Widespread destruction of low-income neighborhoods, toxic FEMA trailers, countless homes rotting, vulnerable populations such as the elderly left homeless or in permanent exile from their communities. These problems have, on occasion, won the media’s attention following recent natural disasters.
Rarely has the media examined solutions to these problems. But this week, the Houston Chronicle did, in an on the Texas Grow Home Project: an initiative by the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service (TxLIHIS) to fundamentally change the way the government responds in the wake of a disaster, and to establish a systemic solution the post-disaster housing crisis.
The story (http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/6937154.html) explains how the project began as a vision of creating quality affordable modular housing that can be quickly fabricated in the wake of a disaster, as an alternative to expensive and temporary FEMA trailers. The Chronicle article recognizes that the Grow Home vision does not stop with building model homes. Rather, it is a “revolutionary” effort to replace the failed status quo with a far-reaching disaster housing program that does what the FEMA trailer program does not: provide well-designed, sustainable, affordable homes and is responsive to the needs of low-income disaster survivors themselves.
The Chronicle profiles 73-year-old Janelle McDonough, who will soon live in one of three Texas Grow Home model homes in Rita-devastated Southeast Texas. Like all the low-income Hurricane Rita victims who will be calling the first three Texas Grow Home prototypes home, Janelle will be living in a home designed by top architects that is storm resistant, flexible in appearance and ready for move-in just weeks after a disaster— at a cost of just $65,000 (compared to the $125,000 the government spends on a temporary travel trailer).
Without a Texas Grow Home, Janelle would have been living indefinitely in her FEMA trailer.
With the first phase of the project completed, two prototypes finished and McDonough’s house to be ready for move-in soon, we are preparing for the next, and perhaps most important stage of the Grow Home project. This stage will involve the gathering of public input, making necessary design changes, and bringing stakeholders together to collaborate around establishing a state-supported program with a streamlined process for deploying Texas Grow Homes in a disaster zone. Essentially, the next phase is about implementing a broad programmatic change to disaster response. It is not a simple task.
The newly appointed Natural Disaster Housing Reconstruction Advisory Committee, created by TxLIHIS-backed legislation last session, will design this streamlined housing plan in preparation for large-scale production. This will involve the development of three 20-house Grow Home projects, as required by the legislation. Like the community “barn raising” of a Texas Grow Home, the next phase of the Grow Home demonstration program should be a community effort.
To learn more or to become involved in this exciting disaster housing revolution, visit the Texas Grow Home website www.texasgrowhome.com.