Building Equity in the Lower Rio Grande Valley

See more posts about LUCHA and our work in the Rio Grande Valley

Building equity in the Lower Rio Grande Valley is a critical part of many of our projects. Together with our partners we are working to increase housing opportunities for low-income residents and to build adequate drainage infrastructure for new and existing neighborhoods, civic engagement, and capacity through design. We invite you to learn more about four of our specific projects: sustainABLEhouse, Drainage Equity, LUCHA, and Public Design Impact Initiative, all of which are working hard to achieve these goals. 


Learn more about RAPIDO and visit!

buildingcommunityWORKSHOP ([bc]) is pleased to announce the launch of in conjunction with our presentation of RAPIDO on Next City's World Stage at UN Habitat III in Quito. RAPIDO is a holistic approach to housing recovery that enables communities to recover for disasters within months instead of years. Through understanding and redesigning the entire U.S. disaster recovery housing process, alongside people who are affected the most, RAPIDO fosters resilience within Texas, empowers local communities, and abates the social and economic impacts of disaster. makes it easy to learn more about the RAPIDO model, view work from the RAPIDO Rapid Disaster Recovery Housing Pilot Program, and keep up to date with RAPIDO advocacy efforts in Texas.


Learn more about LUCHA

A Lucha trained leader engages a local neighborhood around Colonia issues. 

A Lucha trained leader engages a local neighborhood around Colonia issues. 

Once LUCHA 1.0 wrapped up, we along with our project partners, LUCHA representantes, and community leaders got together to review the successes and weaknesses of our first year. One key issue that arose was the small number of residents LUCHA was available to. With that feedback LUCHA 2.0 was developed. To better expand the reach of LUCHA, each project partner built on their strength and created an independent but complementary program. Here at [bc] we working on creating the LUCHA Platform, while our partners LUPE and ARISE are crafting a Leadership Development Program, and TxLIHIS has begun a Platicas Series.

The LUCHA Platform hopes to build power among residents and organizing groups through increasing access to information that residents and community organizations can use to better advocate for their communities.

The Platform will be a digital library of, downloadable and printable, community education resources covering the initial topic areas of governance, drainage, housing, public services, and planning & development. The community educational resources will be a combination of originally created content and existing educational materials. 

On July 26th, 2016 LUCHA community leaders facilitated the Governance Module as part of LUPE's Leadership Development Program in an  interactive session . We look forward to see how these potential leaders use the LUCHA platform and activate their communities!

On July 26th, 2016 LUCHA community leaders facilitated the Governance Module as part of LUPE's Leadership Development Program in an interactive session. We look forward to see how these potential leaders use the LUCHA platform and activate their communities!

Depending on the needs of the organization, a colonia, an organizer, or organizing campaign one can pick and choose the resources that are best for engaging their community. Over time, we plan to fill the Platform with much more than the initial 15 originally created educational resources, and build relationships with local, regional and state organizations to support long term resource development.



Learn more about LUCHA

During its first phase, LUCHA worked directly with 15 colonia representatives, each of whom represent a larger organizing effort in Hidalgo and Cameron county. The goal of LUCHA 1.0 was trifold. To develop representantes’ understanding and expertise in the areas of land use, public infrastructure, development, and water issues. To engage representantes to further focus their top priorities, and begin to make selections of preferences on possible solutions. And to craft policy and legislative initiatives in preparation for the 2015 Texas legislative session.
Some examples of the Colonia and Housing issues that LUCHA leaders addressed were: housing affordability, adequate infrastructure, jobs, public safety, and land use.
The initiative has the capacity, through legislative action, to impact the 1.2 million people living in the three county area, Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy. The demographic targets of the project are low-income residents of rural and urban subdivisions that lack complete, well-functioning municipal services.


Community Development Corporation of Brownsville
The Community Development Corporation of Brownsville (CDCB)  is a non‐profit community housing development organization, who has been providing safe, sanitary, affordable housing to the citizens of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas for the past 38 years. CDCB participated in LUCHA workgroups, the engagement and management committees and was responsible of overseeing all housing and development initiatives.  

