stand.

And so most of my in-law units are actually raised enough so that we can install a floor base heating system. Whether it's water based or air, and it's pushed from the floor going up. So we keep the heat in the heated zone, on the floor, not in the ceiling. All the units have quite a bit of windows, but also skylights so we can have light descending from above, not just from the side. I'm also beginning to look at the actual wall technologies. So that there's always been a little bit of inefficiency with a two by four wood frame construction. And so our system, especially based on a 2x6that we get a high R-value in the wall design. I haven't fully figured out, we haven't had enough time actually just focused on the wall itself, but that is a key factor in making sure that the unit is as efficient as possible.

In the long term what I would like the units to be if we have enough installs, say in our block of back to back parcels is that we're able to have a community based wastewater treatment system which is plant based, but that's really long term. That requires  more than just the individual homeowner, but a whole community coming together to say we're gonna triple plumb the buildings and create our own wastewater treatment system on site. And that's really looking, you know, 5 to 10 years out. And the reason why I'm looking at wastewater treatment systems and how we can adjust them as a networked community-based system is that our infrastructure in the streets have not grown. Our pipelines have not grown, but our populations have increased and our water use has increased. So we have to become more efficient at the source of our wastewater, which is where we're flushing our toilets and so we reduce what goes into the sewer system, and what goes into our storm water systems. Long term, I am looking at community based in-law units so that the in-law units operate as an almost net zero impact on the land, not just water, air and energy use, but how we create networked infrastructure systems that are localized. But that’s really looking out.

Grace:

That's fantastic. These pieces mean what you propose: all these sustainable solutions, from energy to water, to sewage, everything all together makes complete sense. And at a community level, that's where all this management really becomes effective, efficient, and can actually have more positive output that goes beyond the community.

We had to take a little break because there was an issue with the transformer, meaning power outage and internet connection, disruption. We're now back in our conversation with June Grant. Timing was interesting, as we're discussing sustainable designs, and so forth. And yet, at our current dates, things like transformer disruptions could actually cause a lot of headaches. And so, June I’d love to dig a little bit deeper about sustainable design.

June:

That was a rather funny and poignant break in our conversation with the transformer going out. And it goes back to the point about why I am interested in the accumulation of not just the mere accumulation of more in-law units, but how we can connect in-law units as a system? How can we use the building's themselves to provide not just independence, but yes, it is independence, because, like with your power going out, if all the roofs on your block had been connected to create your own mini solar grid, you wouldn't be dependent on the transformer in your neighborhood, right?  You would be able to, in theory, continue working. We wouldn't have had that disruption and your life continues on. That is part of how I am looking at the design of the in-law unit itself. It is one node in a bigger network  system. And that's really how cities work is that the houses themselves currently are attached to a power grid, right? They're attached to some other kind of infrastructure network, but the house itself has not been exploited for what it does and what it has. I'm looking at the roof as an exploitable surface that actually gives the homeowner and the occupant greater independence and more ability to save. At the end of the day, I really want the in-law unit to reduce expenses, your living expenses, not just that the in-law unit is cheaper than an apartment in terms of rent, which they typically are typically rented at a lower monthly rate, but also I'm interested in what monthly expenses we can save. Really as designers to really embrace an environmental approach in the design of the building so that we address monthly cost, and operation costs if this if you are a business, a GM, a GE, your operations department will want to know how much this new building gonna cost us to be operable every month, and they're going to look to be as efficient as they can.

My view is, we should be looking at monthly expenses in our design process. If we don't we're not we're not moving society forward. We're just inching while dragging past weight and I think we could do much better and we should take advantage of that.

So, that's probably three quarters of how I'm looking at the in-law unit and then I'm also looking at providing space to grow your own food. Now I have to say I'm not a gardener. I know I can kill any plants successfully. But I am looking at the fact that we can grow our own herbs. Can we provide you enough space, if your in-law unit is in the backyard, can we integrate a vine system attached to the in-law unit that becomes your garden, or that provides you a space to grow a climbing flower.

Some kind of integration of greenery are designed to accommodate greenery as part of the solution to that unit so that you don't necessarily have to walk out into the yard. But it is right there that you have the ability to have quads right at your window. So I'm kind of looking at that as food sustainability as well as environmental sustainability.

