Baptist Town featured in HUD magazine

We are excited to be featured in PD&R Edge, the online magazine of HUD (the US Department of Housing and Urban Development). An excerpt is below or read the full article.

“The cottages are part of the Baptist Town neighborhood revitalization project, which includes new parks, streetscape improvements, job training, and a community center… According to Emily Roush-Elliott, an architectural fellow…, the built environment often reinforces social and economic inequity instead of helping residents. One of the goals of the Baptist Town Cottages is to reverse some of that inequity by providing desperately needed affordable housing and helping residents build financial equity through homeownership…The installation and finishing of the cottages were seen as a ‘joint investment in both the built environment and human capacity,’ says Roush-Elliott, and were used to enhance the job readiness of some Baptist Town residents [who] received on-the-job training in carpentry and other building trades as they helped complete the cottages.”

happy places

Last month I wrote a blog post for Enterprise linking the inspiration I have gained from Lina Bo Bardi’s work, particularly SESC Pompeia, with the aspirations our team has for the Baptist Town Community Center.  I reference a quote of hers that I read in Rowan Moore’s Why We Build about when she first visited the site:

“’I thought: it has to continue like this, with so much happiness. I returned many times, Saturdays and Sundays, until I really got it – understood those happy things people were doing.’”

As we celebrated the opening of the Baptist Town Community Center, I was reminded of the lessons I learned from SESC. Here, we similarly (albeit within a shorter time frame and smaller budget) worked with the bones of an existing building. We set up shop within the Baptist Town neighborhood and attempted to make small and useful additions to a place that is already vibrant with life and energy.

After one month of operations, I’m not ready to write any grant reports about “measurable impacts” or “long-term outcomes”, but the number of people who are participating and enjoying the center is really promising. In June we had Zumba classes, community movie nights, and offered job application assistance. Yolande’s art classes were a huge success, sometimes drawing more than twenty-five people. To me, this is the goal of social impact architecture; to make a space like the Baptist Town Community Center a happy place.


final but not finished

Above: MSU CAAD students complete their DESIGN|BUILD: DELTA “final exam”.

While attending the Design for Equity Bruner Loeb Forum in November I met Miriam Gee, a co-worker of Enterprise Rose Fellow Geoffrey Barton. Miriam is an architect, builder, and instructor. Miriam has extensive experience with some of the leading design build programs in the United States including the Asheville Design Center, and Yestermorrow Design/Build School. She describes her career as “inspired by students, yet grounded in real-world design challenges.” Connecting academia with project delivery is challenging and raises questions regarding how students can responsibly gain experience, how to manage client expectations, and how to prioritize the goals of such a project. Check out Build Lightly Studio to see some of Miriam’s completed projects.

In the 3-hour elective course DESIGN|BUILD: DELTA I led this fall at Mississippi State University, the students did not finish construction of our project, but we did meet our goals. As stated above, linking a learning experience to carrying out and completing construction is not a straight-forward process. To succeed doesn’t necessarily mean to build something substantial or even complete.

I think success in this type of project first means defining clear expectations with the client. If the students expect to complete a cost estimate and a build a foundation, but the client is expecting a completed building, everyone will be disappointed. Second, though design build classes have great potential for responding to community needs and being a source of cheap labor, education must remain a priority. Instructors must offer structured guidance, and not rely wholly on the students to be intentional about learning throughout the project experience. Finally, someone on the team must have the skills to lead the project. Carpentry, masonry, and other skills are trades, and it is irresponsible to expect untrained individuals to be able to master or even manage these skills in a short period of time.

In DESIGN|BUILD: DELTA, the first half of the semester the goal was to design and oversee construction of a new, code compliant entry area for the Baptist Town Community Center. In the second half of the semester, students paired individual goals (learning to weld, calling material suppliers on the phone, using a drill, and creating material and cost schedules) with the goal of designing and partially building a railing system that is functional but also sets an inspirational tone at the new community center.


eleven families will open the door to their new home

As we wrap up construction of the first phase of the Baptist Town Cottage Project, Enterprise continues to support the work in a variety of ways. Most recently, it’s exciting to see a news release about the project, and to be cited by Michelle Whetten as contributing to the overall mission of Enterprise.

“At Enterprise, we are committed to ending housing insecurity within a generation, which means no more homelessness and no more families paying more than half of their income on housing. The Baptist Town cottages will help this community meet the need for affordable housing beginning with these 11 families,” said Michelle Whetten, Enterprise Community Partners Inc.’s Gulf Coast Market Leader. 

Read the full release here.

Below, utilities have been connected at the cottages, and the previously vacant lot is no longer dark.

IMG_0806 night

ladies in the landscape

In the Mississippi Delta, widespread use of pesticides and herbicides makes maintaining healthy waterways a particular concern. In order to combat polluted run-off from the Baptist Town Cottage site, the Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Economic Development Foundation (GLCEDF) applied to Enterprise Community Partners for a “neighborhood scale green” grant to support construction of a storm water management demonstration garden. We were awarded a $2,000 grant for this project, and partnered with Brantley Snipes Landscape Design to combine the GLCEDF’s knowledge of barriers to workforce entry, with Brantley’s knowledge of storm-water gardens.