Texas Low Income Housing Services
Texas Low Income Housing Information Services (TxLIHIS) is a nonprofit corporation established in Austin in 1988 to support low-income Texan's efforts to achieve the American dream of a decent, affordable home in a quality neighborhood. TxLIHIS lead and coordinated the Representantes trainings, planned with [bc] the LUCHA workgroups and was responsible of overseeing policy development initiatives. TxLIHIS assisted the Representantes with their political strategy as well. 

La Unión del Pueblo Entero
César Chávez established La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), a non-profit organization, which is rooted in the belief that members of the low-income community have both the responsibility and the obligation to organize themselves, and through their association, to advocate for solutions to the issues that impact their lives. LUPE was responsible of identifying, recruiting and supporting Colonia representantes and of developing the political and engagement strategy for LUCHA. Working with TxLIHIS, LUPE lead and coordinated the representante trainings, and engagement and management committee meetings and assisted with the workgroups. 

A Resource In Serving Equality  
A Resource In Serving Equality Arise (ARISE) was founded in 1987 by Sister Gerrie Naughton, of the Sisters of Mercy order as a grassroots organization of women for women; building on strengths and respecting the dignity of each individual. In coordination with LUPE and other community organizations (START and TOP), ARISE was responsible of identifying, recruiting and supporting Colonia representantes, supporting colonia-wide events, the political strategy and leadership trainings, workgroups and workshops. 

LUCHA: Land Use Colonia Housing Action

Learn more about LUCHA

LUCHA emerged from the 2012 Colonia Summit held by state Senator Eddie Lucio, where colonia leaders and state officials gathered to discuss issues which require more systemic change. A key outcome was the determination that a council of colonia residents would be created to work with local and State government. LUCHA was designed to support the council, build capacity of local colonia residents [representantes], and identify community supported policy issues for the 2015 legislative session.

The term "colonia," in Spanish means a community or neighborhood. The Office of the Secretary of State defines a "colonia" as a residential area along the Texas-Mexico border that may lack some of the most basic living necessities, such as potable water and sewer systems, electricity, paved roads, and safe and sanitary housing. Lack of affordable housing, coupled with Texas’ limited regulation and low taxes at the county level, has contributed to thousands of families settling in primarily isolated communities on former farmland, ill prepared to handle the infrastructural needs of residential development.

While significant improvements have been made, including paved streets, potable water connections, and standards for water systems, limited efforts have been made incorporating colonia residents in infrastructure or long-range planning efforts. In 2011-12 colonia leaders, community organizing institutions, Community Development Corporations, planners, and housing policy experts partnered to develop seven (7) model colonia plans. The model colonia plans serve as the backdrop for LUCHA.


Water Quality Management in the Lower Rio Grande Valley

Omar Hakeem and Hugo Colón giving Mehmet Boz and David Dilks a tour of La Hacienda Casitas.

Omar Hakeem and Hugo Colón giving Mehmet Boz and David Dilks a tour of La Hacienda Casitas.

Learn more about the Colonias LID program in the LRGV.

[bc] partnered with Texas A&M Kingsville and the Local Stormwater Taskforce during the 17th Annual Water Quality Management & Planning Conference held in South Padre Island. [bc] showcased the role of stormwater management in various RGV-based projects: RAPIDO, Colonias LID and La Hacienda Casitas

Through the sponsorship of the Surdna Foundation, [bc] brought two stormwater management experts to speak about stormwater management strategies at different scales that could benefit the Lower Rio Grande Valley and its various colonias

Dr. David Dilks, Vice President of LimnoTech, an engineering firm with an international reputation for hydrological modeling, shared his knowledge on the management of floodwaters in low-gradient and rural settings. Dr. Dilks has worked on projects all over the country, but highlighted projects in the DC metro area, as well as an agricultural land management project in the Midwest. Both projects were in very flat topography, so they provided applicable lessons to the Rio Grande Valley.  

