Cottages that were created during the Hurricane Katrina recovery to replace inadequate FEMA trailers are now becoming permanent homes in the Baptist Town neighborhood of Greenwood, Miss.
Donated by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, 26 factory-built cottage homes will provide homeownership opportunities for low-income households in this economically impoverished neighborhood—one of the first locations in the Mississippi Delta where free blacks lived after the Civil War.
Working to enhance this neighborhood that has struggled with the lack of homeownership opportunities and inferior housing are partners nonprofit Greenwood-LeFlore Fuller Center for Housing and Mississippi State University’s Carl Small Town Center, which created a master plan for revitalization and was selected to host an Enterprise Community Partners’ Rose Architectural Fellow.
“Baptist Town has a legacy of neighbors taking care of one another,” says Rose Architectural Fellow Emily Roush Elliott, a registered architect who is spending her three-year fellowship working on the redevelopment plan. “But the housing was horrendous, and public spaces were very terrible.”
As part of the first phase of Baptist Town Cottages, land was purchased and 11 of the cottages were set on permanent foundations that are built to survive a hurricane. Eight families have moved in, and the remaining three will be moving in to their new homes within the next four to six weeks.
The households have partnered with the Greenwood-Leflore Fuller Center to purchase the homes with 15-year, no-interest loans. Roush Elliott says the households earn less than 30% of the area median income, and their mortgage payments are expected to be approximately $150 to $175 per month.
The Neighborhood Development Foundation, based in New Orleans and a longtime partner of Enterprise Community Partners, has held homebuyer workshops and helped the households get all of their paperwork in order.
The stories of these new homeowners have made an impact on Roush Elliott. She says one older woman wanted a specific lot, which had been vacant for a couple of decades. It turns out it is where she had grown up. Another couple, who had been living in Biloxi, had struggled after they were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The husband, who is originally from the neighborhood, and his wife now have a new home and will be able to regain their financial footing.
“We think it’s a great outcome, taking something that was born out of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and using them in another community as a great solution to fill the housing need,” says Michelle Whetten, Enterprise Community Partners’ Gulf Coast market leader. “People generally associate Enterprise with larger-scale multifamily housing. We try to come up with housing solutions that fit the area where the need is.”
Enterprise provided a predevelopment grant to the Greenwood-LeFlore Fuller Center and provides a stipend to the hosts for Roush Elliott’s fellowship.
As an architect, Roush Elliott says it was a priority for her to focus on the design element of the project.
“We have done a lot of small things and added design where we could sneak it in. It’s changed the look,” she says. “When we take these cottages and make them a permanent solution, we are looking at how they are perceived. If you make them look like a trailer park, you’re working against yourself.”
In March 2014, 50 past and current Rose Architecture fellows convened in Baptist Town and designed some custom carpentry for the cottage porches. “The custom carpentry changed the look instantly,” Roush Elliott says. “Things like that are so important and easy to overlook.”
In addition to the cottages, Roush Elliott has worked with the partners to install a park, a playground, sidewalks, signage, landscaping, and streetlights to improve the neighborhood.
“Greenwood has been beautiful. People across all demographics and geographies have said Baptist Town is looking good, and that feels good. Home is about stability, and it affects who we are,” she says. “I hope it’s a drop in the bucket for what’s yet to come.”
Roush Elliott says it’s back to the drawing board for the second phase, with the partners exploring financing for the remaining 15 cottages.