A declining public housing development in Beaumont severely damaged by Hurricane Rita in 2005 has been rebuilt through a federal grant into a successful, sustainable community, concludes a study headed by Shannon Van Zandt, interim director of Texas A&M’s Center for Housing & Urban Development.
Graduate and undergraduate students from the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning became involved with the project in the fall 2005 semester, providing designs, master plans, recommendations and community research, which formed the basis for the development’s rebuilding through a HOPE VI grant.
“Overall, the direct impacts of the grant program have been extraordinary,” said the study’s final report. “The physical redevelopment of the sites, the building of community among neighbors, and particularly the building of networks and capacity among community partners are truly impressive.”
Magnolia Gardens, originally built in 1953, became dilapidated and subject to increasing crime.
An engineering firm hired by the Beaumont Housing Authority in 2004 recommended the site be demolished and redeveloped.
Just weeks after the housing authority teamed with LAUP students to create redevelopment plans, Hurricane Rita tore through Magnolia Gardens, felling trees that crashed through units while blowing away roofs and siding. After the storm, mold began to grow in the units.
LAUP students returned to the site in the spring 2006 semester. Led by faculty members Van Zandt, Cecilia Giusti, June Martin and Nancy Volkman, students surveyed the development’s remaining residents, housing authority staff and city of Beaumont personnel to inform their redesign proposal and create options for bringing investment and economic development to the neighborhood.
The authority’s collaboration with the students led to its receiving the 2007 National Award of Merit from the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials.
What remained of Magnolia Gardens after the hurricane was demolished in 2008.
Conclusions from the 2012 study, funded by the HOPE VI grant and conducted by Van Zandt, Martin, Giusti and Dawn Jourdan, an assistant professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Florida and Edward Tarlton, a Ph.D. student in Urban and Regional Sciences at Texas A&M, relied on an assessment of demographic, social and physical indicators, resident interviews and surveys.
The main findings of the study were:
• physical redevelopment of the community has been highly successful;
• the Beaumont Housing Authority is offering a consistent and satisfactory level of service to residents;
• residents’ incomes are up, and poverty rates are down;
• wages are increasing in the revitalization area and
• the diversity of the economy in the revitalization area is encouraging.
The researchers also pointed to a persistently higher-than-average crime rate and the state of the national economy as two of the Beaumont community's most troubling issues.