In addition, Mehmet BozPh.D., P.E., M.ASCE., and civil practice leader with KCI Technologies in San Antonio, shared his knowledge of Low Impact Development and Water Management in south central TexasDr. Boz taught conference attendees that LID strategies can be used in Texas, where there are issues of drought that coexist with severe flooding. LID strategies have been very well explored on the East Coast, but the strategies need to be different here in Texas due to the climate. He showed ways to improve water quality, mitigate run-off and flooding, add shade and increase vegetation. 


 Mehmet Boz presenting on LID strategies, featuring a rendering done by [bc] for a right of way improvement in a colonia.

 Mehmet Boz presenting on LID strategies, featuring a rendering done by [bc] for a right of way improvement in a colonia.

David Dilks presenting a hydrological model done to study the effects of an LID strategy.

David Dilks presenting a hydrological model done to study the effects of an LID strategy.

Both Dr. Dilks and Dr. Boz will be part of [bc]'s ongoing drainage initiatives in the LRGV as technical advisors through the sponsorship of the Surdna Foundation. [bc] Planning Associate Hugo Colón participated as co-moderator during these two panels. [bc] led Dr. Dilks and Dr. Boz on tours of the area, visiting several colonias and the La Hacienda Casitas

2016 PDII Request for Proposals

Learn more about the Public Design Impact Initiative.

Announcing the launch of the 2016 Public Design Impact Initiative Request for Proposals.

You can now submit your Project Proposals for [bc]'s PDII program! 

Are you a nonprofit or community group in need of design? Would architecture, planning, landscape architecture, or design expertise help you with a project you've had in mind but not the resources to move forward? Read through the Request for Proposals: English | Español and submit your project idea!

In 2016, as a part of a collaborative effort to extend equity in design to rural colonia areas in the Rio Grande Valley, we will pick two projects to match with local design professionals. 

**The deadline for submitting a proposal has passed. Please contact Elaine Morales (RGV) at 956.443.2211 and; or Elizabeth Jones (Dallas) at 214.252.2900 and with any questions.**

All RGV-based community and nonprofit groups (including nonprofit organizations, neighborhood associations, school PTA groups, etc.) are invited to submit Project Proposals. Applicants must be made up of a group of three or more individuals and should be both located within the RGV area. Proposed projects must also be located in the RGV and address issues related to colonias.

Proposals are welcome from all not-for-profit groups, from large and established nonprofit organizations to small/less formal community groups, regardless of the scale or scope of work.

Questions & comments related to the Public Design Impact Initiative should be directed to Elaine Morales, at or 956.443.2211

Submitting a Project Proposal
The deadline to submit a completed Project Proposal is June 1st, 2016. The Project Proposal Form may be submitted through mail, email, or using the online form. Click here to download an editable, printer friendly version of the Project Proposal Form.

To submit via online form: 
Review the Request for Proposals document, then click this link to submit your Project Proposal - 

To submit via email: 
Send your completed Project Proposal form to Include “PDII Project Proposal” in the subject line.

To submit a project proposal via mail:
Send a hardcopy of your Project Proposal form to the address below. You will be notified when your submission has been received using the email address provided in your Project Proposal. Mailed copies must be received by Wednesday, June 1st, 2016.    

Attn: Public Design Impact Initiative
609 E. 11th St.
Brownsville, TX 78520

Todos los groups comunitarios o sin fines de lucro en RGV (incluyendo orgnizaciones sin fines de lucro, asociaciones de vecindario, grupos PTA de escuelas, etc) son invitados a someter una Propuesta de Proyecto. Los solicitantes deben estar organizados en grupos de 3 o más indiviuos y deben estar localizados en el RGV. Los Proyectos Propuestos deben estar localizados en el RGV y atender problemas o asuntos relacionads a Colonias.

Propuestas de todos grupos y organizaciones comunitarias son bienvenidas, así sean grandes sin fines de lucro o pequeñas y menos formales, independiente de su tamaño o la escala de su trabajo.

