City of Houston, [bc]Workshop, TOP deserve the national recognition for engaging community and consumers to design better homes

Congratulations to our friends and partners at buildingcommunityWORKSHOP [bc], Texas Organizing Project (TOP) and to the City of Houston Housing and Community Development Department for winning an award for “Community–Informed Design” from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

After struggling to establish a successful disaster rebuilding program to help low income families repair homes damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Ike, the City of Houston engaged the designers at [bc] to work with the low income homeowners, to design houses they could be proud of and an asset to revitalizing their neighborhoods.

We watched this community-led design process up close and it was phenomenal.

Our friends at TOP, led first by the late, great community organizer Jayne Junkin, tirelessly insisted that the City of Houston had to do better in the way it treated disaster survivors. TOP leaders ultimately convinced the City to reform its single family, owner occupied housing reconstruction program. Former City of Houston housing director Neal Rackleff listened to TOP and brought in the designers at [bc] to totally redesign the City’s housing program. TOP, [bc] and the housing department ultimately forged a successful partnership to reform post-disaster home rebuilding. Texas Low Income Housing Information Service and Texas Appleseed are proud to be associated in a small way with their success.

It’s great to know that when citizens get involved in solving community problems, when enlightened government leaders engage talented planners and when low income homeowners are empowered to be involved in design, HUD takes note.

Here’s the HUD award announcement:

Community-Informed Design –This award recognizes design that supports physical communities as they rebuild inner city social structures and relationships that may have been weakened by outmigration, disinvestment, and the isolation of inner city areas.

Disaster Recovery Round 2 (DR2) in Houston was launched five years after Hurricane Ike devastated the Texas Gulf Coast to fill the gap in home repair and replacement and offer homeowners choice in their disaster recovery experience. It brought together design expertise of local design architects and insight from residents directly affected by the storm to build single family high quality cost-effective sustainable houses that respect community interests and character. Six target neighborhoods (called Community Revitalization Areas or Outreach Areas) in the City of Houston were engaged through several public events which offered opportunities for a diverse group of residents, community leaders, city staff and local designers to provide direct input. The design team gathered information about each neighborhood from demographic research and documentation of neighborhood form and character. Following initial research, engagement events included a workshop, a focus group, and gallery shows that collected input from more than 300 neighborhood residents.

Each of the engagements generated a report of resident commentary, activity results, and analysis that provided guidelines for local design architects to refine their home designs. To address the housing needs on a multi-neighborhood scale, the vetted home designs were compiled into a catalogue to provide options for family-based design development and construction. Home designs were then approved and permitted by the City, and individual homeowners were scheduled to meet with design team representatives. Homeowners were provided a selection of catalogue designs based on neighborhood preferences and site considerations. They were then walked through each of the design options to help them select a house that met their needs and preferences. To date, over 260 homeowners have met with the design team to select a home from the catalogue. The approach to DR2 created a collaborative relationship with the city, residents, and local designers. This ensured the process supported local professionals as well as benefited residents, and home designs were appropriate to the communities in which they were placed and have the versatility to meet the needs of their residents.