FEMA adopts AIA recommendations for New Orleans reconstruction

Homeowners get advice from architects on residential challenges

August 29, 2006 |

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently announced new guidelines to address transitional housing concerns.

To help residents who lost their homes entirely, the FEMA plan to create an alternative housing pilot program for the hurricane ravaged Gulf Coast region is based on the requirements in H.R. 4939 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act.  The AIA lobbied heavily in support of the bill and the language mirrors several recommendations outlined in a letter from AIA Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer, Christine McEntee to Michael Chertoff, Secretary of U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in June 2006.  FEMA will use the $400 million funding from the bill for projects that create transitional modular housing for hurricane victims with improved hurricane resistance and can be constructed quickly, using prefabricated panelized walls. The initial concept is based on “Katrina cottages,” designed by architects that can withstand 140-mph winds, resulting in a more comfortable, and affordable alternative to a trailer. “In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane devastation, the AIA warned of the problems associated with relying too heavily on temporary trailers to accommodate displaced residents,” said Tom Wolfe, AIA senior director, Federal Affairs.  “A rebuilding effort of this magnitude demands that careful attention is paid to sound, long-term planning and design elements that emphasize the highest building codes to protect against future natural disasters, not merely supplying the easiest shelter option available.” Because temporary housing can end up lasting far longer than initially anticipated, community design elements must be used to guide the rebuilding program.Careful consideration should be made to ensure that public safety issues are addressed, strict building codes are adhered to, and access to public transportation, retail, recreation, and worship facilities are available in areas that will use transitional housing solutions. AIA 10 Principles of Livable Communities:http://www.aia.org/liv_principles Wolfe continued, “We are encouraged that the federal government has supplied strong funding to support this undertaking and that FEMA is receptive to rebuilding concerns for the preservation of the historic architectural landscape, the need for environmentally conscious design principles, and for local professionals to be utilized to create sustainable communities that pay respect to the rich heritage of the Gulf Coast.” Highlights of the DHS and FEMA Alternative Housing Pilot Program: 

  • Favors context-sensitive housing that reflects consideration of transportation access and civic amenities

  • Recognizes the need to consider energy efficiency and historic preservation

  • Acknowledges the need to take into account the unique hazards of coastal flooding, and wind, as well as conformity to the local building codes

  • Specifically calls for meeting the needs of persons with disabilities

  • Advocates for housing of a design and style that will have a positive social impact on the community and the evolution of community social structures 

FEMA and DHS’s Office of Grants and Training will administer the program.  The states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Florida will then submit applications to address the housing needs in their jurisdictions.  FEMA will use a Selection Committee made up of governmental representatives and a broad cross-section of housing experts, including “private sector and not-for-profit organizations with housing policy, architectural and construction expertise” to evaluate proposals and make recommendations to the Department for awards. About The American Institute of ArchitectsFor almost 150 years, members of The American Institute of Architects have worked with each other and their communities to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable buildings and cityscapes.  AIA members have access to the right people, knowledge, and tools to create better design, and through such resources and access, they help clients and communities make their visions real.   www.aia.org

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