Preguntas y comentarios relacionados al programa de Public Design Impact Initiative deben ser dirigidas a Elaine Morales, al o 956.443.2211

Someter una propuesta de proyecto
El plazo para someter una propuesta completa es el 1 de junio de 2016. El formulario de la Propuesta de Proyecto (ultima pagina de este documento) puede someterse a traves de correo, email, o usando el formulario online. Puede encontrar una version editable, y impresible del Formulario de Propuestas de Proyecto.

Para someter a traves del formulario online: 
Use este enlace -

Para someter a traves de email: 
Envíe su Propuesta de Proyecto completada en formato PDF a Escriba “PDII Project Proposal” en el título del email. 

Para someter una propuesta de proyecto por correo: 
Envíe una copia impresa de su Propuesta de Proyecto a la siguiente direccion. Se le notificará cuando su propuesta sea recibida utilizando la dirección email que provea en la primera parte de su propuesta. Las propuestas deben ser recibidas en o antes del miércoles, 1 de junio de 2016.    

Attn: Public Design Impact Initiative
609 E. 11th St.
Brownsville, TX 78520



Cooper Hewitt to Present "By The People: Designing a Better America."

Learn more about RAPIDO.

RAPIDO will be one of the exhibits presented in the "By the People: Designing a Better America" at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum this fall.

[bc]’s Rapid Disaster Recovery Housing Program, RAPIDO, redesigns the existing disaster recovery system. Relying on a local approach to outreach, case management, procurement, and housing design, construction, and delivery; RAPIDO returns residents to their neighborhoods and onto their land within weeks of a disaster instead of years. Its temp-to-perm housing design responds to the social, cultural, economic and environmental context of the place the system is deployed. RAPIDO partners include Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, buildingcommunityWORKSHOP, La Unión del Pueblo Entero, A Resource in Service Equity, and Texas Low Income Information Services.


Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum will present “By the People: Designing a Better America,” the third exhibition in its series on socially responsible design, from Sept. 30 through Feb. 26, 2017. The first exhibition in the series to focus on conditions in the U.S. and its bordering countries, “By the People” will explore the challenges faced by urban, suburban and rural communities. Organized by Cynthia E. Smith, Cooper Hewitt’s curator of socially responsible design, the exhibition features 60 design projects from every region across the U.S.

Smith conducted more than two years of field research—traveling to shrinking post-industrial cities, sprawling metro regions, struggling rural towns, along border regions, areas impacted by natural and man-made disaster and places of persistent poverty—in search of collaborative designs for more equitable, inclusive and sustainable communities. The exhibition will highlight design solutions that expand access to education, food, healthcare 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 environment.

“As America’s design museum, Cooper Hewitt empowers visitors to see themselves as designers—not just of objects, but also of ideas, strategies and solutions that improve our daily lives,” said Director Caroline Baumann. “‘By the People’ will showcase the innovative and impactful actions generated through design, and inspire creative  problem-solving at local, regional, national and even international levels.”

On view in the third floor Barbara and Morton Mandel Design Gallery, the exhibition will be divided into six themes: act, save, share, live, learn and make. To orient the visitor, the complexities of poverty, prosperity, innovation and design in the U.S. will be addressed in an introductory section that will feature a captivating video by Cassim Shepard, an interactive data visualization, “Mapping the Measure of America” and graphics that chart social and economic inequalities.

The exhibition will continue in the museum’s groundbreaking Process Lab, which offers immersive experiences for visitors of diverse ages and abilities, from families with small children to design students and professionals. Cooper Hewitt will invite visitors to address challenges in their own communities using design thinking and propose solutions.

The accompanying 256-page book, By the People: Designing a Better America, will be published by Cooper Hewitt and distributed in the U.S. by Artbook | D.A.P. and worldwide by Thames & Hudson. Designed by Other Means, By the People will contain essays and interviews with featured designers and architects, in addition to highly illustrated project profiles. Retail: $29.95.

