Smithsonian featuring exemplary post-disaster housing recovery program formed with HRRC help

Shannon Van Zandt

Jaimie Masterson

Texas legislators are investigating the benefits of RAPIDO, a pilot program developed with recommendations from Texas A&M Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center, that dramatically reduces the time it takes to rebuild homes destroyed by natural disasters.

The Texas Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations is studying RAPIDO and other disaster recovery efforts in Texas to develop policy recommendations prior to the January 2017 state legislative session.

In a Texas Senate hearing on post-disaster housing recovery held last year, a San Benito resident, Amita Melendez, testified that her mother, who had tried for years to rebuild her home that was badly damaged by Hurricane Dolly in 2008, was able to move into a modern, customized home within six months of entering the RAPIDO program.

The program is managed by buildingcommunityWORKSHOP, a Texas-based, nonprofit organization that employs thoughtful design to improve community livability and viability. The group was founded by Brent Brown ’91, who earned  Bachelor of Environmental Design and Master of Architecture degrees at Texas A&M.

In developing recommendations for RAPIDO, HRRC researchers reviewed 40 reports detailing obstacles and challenges faced by homeowners trying to rebuild in the wake of Gulf and Atlantic coast hurricanes between 2005-2015.

“One key finding was the need to address long delays faced by those transitioning from temporary housing to permanent housing,” said Shannon Van Zandt, the HRRC research faculty fellow and professor of urban planning who headed the review. “The RAPIDO program was developed to respond to this challenge by helping residents return to their property within three months, then build their home incrementally.”

Van Zandt was assisted by Jaimie Hicks Masterson, an HRRC research assistant, and Master of Urban Planning student Katherine Barbour, who earned a degree in 2015.

Once accepted into the RAPIDO program, families move into pre-assembled modules erected on their property within days of a disaster. Then, the homeowners provide design input for their new homes, which are constructed around the module at a pace and budget they can afford. The process creates a much quicker and more equitable path to permanent housing for low-income residents, who are often most at risk from disasters.

In her testimony to the Texas senators, Melendez said the RAPIDO program provided her mother the safest, healthiest home she’s had in years, but the obstacles to rebuilding prior to her joining the program were such that her father passed away before the new home was finished.

His death speaks to the urgency of disaster recovery needs, Melendez said. “We cannot leave Texans waiting year after year for safe housing after a hurricane or tropical storm.”

The RAPIDO program is being featured at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York in “By The People: Designing a Better America,” an exhibit of exemplary design models in the U.S.

The exhibit, slated to run Sept. 30, 2016 through Feb. 26, 2017, will highlight design solutions that expand access to education, food, health care and affordable housing; increase social and economic inclusion; offer improved alternative transportation options; and provide a balanced approach to land use between the built and natural environments.

posted July 21, 2016