Building a Better House

Brownsville, Texas, is using a “holistic approach to speeding up the process for returning residents to their homes after federally declared natural disasters,” in the form of a program called RAPIDO (Lower Rio Grande Rapid Re-Housing Program). The program, which was approved locally in Brownsville this fall, will involve “a comprehensive disaster strategy emphasizing preparedness and the streamlined housing strategy”, according to an article in CityLab.

The plan will ultimately be presented to HUD and FEMA. “It will be the first recovery plan shown to those agencies that accounts for recovery prior to a disaster,” Nick Mitchell-Bennett of the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville told City Lab.

Mitchell Bennet hopes that a newly launched website that provides open-source technical guides and community recommendations will help bring the program to a national level.“There’s no silver bullet in disaster recovery; everyone has to tailor these programs to work locally,” John Henneberger, director of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service told CityLab. “We want people to tear it apart, repurpose it, and make it work for them.”

The program is designed to rethink the disaster relief recovery system for low-income families, and was born after Hurricane Dolly. “Within weeks of a disaster, the program deploys a 400-square-foot core housing unit to a family’s property. The core contains a living area, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a kitchenette, and it’s designed to be expanded upon: Families work with local contractors to customize the structure and add additional rooms,” says the article.

There is also a precursor to the disaster with a “pre-covery” strategy, overseen by the RAPIDO team and experts from Texas A&M University’s Hazard Reduction and Recovery Centre. “Outreach officials called ‘navigators’ are assigned to discuss options with families before a storm, and walk through the process of applying for housing relief afterwards to prevent administrative bottlenecking. RAPIDO also convened local government officials and neighborhood representatives to devise a plan for how all layers of the community could most effectively collaborate and organize in advance of a disaster; one aspect of the strategy involves working with local contractors to ready a supply of housing materials that could be deployed within 48 hours of a storm,” says the article.