In fall 2016 and winter 2017, a series of public programs will inspire conversation about innovative and systemic approaches being developed through design. Planned events include a lecture focused on affordable housing and design (Oct. 13), Designing Resilience (Nov. 10) and Defiant Jewelry with Rebel Nell founder Amy Peterson and a participating artisan (Jan. 26).

“By the People: Designing a Better America” is made possible by the generous support of the Ford Foundation. Additional support provided by New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation. [read more about the upcoming exhibit here]

To see "By the People" visit the Cooper Hewitt from Sept. 30 through Feb. 26, 2017 at:

2 East 91st Street 
(between 5th and Madison Avenues)
New York, New York 10128

Weekdays and Sundays, 10:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
Saturdays, 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.


Rapido wins SXSW Eco Place by Design Award

Learn more about RAPIDO and other SXSW Eco award winning projects.


We are very excited to have presented RAPIDO, our disaster recovery housing pilot program, at the SXSW Eco 2015 conference this past Monday, and we are very honored to have been awarded 1st place in the Social Impact category of the Place by Design Competition

[bc]‘s Elaine Morales shared how the work of RAPIDO has created a great impact in the Rio Grande Valley, and how it can be implemented as a holistic approach to disaster recovery in other communities. The RAPIDO team designed and built 21 prototype homes with families affected by Hurricane Dolly in 2008, as well as designing a comprehensive system that empowers local teams to better prepare, respond and recover from natural disasters without sacrificing home design and quality. The audience feedback to our work was amazing and we were thrilled to have been part of the event and share experiences with entrepreneurs, designers and the general public on how to better serve the places we live in and work with. 


The Rapido model starts recovery activities prior to a disaster. We call it precovery. Precovery means pre-designing to increase the variety and quality of home designs available, pre-procurement to allow housing recovery to start at the earliest, and preparedness and training to build reliable teams that support local jurisdictions and assist families through the recovery phase. By investing in precovery activities communities will be better prepared to recover.” - [RAPIDO Place by Design Competition pitch]

The SXSW Eco 2015 Place by Design Competition validated the need of changing the culture of design practice and academia by implementing an experience based learning approach within the design process through listening to what communities have to say, learning to ask the right questions, and measuring impact.  

You can see all of the award finalists here and learn about some great place making efforts from around the world.

Q&A with John Henneberger of Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service

Learn more about our work in the Rio Grande Valley. Learn more about bcHEROES.

John Henneberger. co-director of Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service.

John Henneberger. co-director of Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service.

As a partner on the RAPIDO disaster recovery housing pilot project, Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service (TxLiHS) has been key in pioneering the principles of environmental justice, fair housing and equitable access to economic resources for all Texans. TxLiHS co-director John Henneberger, a 2014 MacArthur Fellow, emphasized these social justice principles during his speech at this year's University of Texas School of Architecture commencement ceremony. [bc] had an in-depth conversation with Hennenberger about his speech, his desire to advance the principles of social justice, and the relationship that architects, planners and designers have with social justice principles. (This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.)

Read Henneberger's commencement speech here.

[bc]: In your speech, you reference the image of John Wayne playing Davy Crockett in "The Alamo."  You said, "Davy is explaining to his romantic interest why he is choosing to abandon her to stay and fight, and surely die with the defenders of the Alamo." Except for the dying part, when have you had to abandon something very important to you to do what's right?

[bc]'s Hugo Colón discusses stormwater drainage plans with a colonia community.

JH: I’m an impatient guy, and I come up with a lot of ideas for fixing things. I look at injustice, a disinvested neighborhood or an unmet housing need, and I see lots of possible solutions. My natural inclination is to rush off and push for a solution that seems immediately obvious to me. Sometimes it works, but oftentimes, in the end, it just misses the mark.

I wish someone had sat me down in 1975 when I was starting out and told me that I should never abandon this approach. I wish someone had told me then to always step back and make sure I really understood the underlying problem before proposing a solution. I need to be constantly reminded to stand behind good, honest community resident leaders who live with the problem, help them to see the full scope of the issue and not let my ego jump out in front of them.

This approach takes longer. It's more work. It's often frustrating. But digging deep into the real, underlying problems, aside those who are impacted by those problems, is the only way to uncover the real solution.

