State issues

New designs for low income post-disaster housing in Texas

Texas Grow Home winning design by HOK Architects of Dallas. This house, along with three other winners, will be built as prototypes and provided to low income families in Port Arthur.

Here is a little background on the Texas Grow Home project to bring you up-to-date.

The Genesis of this project was in a Housing Texas meeting a few years back when everyone agreed that there should be an affordable single family home design competition.

In the wake of Hurricane Rita we modified this original concept back in the Summer of 2007 with the idea of doing an architectural design competition and building some prototype houses to be used as models for alternatives to FEMA trailers.  The “Katrina Cottage” concept was out there and we were big fans of the idea.  But as advocates for low-income Texas families and their housing needs we had become concerned with the direction of the FEMA sponsored Katrina Cottage demonstration program designed to prove up the concept. One of our biggest concerns was the failure to tailor the program to meet the long term economic and housing needs of the poor and the lack of consultation with low income survivors over the house design.

We wanted to address the housing needs of very low-income families who really needed a long term housing solution and who were never going to have the assets to build onto a small Katrina cottage to make it a permanent, full size home. So we developed some criteria and sponsored a design competition to come up with a “post-Katrina Cottage” model.  Our design considerations are posted.

Prominent Austin architect, Tom Hatch, who has long been a champion of affordable housing in Texas, took the proposal for a design competition before the Texas Society of Architects board of directors to ask them to cosponsor the design competition. The Pohlad Foundation in Minnesota had already sought us out and provided a small amount of funding to cover expenses. The community banker, Linda McMahon, of Chase Bank pledged the funds to provide awards for the winning architects. Michael Gerber, executive director of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs took a proposal to his board of directors to provide mortgage funding to finance the prototype houses from the Texas housing trust fund. The Houston Endowment generously provided a modest grant to cover my time in working on the project through the first year.  Gretchen Schartle and Standish Mecham became key promoters of the project. Stephen Fairfield, executive director of the faith-based group, Covenant Community Capital of Houston committed to oversee the construction of the winning designs as prototype homes.

On January 8 thirteen judges assembled at the Texas Capitol to review 83 designs submitted by teams of architects from across Texas. The judges included people whose homes were destroyed by hurricane Rita, the mayor of Port Arthur, some of the most prominent Texas architects and national experts in affordable housing design. The judges picked before winning designs. I’ll discuss in each in separate postings later.

Working with a dedicated staff at Lutheran Social Services Disaster Relief in Port Arthur we have identified families to match to each of the four winning designs.

I have been learning a huge amount by talking to the Hurricane Rita survivors and understanding their financial situations, their housing needs and challanges of living in their communities. Over the coming days I’ll be posting information about these insights and about the ongoing development of the Texas Grow Home project.

I started my commitment to housing justice for people and communities with low incomes in 1975 in Austin's Clarksville community. These years of working side-by-side with dedicated community leaders to find solutions to housing and community development challenges have taught me some things and I’m learning new things every day.

1 comment on “New designs for low income post-disaster housing in Texas

  1. Mark Pegram

    Great idea and well needed. Without children, my wife and I have been discussing the use of our money. I would like to think pride (home) breeds sucess.
    We’re at a point of educating ourselves about the “vehicles” of trust and foundations to better help in this matter.
    Thank you.

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