homeWORD created a process for affordable housing development that incorporates several core values: serves working families, community-designed, models new strategies for green building, and demonstrates sustainable methods. This process, which we call the charrette process, is now a signature of homeWORD’s affordable housing development.
The charrette is a public design meeting where interested community members come together to brainstorm ideas for the design, site plan, development and management of homeWORD’s proposed housing. The charrette is a two-day long event where we learn about and explore innovative strategies.
Outcomes include: helping to meet the need for sustainable affordable rental housing; focusing on the needs of very-low and low-income renters; designing rental housing that fits the neighborhood and surrounding area; using a more participatory and interactive planning process that encourages input from individuals, groups, and stakeholders who are not usually included; developing specific criteria that will be incorporated into the project; and creating a process that can be replicated by others.
homeWORD from BACKTRACK films on Vimeo.
In Missoula, community needs are assessed every five years by a local city entity, the Office of Planning and Grants. This process encompasses input from local government, service agencies, nonprofits, healthcare providers and many others. The findings provide priorities on a city wide scale that places emphasis on community needs and gaps in services. HomeWORD uses the community needs assessment to guide its development projects, but goes one step further by incorporating input from the community itself to design affordable rental housing that meets the city’s needs and those of residents and neighbors. The process takes a strengths-based perspective and identifies available resources to address the community’s concerns rather than focusing on deficits or problems facing the community. HomeWORD recognizes that individuals are the experts on their own experiences and values the input of community members to design housing that truly meets their needs.
With every new housing development, homeWORD conducts a charrette process and encourages and engages community involvement, which produces a plan for how the project will be designed and implemented. HomeWORD is committed to providing safe, healthy, and affordable housing using sustainable methods and promoting strong communities through housing counseling and education for those most in need.
HomeWORD works to influence policy that promotes housing affordability and educates communities on related social and economic policies; practices energy and resource efficiency to ensure long-term affordability and acknowledges the importance of aesthetics in promoting self-respect and empowerment; serves those most in need, such as single headed households, persons with disabilities and other minority groups; recognizes that access to financial education and housing are two essential steps to economic self-sufficiency; builds strong partnerships with other nonprofit organizations and the private sector to address affordable housing needs in Montana.
HomeWORD works creatively to invite, engage and involve as many community members, organizations, and businesses as possible in the development and design phase of projects. Housing development staff members attend neighborhood council meetings in the areas where the project is going to be built to encourage resident participation in the charrette and answer any questions neighbors might have about the proposed development.
All participants are given a charrette agenda at the beginning of the event that includes: goals and givens; charrette coordinators and participants; the neighborhood – past, present, and future; slide show narrative; artists’ panel discussion; the results – group designs and synthesis. Together, the development team and participants explore shared and flexible living arrangements, which lead to a high quality of life and sense of community for low-income families. The results of this process are nothing less than fantastic; the projects always prove to be beautiful, practical, inspiring, and inventive.
Lessons learned as a result of the many charrette processes that homeWORD has facilitated over the years are incorporated into the actual implementation of future affordable housing developments during design, construction, and leasing. HomeWORD staff take the feedback received from charrette participants and their own evaluation of the process and carry it forward with future projects to continue improving the organization’s development model. We have been honored for the results that our charrette process achieves, and our approach has been called “unique – women-oriented, innovative, environmentally sound and eminently replicable” by the Center for Community Change. “The results are turning heads.”
HomeWORD has been steadily growing and increasing capacity since its creation in 1994. With 11 successful projects in our portfolio, the organization is continuing to seek out new opportunities for housing development that address smart growth, affordability, adaptive reuse, green features, and targeting underserved populations.
HomeWORD’s Joint Ventures in Rural Montana co-development program creates local capacity and leadership in developing affordable housing that utilizes green building strategies throughout the state of Montana. Through these partnerships, homeWORD will improve the social, health, and economic outcomes for low-income Montanans and increase local capacity to address housing needs and issues of poverty across the state. In this economic climate the work of the organization is continuing to become more and more valued in communities that are struggling with unemployment and high foreclosure rates. Providing affordable rental housing and assisting low-income individuals to become first-time homebuyers helps create thriving, sustainable local economies.
As a result of homeWORD’s charrette process, each affordable housing development we build is unique to the neighborhood where it is located. For example, Orchard Gardens, located on the urban-rural fringe of Missoula's western side, is an area that is still deeply rooted in the tradition of agriculture. Orchard Gardens features two acres of community gardens: a neighborhood farm and orchards, which are both designed to foster local food security for residents.
These projects have become a community amenity and, more importantly, a place our residents are proud to call home. The charrette for Missoula’s Equinox development included an eco-charrette and a universal design charrette. The eco-charrette team evaluated and chose materials and systems that were most appropriate and cost effective for the project, saving money and lowering rents for our most economically disadvantaged residents. The universal design charrette brought persons with physical disabilities together with service agencies to help design Equinox’s accessible units.
homeWord Website: www.homeword.org