Disaster Services - Rapido - Disaster Relief Housing

AmeriCorps; Disaster Services

Rapido - Disaster Relief Housing is the result of a pilot program of the Texas Natural Disaster Housing Reconstruction Committee and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for Harris, Galveston, and Cameron County, Texas. The Community Development Corporation of Brownsville invited bcWORKSHOP to develop a regional disaster housing response strategy in Cameron County.

Many of these residents in Cameron County live in “las colonias”, or informal developments that are often located on agriculturally unproductive land, in floodplains, or other rural properties. Lacking in basic infrastructure, their location on the Gulf Coast means that they are highly susceptible to damage, flooding and wind during natural disasters. Most recently, the county was affected by Hurricane Dolly in 2008.

AmeriCorps VISTAs at bcWORKSHOP designed and led the Rapido project. VISTAs Julia Lindgren, Ruqiya Imtiaz-uddin, and Jennifer Mayfield developed activities and tools for community meetings in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to leverage the expertise of local residents. This series of community meetings, activities, and design charrettes enabled local residents to share their experience from previous disasters and contribute their expertise in identifying and prioritizing immediate housing needs after a disaster. The VISTAs collected and analyzed the information gained through the community engagement, ensuring that the input was valued and reflected in the design solution for a housing prototype.

The VISTAs then developed and designed a deployment strategy and prototype design. The deployment strategy minimizes time between disaster and shelter construction by using local materials and labor sources. It stimulates the local economy by creating jobs in construction of the prototype “core” home. It teaches local residents job skills in construction and disaster recovery response. The prototype increases the cultural sensitivity of disaster response housing by engaging local residents in regional disaster response planning. Finally, this housing model jumpstarts a permanent rebuilding process by providing a “core” shelter that can be expanded and improved by residents with the assistance of future design consultations.

The prototype design was critiqued and refined in a second series of community meetings held in Cameron County, beginning an iterative process of reflection and refinement of the design with the affected communities. As a whole, this project seeks to influence the disaster response process on a much larger scale.

Over two weeks, the VISTA team built a full scale prototype “core” for Engineering & Humanity Week at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. The prototype has now been moved to a permanent site in Dolphin Heights, a predominantly low-income neighborhood in Dallas, and will be reconfigured as affordable rental housing. Currently, the prototype and deployment process are ready for large-scale manufacture in the event of a natural disaster.

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