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Experts Focus on How to Rebuild Low Income Housing in the Gulf Region

According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), an organization dedicated to ending America’s affordable housing crisis, about 71 percent of the houses damaged or destroyed in Hurricane Katrina belonged to low-income households—those earning 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) or less. Confronted with the need to rebuild, NLIHC deputy director Linda Crouch stresses, “Whatever is built, there has to be an appropriate number of units available to people at all levels of income and ability.”

But many experts feel that the rush to redevelop will have a negative effect on those with few resources. Mississippi State University architecture professor Michael Berk warns that entire communities throughout the region, unable to afford rebuilding, could be wiped out.


Jeff Lubell, incoming Executive Director of the Center for Housing Policy, is hopeful that rebuilding efforts will emulate the best models. He cites plans to mix, rather than isolate, income levels; those that include accessible open spaces; and those that allow for some alternative living arrangements (such as in-law apartments and home-based businesses). Such models have been found to be more successful than their high-rise precursors." We cannot warehouse people and we must consider this part of community during the planning," says Lubell. He mentions that vouchers— which provide a housing subsidy without publicly identifying people as recipients nor grouping recipients together in one location or building—have been a success in many communities.

Another solution has been proposed by Pliny Fisk III, co-director of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (CMPBS) in Austin, Texas. He hopes that the opportunity to rethink housing solutions will create environmentally, socially, and economically-sustainable communities. His do-it-yourself building system, made with standardized components and efficient materials, called the groHome (and the goHome, a smaller version for temporary housing), is designed so that homeowners can pay as they enlarge the house over time. The houses, Fisk says, could be manufactured and assembled by local companies and workers. “In addition to addressing the poverty housing cycle, it will contribute to the rebuilding of community, and empower its workers,” adds Fisk.

Steve Mouzon, AIA, of PlaceMakers in Miami Beach, who participated in the recent Charette in Biloxi, Mississippi, suggests that the region’s shotgun houses could be mass-produced. "Several companies we have talked to see this as an opportunity to transform their industry,” he adds. The ‘shotgun’ homes would be single-wide scale, making them available to low-income families and fitting comfortably on small lots. Architectural Record, meanwhile, is sponsoring a competition for single and multi-family houses in the Marigny district of New Orleans. Submissions are due on March 1.

Finally Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit that builds and renovates houses for families in need, has expanded its activities in the Gulf with stepped-up efforts aimed at generating housing for low-income families. Mostly recently, Habitat and Freddie Mac sponsored “America Builds on the National Mall,” in November to build framing components for 51 homes that will be transported to the Gulf.

Kira L. Gould