One thing I abandoned was running neighborhood community development corporations (CDCs). I ran CDCs for many years. I loved the work and the community residents I worked for. It was central to who I was. But, after a while, I came to feel that building another house in a low-income neighborhood was somehow not enough of an answer to the oppressive problems of race and class that were holding back the children of good people.

I had to step out of that housing production role to appreciate what building a house does and does not do to improve people’s lives. Don’t misinterpret this. I think CDCs are a vital part of the solution. But, it is hard when you are fighting for funding and dealing with architects and contractors all day to appreciate the serious problems of race and class that cannot be addressed solely by building a nice house in a distressed environment.

[bc]: You also mention that a design solution isn't enough to address problems of segregation and affordable housing. What is your philosophy about community building to get at those "underlying problems before you begin design.”

[bc]'s Elaine Morales discusses assembly of the CORE with construction workers during the RAPIDO project.

JH: First and foremost, we have to avoid building on a foundation of injustice. Jim Crow segregation created existing residential patterns. We must stop reenforcing those patterns and stop accepting racial and economic segregation.

It is not acceptable to confine more generations of children to concentrated poverty, environmental blight, failed schools and high crime. We have to accept responsibility for our roles as planners, architects, community development corporations, government officials and citizens by confronting the extent and depth of this problem of distressed neighborhoods and concentrated poverty.

When we participate in housing development that continues to stack poor families into these communities, no matter if it is a cool design, what level of LEED certification it earns, or what local political leader has championed it, we are as guilty of practicing discrimination as the folks in our positions were in the 1950s.

We will never transform distressed communities into good places to live simply by providing more and better subsidized housing there. It will take real commitment to comprehensively address public infrastructure, environmental hazards, public safety, employment opportunities and crime. It’s easy to throw up more affordable housing in distressed communities, but it is wrong for the people who live there.

Similarly, when we push poor families of color out of a historic neighborhood that is in the process of transitioning to a high opportunity, desirable place to live, we are engaged in an act of racial discrimination.

We have to stop acting like we are doing something good and noble when we build on apartheid and segregation. As leaders in affordable housing and community revitalization, we have to confront existing patterns and practices and demand justice. This is a social responsibility of design and planning that we have to accept.

[bc]: What is the role of partners in your work?

Juanita Valdez-Cox, a bcHERO. 

JH: We want to see problems solved. The people who have to lead in that are the people who live with the problem. So, we stand behind grassroots community leaders and provide them with information, help them discover options for solutions, and find other forms of help, like architects, planners and CDCs to implement the solutions.

The work we are involved with in the Lower Rio Grande Valley is a good example. Low-income colonia residents first come together through community organizing groups to frame the agenda for change. [bc] helps assess the causes of the problems identified by colonia residents and finds solutions in areas like drainage and home design. Local CDCs like the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville put the solutions on the ground. The role of my organization is to understand and assess the policies that have produced the problem and to help colonia residents get their hands on the levers of power to change those policies.

[bc]: You told us about several of the important influences in your life in your speech. Who else would you add to that list if you could?

JH: My heroes are people who solve problems for people who are poor and oppressed. The people who most influenced my life are a number of very wise and brave African-American and Hispanic neighborhood leaders who stand up to the power of the government, powerful wealthy interests and general public apathy to demand justice on behalf of their families and their neighbors. For the most part, these are women who are not well known outside the community where they live and work.

The neighborhood center director in the freedman’s community of Clarksville in Austin was my first mentor. Ora Lee Nobles, a neighborhood leader in East Austin who fought against urban renewal in the 1970s and 1980s, is another. Others include Sister Amalia Rios, who helped found an early Texas community development corporation, Juanita Valdez-Cox, and Lourdes Flores, who lead the fight for basic public services for immigrants and other poor Texas families living in colonias. I can name about a hundred folks like these who are unsung heroes.

[bc]: You've been very busy the past few years on the disaster recovery housing front. What else needs to happen there? Anything new on your horizon that you're focusing on?