The result is both process and product. Brantley designed and purchased all materials for the garden, the EDF advertised the training program, and over the course of three days Brantley provided training in landscape installation and maintenance techniques to a group of eight women who are currently seeking employment. The result is the functioning storm-water management garden pictured below.

By weaving together social, environmental, and economic factors, this small grant is having impacts at a variety of scales. The natural filtration provided by the garden improves the quality of water as it enters our waterways, decreases the use of concrete or pipes, and will be a beautiful natural space between the new homes in Baptist Town. For the women involved in the program, not only were they compensated for their participation, they are being connected to potential employers who are seeking people with the skills they obtained through this program.

The last step in the project is a brochure that will document our process and our storm-water garden. We look forward to sharing this information with other development projects in the Mississippi Delta, and hope that this pilot project grows into something bigger.

Building upon my last post, this project underscores the interwoven nature of social and environmental goals and outcomes. When we collaborate in unexpected ways is when we best leverage our knowledge and our resources.

cottage construction

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The Cottage Project is under construction! In only a few weeks, eight homes have been placed on newly constructed foundations. Three additional foundations are currently underway, while Richard and I work to get the first eight move-in ready.

rock, paper, people

(concrete, permits, homeowners)

Developing affordable housing is not easy. It’s a complex, political process that requires a team to realize at any scale. After years of effort from multiple project partners, the Baptist Town Cottage Project is making strides. With permits in hand, concrete is being poured for the first foundations today!

Perhaps more important than these visible steps, the project team hosted Fred Johnson of the New Orleans Neighborhood Development Foundation last week. Fred is a home ownership counseling expert who taught a class to future cottage owners on the “rights, privileges, and responsibilities” of home ownership. After many months of hard work, Fred’s enthusiasm and perspective reminded us all how excited we are about this opportunity for eleven families to move toward increased economic stability.  Many thanks to Enterprise Gulf Coast for sending us just the expert we needed.

no, thank you, de’vante

I recently met De’Vante Wiley (featured in the audio below) while hosting a group of high school volunteers participating in the Summer Youth Institute, an experiential learning program that explores Mississippi society, history, and diversity. De’Vante began working to improve his community at a young age, organizing a community garden in Baptist Town when he was sixteen. I was glad to see that Southern Foodways Alliance ran into him also, wrote about him in this blog post, and provided the link to the excellent interview they did.

A couple of weeks after I met De’Vante  he stopped by the community center. Just as he succinctly speaks about some of the most challenging social aspects of life in rural Mississippi, he also transcended one of the most challenging aspects of community work and said, “On behalf of the Baptist Town community, thank you for the work you’re doing.” From an outsider perspective, public interest work is warm and fuzzy, but the reality is that it is political, never complete, and addresses realities too complex to equal unanimous support from any large group.

Still, public interest designers conduct meetings, surveys, studies, games, and events to try to take into account the needs and aspirations of their client communities. Through this process to find the best possible architectural response, negative feedback is sometimes the only voice that is heard, while those pleased with an initiative stay silent. Positive feedback such as De’Vante’s “thank you” feels good on a personal level, but more importantly, indicates to social impact designers when a project is on the right track.

a big step forward

On March 17th, 2014 a piece of legislation was passed in the Mississippi State House of Representatives that will allow the project partners committed to bringing healthy, affordable homes to the Baptist Town neighborhood to move forward with the long-planned Mississippi Cottage initiative.

Through this effort, the Greenwood-Leflore Fuller Center for Housing (previously a Habitat for Humanity Chapter) will manage the construction and the mortgages for twenty-six Cottages that were donated to the City of Greenwood for use as affordable housing by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency in 2011. Since the homes were donated, the project has encountered numerous unexpected complexities and hurdles (cataloged here). Despite setbacks, project partners, home-owner applicants, and Baptist Town neighborhood residents haven’t given up on seeing this much-needed effort come to fruition. With the passage of legislation that will allow the City of Greenwood to donate the homes to the local Fuller Center chapter, the project is now poised to be completed in 2014.

Just as the project takes this exciting step forward, the Fuller Center Bike Adventure, an annual bicycle ride that incorporates a day of volunteer construction, came to Greenwood to build what else, but steps. During the Spring Ride (follow them on Facebook from March 14th-23rd), the thirty-three participants will ride over 350 miles in a week, raising funds and awareness about Fuller Center projects and programs. Included in this week is one build day, and the Greenwood-Leflore Fuller Center was honored to host the group here in Greenwood. These hard-working volunteers completed twenty kits of step parts, and assembled seven of them. Once the Cottages are installed on permanent foundations these steps will be attached. Many thanks to everyone who helped us kick off an exciting season of Cottage construction work!