Grace:

I love it, this whole sustainable design is not just exclusive on the building envelope per se, but actually inclusive as we as humans need to eat, we need to sleep, we need to breathe, we need to use water to clean ourselves and whatnot.

June:

What I'm hoping is that maybe this is kind of utopian. Let’s say if I said you are interested in peppers, and I am not, I might be interested in oregano. We can trade your pepper plant, you know, you can only use so many peppers in your food, and I can only use so much oregano. And then my next door neighbor might be growing sunflowers and we can start to trade. Right? At this point, we have spent nothing at the supermarket and have started to bring back a little bit more responsibility around our own food supply. Having a little bit more agency and control over what we use and how much we can provide for ourselves without it being this major deal without us taking it out of the ground gardening and assuming some kind of bigger role and farming, but more being able to provide just the things that we're interested in as part of our life, I'm actually interested in designing more life solutions than just shelter.

Grace:

I think that's a brilliant idea. It also brings back the human touch of no longer that you drive, take your car, drive down to the supermarket, expel some carbon dioxide and trade paper money to get your goods and drive back home. Now  you're in the community and whoever has surplus they can provide that and vice versa, you trade in for other goods. Same with electricity and water usage. And I think just that holistic approach is truly brilliant.

June:

I'm very much interested in trying to create a circular economy around the in-law unit. I want your listeners to know I am not someone who goes hiking and wears only cotton clothing and you know handmade shoes. I am looking at this purely from the position of what I think we have ignored for some time. We need to start to pivot back and really be responsible around the built environment and to be as open in trying to solve as many things as we can. As we're designing a home or as we're designing any building, can we try to solve for other things in addition to what the homeowner is asking? Can we do more? I'm always looking to do more.

Grace:

More with a human touch of just respecting each other. Just even the comparison of going to grocery and shopping to get a bell pepper versus a neighbor offering a bell pepper out of their surplus for you to take and enjoy the meal together.

June:

I think part of why I'm interested in this collective economy, if you want to, is I'm originally from Jamaica. I used to, when I grew up, and someone would be walking down the street. We would have had mango trees and someone would knock on the gate and ask if they could come in and pick some mangoes. And we would say “yeah, they you know, you pick some for us and take as much as you want because as a family, we can't eat all the mangoes around the mango tree.” And that person was able to take as much as they wanted and if they sold it in the market, that's great. But the point was that that food did not go wasted. And since I live in the US, what I've seen is many homes with beautiful lemon trees and fruit trees and the fruits go wasted. Because as a society, we're no longer offering surplus that we have. And we're not allowing others to knock on our gate. Especially individuales we do not know to say, “can I pick, we have lemons and plums, just rotting on the trees?” And yet, we will drive to Trader Joe's to buy plums.

Grace:

Right... Ironic.

June:

Ironic. I can't solve for all human behavior,but I can try to encourage a recognition that there's another part of behavior that we could start to integrate, and that's trust. When you build an in-law unit in the back of your home, you're saying you're inviting a stranger (most likely) to live on your property, and part of that requires trust. That requires exchanging greetings, and also may require other things. So there is both ecological interest on my part, but also a sociological interest, which is: how do we get back to being more embracing of humanity? And more welcoming?

Grace:

I would like to go a little bit deeper. I know you mentioned earlier about ADU trends and across the country. I know a lot of times people think about ADUs starting from the West Coast, because of housing needs and so forth.

What's your experience looking at ADU units spreading nationwide?

June:

There's all the growth that has existed everywhere, everywhere. And the fact that we now call them Accessory Dwelling Units is an urban code term. Because in the code, the building code, you have had an accessory structure, which was anything and some stuff in some cities, anything that's smaller than 150 square feet. Yeah, that was it. That was it. Anything smaller than 150 square feet was an accessory structure. It was a single story. It was considered accessory structure, and it was where you put your shed and that was considered in the urban context. The granny flat has been around forever. There are some cities, one of my favorites, which really got me involved in looking at the smaller structures, the small backyard cottage to granny flat, and the in-law unit that have been around forever.

One city I absolutely love, and I'm consistently studying up in Oregon, I'm not going to mention the city because so many people have gone there. But I am going to say that for over 100 years, they have had smaller structures in the back. The city is over 150 years old. So some of these structures aren't that old. But it's been a type of structure, a type of unit of living. That was around since the building of the railroads.