JH: Local communities need to plan in advance of a disaster for how they will help people rebuild their homes, especially poor people, the elderly, people living with disabilities and working class folks. Local citizens need to look at their communities and ask themselves, “What kind of community to we want to be? Do we want to rebuild what we have, or do we want to rebuild an inclusive, safe, diverse community?"

Once we decide that, then city officials, neighborhood leaders, planners, builders and other stakeholders need to decide how to get there. That will mean planning before disaster strikes so we have time to think the process through and get it right. It also means cities working cooperatively with the State of Texas, HUD and FEMA to create a plan that everyone can support to implement a local vision. That is what the RAPIDO pilot program that [bc], the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, Texas A&M and community groups in the Lower Rio Grande Valley have shown is possible.

We are also working on issues of neighborhood inequality with organized grassroots groups in the Valley, Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. It is really the same work we have been doing for the past forty years. But, we are always learning and thrilled and inspired by discovering new local grassroots community leaders who are committed to speaking up for what’s right.

DRH Program Report

Read more about RAPIDO.

We did it! After over a year of research, discussions, writing, diagramming, and even more editing, we delivered the Disaster Recovery Housing program report to the Texas General Land Office this week. The report is the policy component of the RAPIDO pilot program and an outgrowth of lessons learned through the pilot.

The report is the combination of a set of policy recommendations that outlines high level policy change recommendations, a technical guide that serves as a step-by-step manual for local jurisdictions who adopt the program, and a program comparison that details post disaster housing pilot programs and common challenges.

In 2008, the Lower Rio Grande Valley experienced major devastation at the hand of hurricanes Dolly and Ike. Wind and flood damage in the four county area topped 1 billion dollars; however, in 2013 hundreds of families were still living in homes with flood and wind damage, ultimately triggering a second round of disaster recovery. The purpose of the DRH program is to develop a system that would be able to respond to housing recovery faster, cheaper, and with greater choice. Our program utilized the innovative temporary-to-permanent design tested in the RAPIDO pilot to rehouse families affected by a disaster within 120 days of disaster response.

Disaster recovery planning and preparedness are also key elements of the policy recommendations and technical guide. We believe that developing a disaster housing recovery plan prior to a disaster will remove many of the barriers that contribute to housing recovery spanning into years instead of months. Pre-disaster planning affords the local jurisdiction an opportunity to identify community priorities, understand disaster risks, and develop a response that supports the local context.

While this is a big moment for [bc], the development of the DRH program report would not be possible without the RAPIDO team and partners. This report was developed in conjunction with the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville and Shannon Van Zandt’s team at the Hazard Recovery and Reduction Center at Texas A&M University we would also like to thank our partners LUPE, ARISE,  and Texas Low Income Housing Information Services, along with our remarkable team of advisors. We look forward to seeing what the future holds for the DRH program, the CORE temp-to-perm housing model, and possible future legislation. Disasters will happen, and the DRH program is a Texas solution that promotes a local response to rebuilding our communities thoughtfully.

Community Organizers in Disasters

Learn more about RAPIDO and our other sustainABLEhouse projects.

Community organizers from LUPE and ARISE  in Hidalgo County and the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville in Cameron and Willacy Counties have proved to be a great asset for post-disaster response in vulnerable areas - especially where trust and social ties are already in place. During the outreach period of the RAPIDO pilot, the Outreach team became more than just a point of contact for the program.  Navigators demonstrate that activities such as case management and social services are essential in the recovery process for families. The Navigators were the face of the program during the application period, providing confidence and support through the process.

As part of the policy development for RAPIDO the Policy team will soon deliver three  main documents: a program comparison report; a technical guide; and policy recommendations. Key outcomes will include understanding and documenting statutes and regulations that affect in the implementation of RAPIDO at the local, state and national government levels. The Policy team is led by Shannon Van Zandt and the Center for Housing & Urban Development at Texas A&M University. The Outreach, Eligibility and Design and Construction teams communicate project progress and challenges regularly to the Policy team in order to identify major policy changes needed in order to implement the RAPIDO plan.

