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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

Rebuilding an affordable, sustainable community in Galveston

Kaid Benfield

Posted November 29, 2011

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  Galveston after Hurricane Ike (by: US Air Force)

Three years ago, Hurricane Ike wiped out much of Galveston, Texas, including over 500 affordable homes administered by the city’s Housing Authority.  Faced with the task of starting over, the Authority began to rethink how it might improve upon its old public housing model.

With the help of McCormack Baron Salazar, a prominent national developer of economically integrated city neighborhoods, and Urban Strategies, a planning and management firm specializing in inclusive urban redevelopment, the result has been a process called Working Together for Galveston.  The project’s vision statement is a model of learning from the past to create a more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive future:

“Working Together for Galveston is about a vision for the future of Galveston. It’s about integrating the potential of the future with the richness of the past. It’s about honoring the past through historically contextual architecture. It’s about acknowledging the potential for storms and building to a level and quality that mitigates damage. It’s about learning from previous failed housing experiments and creating viable communities for everyone. It’s about stewarding natural resources of today through energy efficiency and sustainable development practices. It’s about aligning the resources and human services that help residents be successful, and move up the economic ladder. It’s about defining the future of Galveston through a consensus-based, community planning process that engages residents and stakeholders in building the kind of neighborhoods they want to live in.”

Through the process, the city expects to create not so much “public housing” as most of us have come to know the concept but, rather, mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhoods that will be built in phases and connect residents to economic opportunity.  Lofty aspirations, perhaps, but ones that Galveston gives every indication of pursuing the right way.

  vision from Working Together for Galveston (by: McCormack Baron Salazar)

Part of those aspirations include achieving certification under LEED for Neighborhood Development and thus qualifying for a nine percent tax credit administered by the state of Texas.  The team certainly has experience in designing and building to green standards:  McCormack Baron Salazar was the first developer worldwide to complete two LEED-ND-certified projects.  The firm has also completed or made substantial progress on seven projects that adhere to the Green Communities criteria developed by Enterprise Community Partners. 

(NRDC worked intensively on the creation of both LEED-ND and Green Communities.  The former rewards the superior environmental performance of green projects that have great, transit-accessible locations and walkability; the latter is particularly strong with respect to green building standards.)

The likely first phase of the complex Galveston undertaking will be called Cedar Terrace.  The development team expects to achieve green performance on this site by reducing energy, water usage, and waste compared to industry standards; restoring streets, connecting to nearby neighborhoods, and taking advantage of walkable transit service; using healthy indoor materials; restoring park space; and lowering residents’ utility bills.

  vision from Working Together for Galveston (by: McCormack Baron Salazar)

Cedar Terrace will attempt to achieve LEED-ND certification, and the developer’s preliminary worksheet anticipates a perfect score under the rating system for “mixed-income diverse communities” and a near-perfect score for “preferred locations,” which rewards sites with an abundance of existing street infrastructure.  Cedar Terrace is also aiming for maximum credit under the system for placing housing near jobs, for brownfield redevelopment, for street trees, and for community involvement.  It also hopes to earn credit points for energy- and water-efficient buildings.  On two other sites, the Housing Authority will design and build to LEED-ND standards.

Commendably, the team will be working with a Community Task Force, comprising residents and community stakeholders, on the development and implementation of the rebuilding plan.  Even better, there is also a commitment to hiring construction workers from among public housing residents, and to assisting job training and placement for the future.  There is much more detail on the website for Working Together for Galveston.

It’s certainly a great start.

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page

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TroyNov 29 2011 02:07 PM

There is already affordable housing all over Galveston in vacant rental properties. The vast majority of citizens realize how foolish this plan is. Look at your picture on the blog sir, Galveston has been wiped out twice.Galveston is the worst place to locate public housing in South Texas and everybody knows it. The only ones who want it are getting political capital or making money off of it. There is little opportunity for unemployed or underemployed or destitute people in Galveston. Galveston already has a high poverty rate so why are they trying to entice to come to the island???

Housing is not the problem, poor life choices are. Until these groups begin to address that nothing will change and you know it.

Don't assume this is getting built. There is tremendous opposition to it including a potential lawsuit facilitated by the Galveston OGP. Give them section 8 vouchers and if they don't follow the rules they get kicked out of private rental properties as they should. Most PH residents are better off in other cities with public transportation, education, and jobs. This country cannot keep supporting such massive debts through foolish programs.

Thank God the elections are coming up.

Jim NoonanNov 29 2011 08:37 PM

It looks to me like the citizens of Galveston are doing their best to make a better situation out of tough times. Good design and good housing are key components to making communities livable.

Yes, Galveston has suffered more than once with hurricanes, but so has Miami and other cities. They are rebuilt and so should Galveston. Especially when they seem to be doing it in the right way!

Omri SchwarzNov 30 2011 09:27 AM

Anyone who has driven to Galveston and back out knows one patently obvious thing:

Galveston is a death trap. With no train line coming in, there is no way to evacuate the place except through the causeway, which is guaranteed to jam up.

TroyDec 1 2011 12:19 PM

RE: Jim

Public housing is not "good housing" in my opinion. Why do people not want to live near it? Well you already know the answer, crime, prostitution, drugs, loitering, public intoxication, vagrancy, assaults, theft, the list goes on and on.
That does not constitute "good housing" in my opinion but maybe yours. Not to mention there has to be opportunity for the residents which there clearly is not in Galveston.

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