They are now used as student housing, senior housing, artist studio, one of my really good friends lived in a cottage that was one of those. What this city did was, because there are so many, and they were in the back of the house. If you're driving in any mostly major cities, especially Denver, you have the carriageway and DC you have the back alley, which was where the garage entry was where you had a separate road to get into your garage and the garage structures at the back of the house in the back of the lot.

And so a lot of those alleyways structures, old garage structures in DC and Denver, are being converted into living units to be studios. In Denver, they're called carriage houses or carriageways. In DC, I don't have a specific name for them, I think they call them Accessory Residential Units, ARUs instead of ADUs.

But it's everywhere. It's what is new is instead of building a new structure, what the codes have allowed us to do is to look at these smaller structures that we have not been using because the old garage was too small, you know. The old garages are built, where a lot of these old garages were built, but it was still horse and carriage or the first Model T or the cars are much smaller, right is what I mean. So the garage structures are no longer big enough for current cars. Their idea was to convert or add a floor on top and rent out and that's what the new codes allow. Across almost, I think almost, every major city has Accessory Dwelling Unit codes now because all the major cities have huge, aggressively rising rent rates. And while incomes have remained flat, this hope is that we will begin to convert a lot of these larger under-used structures to become affordable units. This will allow a pathway for those who are approaching retirement or who have retired and the house is too big. They need to or wish to downsize to a smaller living accommodation that they can maintain, and rent out the main house. This is both on wealth and health and affordable housing pathways that I find really fascinating.  I think if we embrace it, it begins to put the population back on a more secure footing, in terms of housing affordability, and income and being able to manage your income better. And that makes sense to you if your rent is now lower, right. Also, if I'm older, I will not wish to climb up to the second floor to clean two or three bedrooms that my kids used to live in. And then I'm now 70-80 years old and try to maintain this mammoth house that everyone comes to once a year and at some point, it becomes too much. And not everyone wishes to go to a Senior Living Center, why should they? And being able to stay on their own parcel of land and move into the unit or the carriage house that allows flexibility to rent out the bigger house.

Grace:

Absolutely, and then as you're just describing these in-law units, and also just looking at not just a demographic that's older, retiring, and so forth, but also the other side of the spectrum, the younger demographic, they're looking for a home office. Many of them, they do work remotely and have this to be a Multi Purpose room to be able to convert into their home office instead of potentially renting out. This now becomes your business hub.

June:

Yeah, and I think you know, with the pandemic, it's the pandemic that is shining the light on that. And that was one of the things that got me really attracted to this little town in Oregon, was how many of these smaller structures that were actually being used for  home offices or home business.

So if you're a jewelry maker, and you have a space to work in. If you're a seamstress, you have space to work in. These cottage industries could exist within the literal cottage, And what I saw happening was that there was a circulation where people in the population of the city actually preferred to walk on the alleyways, because that's where they were taking care of their business. The seamstress was on the alleyway, the jewelry goes on the alleyway, the alleyway leads to the co-op. Hardly anyone walks in the main streets, and so I recognize that. Yeah, the pandemic is definitely shining a light on the need for us to address working from home and accessory dwelling units will play a part in that.

Grace:

Absolutely, and I think the brilliant part is how versatile it can be. I mean, the house will still be there, and through the residents living in a,or occupying a space it can convert into multiple usage areas.

June:

I am truly fascinated by it. And I think that's the only reason why I'm fascinated by the myriad of possibilities within my units, I actually see them as DNA from which many things can spring and the thing that and it harks back to my studio motto, which is “staying small thinking big.” Stuff like this, where on its own looks like this minor thing, the small house, no big deal, but when you look at the wider macro implications, that's when it becomes truly fascinating for me. If we really embrace it, what it could get you.

It takes stress off the main house, it allows you to start up your business from home and when the business grows you can then move up and the house can be rented out for income, but it allows so much more flexibility. It allows you to work from home and maybe later you graduate from home and you work in a coworking space where you need to have dialogue and you'd like to have meetings that are not at your home, but it's a pathway to growth, which I, economic growth, which I think is also very fascinating.

Grace:

I love it. I love the concept of staying small and thinking big, because that's what an ADU unit is all about. What you have delivered over the years with your studio is that really stays true. It has such an impact into what's going on in society in this space of the residential expansions of making affordable housing. And also allow people to stay longer in their units or their homes for as much time as possible, and also have the comfort of a simple, smaller unit to retire into.

June:

Can we just pivot up a little bit to another part that we haven't spoken about, which is, how do you get it built?

Grace:

Yes.

June:

The thing is that, so you and I participated in the Yale building project, we know the experience of literally building and being on the construction site.

Grace:

I remember that.

June:

Yeah, it was the first time I'd ever done anything dirty, urban kid, right. Part of my design solution around the in-law unit is that I am interested in my build out process using local labor. And it is part of the, maybe it is romantic, but the idea of the barn raise is, the barn  is people in the community have to build a barn wall and they all raise it, and that’s, you need a rural environment. For the Yale building project, it taught us as students, we could come together and put the wall up. They'll start the stud wall together on the ground and then raise it up. That's a barn raise. Yes, there is a wall that is framing up in place. We were all students. I think my unit is at the end of the day, in its most simplistic form, a shed with water attached to it. Shed and power.

So, if we keep our minds around the fact that it's actually a simple building structure, then why not tap into local skill sets? Why not use community effort to. If I give you a set of plans, and I tell you that the studs are 16 inches on center, or 24 inches on center. This is how hard the wall is, we send you a site foreman, just like we had, as our students get a site foreman. He tells you: “okay, this is how you build a wall,” and  everyone comes with their framing, hammer, then boom, boom, boom, we slam the nails into the studs, and raise the wall.

And that's a local skill set coming together to build a house. I think that builds community spirit. But it also taps into the fact that it's a simple structure, we shouldn't make it more complex than it needs to be. I'm also interested in, can I provide a set of building instructions and instructions to a local community? Give them a site foreman and say we've done the foundation for you, now you can do the walls, and they take it over from there?

Here is the person who's gonna guide you through that process. Can we come together around that? The reason why I became attracted to using local laborers was because we are short on construction labor. So, I'm looking to find a way to, can we use  the in-law units, as a teaching method about construction? Hopefully, that encourages others to become involved with the construction industry. Now, they build bigger buildings and that requires more sophisticated skill sets, but you gotta start somewhere.

And so my thought is, well, you know, can I do this? That is also a component of how I'm designing the unit and the overall goal long term is to solve it, and be able to create a set of drawings that are not just architectural drawings, but they're actually construction drawings that you can take in a simplified format, hopefully, like an Ikea instruction. It's like, okay, here's what it really needs to look like. Here's your site foreman who's going to help you so that you can build it yourself.

Grace:

That makes complete sense, just like back to staying small, thinking big and starting from a small project, learning the basic skill sets or understanding of how to read a plan, construction documents, or going to build, and having a hands on experience to be able to then create something bigger than they had before. That itself is very powerful.

June:

That is what I'm hoping for. That is my desire as much as possible, not to be a patron and gift things, but rather show a person how to make things for themselves. I'm far more interested in that.

Grace:

Just like the old saying, rather than give them fish, teach a man to fish. Labor shortage is definitely an issue that's on many people's mind. That is in itself not going to go away anytime soon, until they start doing something about it and creating a pathway or a roadmap for them to start somewhere. Whether it's learning about construction or ADUs, learning how to read plans, or following all the way through building for larger construction projects. That is also increased job opportunities, and also more economic community and a more sustainable environment.

June:

Yeah, that is my goal and how I'm approaching the design solution is in a way that I've made the design task far more complicated than it could be. But, I think it is as complex as it should be. I should be attempting to address wider issues for my units then just trying to make beautiful objects.

Grace:

And think big, but start small. Yes. I love it. Well, you have been an inspiration to me for many years, and I'm so glad I got a chance to speak with you. How would you advise someone who's starting out? And what advice would you give them?

June:

There are two things. The first is just do it. And this goes out to particularly young girls and women. As kids, we tend to allow boys to run around, acquire their scabs on their knees and say they'll have to learn. Then we pamper the girls and keep them closer to our hips, and they don't get as many scars. That's changed over time, but we're still very much keeping girls away from acquiring their own scars. When it comes to wanting to create something physical, you have to go do it, you have to raise it, you have to get comfortable with raising a hammer, you have to get comfortable with using a saw, and you have to get comfortable with using these machines and being in environments that typically you're not, see a single female, or you may, if you're lucky. I was just lucky enough that I have been, as an immigrant, I was lucky enough to have walked into environments where I saw other women welding, and saw other women working with their hands to make physical objects and big objects, not small, decorative objects.