RAPIDO: Redefining Disaster Recovery

Learn more about RAPIDO and our work in the RGV.

Rapid recovery after natural disasters, especially returning families to safe, quality permanent homes, has traditionally been very difficult, poorly executed, and expensive. The Lower Rio Grande Valley, one of the poorest areas in the country, and often hit by massive flooding, is the pilot site for a new and innovative rapid recovery model.

Based on a grant awarded by the Council of Governments and the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville (CDCB), along with project partners La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), ARISE, Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service and the Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center, [bc] is working to deliver 20 low cost, rapid deployment post-disaster housing prototypes, as well as technical manuals and a set of policy recommendations to be presented to the Texas State Legislature. Partners and experts meet monthly to discuss 4 primary components of RAPIDO: Outreach, Case Management, Design and Construction and Policy.

[bc] is leading the design for RAPIDO, with CDCB managing the eligibility and construction process. [bc] has established an engaged design process that gives low-income families choices and the flexibility to decide important characteristics of their new home.  Through two design meetings, [bc] led the families through a set of exercises that define their needs and desires. Based on these preferences personalized designs were prepared for each family.

A key part of the pilot is to explore different possibilities for the implementation and scaling of the plan statewide. RAPIDO is experimenting with the transition of a temporary unit (CORE) to a permanent house (Expanded Home).  CORE’s have being built at El Clavo Lumber Yard in Brownsville, and the first RAPIDO home expansion was built at Carolina St, Brownsville in a CDCB-owned lot. The process has helped to train local builders on the RAPIDO strategy and also was a good opportunity to share the RAPIDO plan and the program goals to local groups and the local community.          

One Day in LRGV

Learn more about our Storytelling efforts, and the Colonias LID program.

On April 26, 2014, filmmakers, non-profits, and citizens from across the region went out to talk to folks about the future of the Lower Rio Grande Valley as part of One Day in the LRGV. We chatted with residents of the Linda Vista Estates Colonia about issues surrounding stormwater management and drainage.

Low Impact Development

Learn more about our Colonias LID project.

The Colonia Stormwater Low Impact Development & Open Space project seeks to provide sustainable drainage infrastructure and open space strategies to Colonias in need. By layering drainage and open space we can create spaces that not only address the problem of flooding, but also provide spaces for gathering and enjoyment. The project addresses the problem of flooding through education, political and community engagement,and design. It seeks to educate Colonia residents and government officials about drainage challenges and the opportunities to improve stormwater infrastructure at the Colonias through Low Impact Development strategies. 

Five stormwater management and open space plans are in development. These can be used by Colonia residents as a tool for advocating change, and by County Officials as a community informed designs for future drainage projects in the Colonias. 

Neighborhood Planning for RGV Colonias

Learn more about our work in the RGV.

LRVG Colonias

The Colonia Neighborhood Plan Implementation Strategies are part of a larger effort to establish a community-based planning framework in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Plans for initial focus colonias, six in Hidalgo County and two in Cameron County, were developed between September 2011 and April 2012 through a participatory process involving colonia residents, community organizers, community-based organizations, planners, and designers. In a departure from previous planning work in the region, this process was organized around a series of meetings in each colonia, inviting community members to contribute and self-appoint neighborhood leaders. These plans identify and offer recommendations to ameliorate issues stemming from geographic isolation, poor physical infrastructure, and limited access to services and resources. Ultimately, this process advances the role of  participatory planning and design in improving the quality of life in the LRGV.  The plans are currently being used at various scales; at the community level, the plans serve as a checklist of goals that the communities have set for themselves while at the state and regional level it is a means of communication with policy makers, funders, non-profits, and regional authorities.

By working as an information gatherer and a technical resource, bcWORKSHOP has contributed to a coalition-wide effort making voices be heard, and playing a participatory role in development and policy making decisions.

This initiative was recognized by the SEED Network with an Honorable Mention for their 2013 Awards.

Check out the plans below: