CarePod, a cooperative, urban-scale housing solution promoting collectivized home-ownership for caregivers and quality care for elders

Supported by ACT, MIT, Studio REV-, and The National Domestic Workers Alliance

Nov 16, 2019: Announcement at Visible Award, L’Hotel de Ville, Paris

Summer 2020: Workshop at MIT

Responding to the economic precarity of America’s fastest growing workforce (caregivers), the shortage of affordable quality care faced by elders, and the social isolation endemic to caregivers and care-providers alike, the CarePod is a cooperative, urban-scale housing solution promoting collectivized home-ownership for caregivers while fully embracing the reality that behind every individual who needs care is a superhero team, or “careforce.”

The CarePod builds on the work of Ai-jen Poo, MacArthur recipient and Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance; MIT Lecturer and socially engaged artist Marisa Morán Jahn (SMVisS ’07) whose massive collaboration with the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) since 2011 includes public art, policy toolkits, two mobile vehicles — NannyVan and CareForce One— and a Sundance-supported PBS film, CareForce; and MIT Assistant Professor and architect Rafi Segal internationally recognized for his design of urban-scale cooperatives in the U.S., Rwanda, Israel, and Southeast Asia.

Excerpting from Poo’s book, The Age of Dignity (The New Press, 2016), “A CarePod consists of four two-bedroom apartments grouped around a garden; looking from a bird’s eye point of view this would form the shape of a plus. Care receivers live on the bottom floor and caregivers live on top. The caregiver pays an initial fee to join the coop and cares for those who live below. Over the course of fifteen years, the caregiver earns credits towards owning their own unit, and when they themselves need care, they will in turn receive care.” In addition to the CarePod’s physical footprint, Segal, Jahn, and stakeholders will envision integrating scalable digital-to-urban features. Examples include a “CareBank,” (ways to provide care and bank the hours for use later), ways to manage and collect benefits, and a platform to ensure families and caregivers stay informed about a client’s care needs.

The CarePod will be first announced at the Visible Award on Saturday, November 16th in the Paris City Council (Hotel de Ville) as part of an event recognizing the CareForce among 9 other socially-engaged projects selected from 67 international projects. The Visible Award, the first international production award sustaining art entering directly into the public domain, commissioned Ai-jen to write about the CareForce as a project modeling the importance of creativity as an essential problem-solving tool. “Art allows us to dream bigger, dream futures into being that we’ve never experienced and create new protagonists. The CareForce is harnessing the power of art to catalyze the conversations and connections we need to value our caregivers and our domestic workers.” Marisa Morán Jahn, the CareForce’s lead artist, notes, “As a working mother, the well-being of my family relies on the amazing caregivers who have taught my son essential skills and looked after my grandmother. We together form a critically interdependent CareForce that inspires me — and I’m honored for us to represent this project at the Visible Award.” Ambassadors representing the CareForce in Paris are Brazilian-born Natalicia Tracy, Vice President of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Lecturer at UMass Boston, and trafficking survivor along with Amy Rosenblum Martín, Guggenheim Museum Educator and independent curator currently working with MoMA PS1.

In Summer 2020, the CarePod will be workshopped at MIT along with a team of architects, engineers, artists, caregivers, and care-receivers. Led by Rafi Segal who has taught a seminar on collectives at MIT since 2016, authored several books on the topic, and worked with communities on creating shared-use spaces notes, “Today, architecture’s strongest potential is its ability to express and engender our common values.”

Further context: Caregivers play an essential role in teaching our children new skills, ensuring our grandparents stay healthy, and enabling us to go to work. Our economy and well-being depend on quality care. Yet today, elders needing care face the steep cost of quality, privatized care. At the same time, 60% of America’s domestic workers live under the poverty line, resulting in economic, food, and housing precarity. In some regions of America, the hourly wage for caregiving is so low that workers have to choose between flipping burgers and caregiving — resulting in a high industry turnover. Without healthcare, caregivers face a disproportionately high percentage of workforce injuries, performing tasks like lifting a client with limited mobility out of a slippery bathtub. The social isolation faced by caregivers and providers leads to medical and mental health challenges. These problem compounds on a nation-wide scale: America’s social infrastructure and policy is wholly unprepared for the unprecedented number of elders retiring en masse (“Elderboom”) who will need care — 1 every 8 seconds.  The need for collectivized care is indisputable.

The CarePod and the CareForce are two examples of ways that art, architecture, and design can support the growing movement for domestic workers rights led by international, immigrant women — in America and abroad. In summer 2019, Senator Kamala Harris, Representative Pramila Jayapal, and Ai-jen Poo introduced the first national domestic workers Bill of Rights which would grant nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers the same rights as other workers, support the unmet needs of the millions of those who need care for their loved ones, and reverse the racial exclusion codified in New Deal Era labor laws.