I really encourage anyone who's interested in the built environment, that you have to just go there. Sometimes you just have to buy the saw that you've never used before, and ask someone to show you how to do it. You have to not wait for permission, but to just go out and do the thing that you're interested in. Now, that said, there is risk and so you have to make sure that you're not doing things just because, but if you put in place security measures, like for instance, for example, the irony of your starting  BEYREP, right, Grace? You've been in the industry for a long time, and you also experienced the downside, of course. That is that the environment that we're in also involves risk. To work with a saw also involves risk that you have to make sure that you put some safety measures in place, and you're not always going to know your blind spot. You're not always going to be aware that you didn't check where the cord was before you made a step. But you have to try to plan for those moments where you may not be paying attention, and that's one of the reasons why I actually, one, is we've been friends for four decades, but two, BEYREP for me begins to address a major component in the residential market, which is transparency around how a project gets built, and transparency around all the legal pitholes or pitfalls that women have been trapped in in the past because they had no control. They had no transparency in how these decisions are being made, and that is absolutely essential to improve this industry.

But also, if you wish to grow in anything, being able to see how decisions are being made and how they come together is absolutely paramount. I'm hoping, and I've seen quite a few financial models being proposed for homeowners on how to acquire an ADU Unit.

I'm hoping more individuals use your tools and software to actually build their project and to manage their project. Because as much as we want to provide more affordable housing and built in-law units, financing of the  construction, and transparency around that process is still very vague.

There are very few tools out there that start to make it less ambiguous and more transparent. Your tool is one of the few, and that's essential. So that seniors do not lose their homes, or do not feel as if they're caught in a process, simply because they've never done construction before.

Grace:

Wow, thank you so much for that’s value to me. For me, that means the world.

But you're absolutely right. The reason I decided to pursue this and building this BEYREP together has really helped empower women and people that are less informed about the construction process. Bring transparency, so everyone can be on the same page and collaborate versus focus on ways to or just not, perhaps not intentionally ignore the process, and the billing, the details of what it takes to get things built.

Maybe more my personal reason I wanted for the family to be able to, for the kids to be able to watch their parents, especially their mom, to take the project and be in control of the whole situation. To be able to build something, and that empowers little girls to understand the process and that anything is possible. They can watch their parents be the role model and build something at home that creates beautiful space for them. That starts from very early on. And that is my personal interest and why this to me is important. To raise awareness, and bring transparency, and force accountability, and to collaborate to create more better spaces. I want people to be empowered throughout the whole process.

June:

I have nothing to add.

Grace:

I'm so inspired by this discussion. So if anyone wants to get in touch with you, what's the best way to get in touch with you?

June:

The best way to get in touch with me by email at jgrant@blink-lab.com

Grace:

Well, thank you so much for taking all this time and sharing with our audience, and share with me. You continue to inspire me, and hopefully everyone now understands why I just love this woman. She is incredible. She's inspiring. She's motivating. She's creating a movement that she's leading is so powerful. And, of course you always have my support. I love you, and I'm just grateful for you.

June:

I appreciate having the moment to talk about what we're working on, but also being able to talk about it, not just as friends, but in, with a  determination to create some impact around what we talk about. That there are others who are also interested in what we're talking about and I think it's essential that we spread the word to be more visible.

Grace:

Absolutely. Well, June, thank you so much for your time and all your great insights. I'm excited and I learned a lot from this discussion.

June:

Thank you. I'll talk to you again.

Grace:

Absolutely. Talk to you soon.

June:

Bye.

Grace:

Thanks for listening to this episode of revivify podcasts, where we talk with June Grant about her vision of building in-law units in cities where the cost of living is becoming prohibitive to at-risk communities.

She's already seen these units allow families to keep their home and properties. But that's just the beginning. She envisions the world where these units provide low cost quality homes to protect the minority families' land and keep our elderly from becoming homeless and artists communities close.

I hope you enjoy her innovative ideas and are encouraged that real change is possible and it's already in the works. Thanks again for listening and we will see you next time.