A Plan for a Supportive Community in Austin, Texas

A Plan for a Supportive Community in Austin, Texas

Community First! Village is a master planned community in Austin, Texas. The community, developed by Mobile Loaves and Fishes, (MLF) provides affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community for men and women coming out of chronic homelessness.

Energy Panel Structures (EPS) and authorized dealer Trevor Huffard of GeoFaze are supplying structural insulated panels for homes in Phase II of the development.

Phase II started in the fall of 2018 in an area directly adjacent to the Phase I development. It adds 24 acres to the development for a total 51 acres and more than 500 homes in the community. Phase II includes 100 RV/Park homes, 200 micro-homes, seven laundry/restroom/shower facilities, seven outdoor kitchens, community gardens, donor recognition park, guest parking lot, Community Works Entrepreneur Hub, and a health and wellness center.

The EPS structural insulated panels will be used in the micro-homes.

Sarah Satterlee is the staff architect for MLF, and she says all the micro-homes were designed by local Austin architects.

“They are all under 200 square feet of interior space, and they all accommodate a single bed, closet space, and a small kitchenette with a mini-fridge, microwave, crock pot, and coffee maker,” she said. “All homes have front porch space to encourage outdoor living and social interaction. Groups of homes share a common laundry, restroom, shower facility, as well as outdoor kitchens, which house cooking facilities and communal eating and gathering space.”

 The ground-breaking for the development was in 2014 and Phase I included 130 micro-homes, 100 RV homes and other amenities needed in the community.

“The Village was originally designed as an RV park but was adapted along the way to include micro-homes as an additional housing option. Groups of homes were designed to facilitate interaction between them, and circulation is intended to wind throughout the homes and gathering spaces. Our main staff offices and Genesis Gardens, an organic farm that produces food to feed our neighbors, are at the center, at the heart of the property. Other amenities and services, such as our arthouse, metal forge, health and wellness services, dog park, etc. are located throughout the village, which gets people walking around as much as possible,” explained Satterlee.

The staff has continued to learn and implement lifestyle designs specific to the community.

“It’s important for our neighbors to have opportunity for both privacy and solitude along with community and interaction. Front porches help with this, as well as operable windows and screen doors so neighbors can connect with others and enjoy breezes while staying inside their homes. We have learned that storage is especially important. Tiny homes are often associated with minimalist lifestyles. But for many of our neighbors, it may be the first time in a while they have a secure place for their belongings, so some tend to accumulate a lot of things. Having good closet and cabinet space is vital. Accessibility is also important. Most neighbors have a myriad of health difficulties and mobility challenges, so having room to move around, get in and out of bed easily, and do basic tasks like prepare food is important,” explained Satterlee.

 About half of the micro-homes in Phase II will use the EPS structural insulated panels.

“We were looking for a way to production build 100 homes using a few different floor plans,” said Satterlee. “Additionally, we wanted a way to involve all types of volunteers in construction, including people without any building experience. SIPs made it possible to cut out a lot of the on-site, skilled work of conventional building, and allowed us to create a streamlined One-Day Build experience for our volunteers. A group of 6-8 volunteers and a few staff members can have a house almost dried-in by lunch!”

SIPs are known for their performance and reduced energy costs over the life of the home. The Village staff recognizes this as an important feature because the homeowners are responsible for paying their own bills and keeping heating and cooling costs low is a big priority.

Over 200 formerly homeless men and women have found a place to call home at the Village.

Homeowner and Village neighbor, Richard, spent much of his life feeling like he did not belong anywhere. He drifted between cities and jobs until he was homeless and struggling to survive. He expected to live day to day as a drug addict for the rest of his life. That was until he moved into the Village in 2017. He found work and learned to work in the garden, run the farmers market and cleans one of the kitchens. He makes enough money to pay for rent and food. He has become a part of the community and gets more connected to the people in the community.

“When I first moved into the Village, the best part was not having walls or a roof, it was belonging. This is my home and I belong here,” said Richard.

All the homes in the Village have been constructed with local builders who have donated much of their labor and materials for the project. Teresa Wilbanks is the Builder Relations Manager for the Village and she expects that about 100 of the micro-homes in Phase II will be built by their builder partners.

“We have had great building partners since we started micro-home construction in 2015. We had over 30 residential and commercial builders contribute all their labor and some of the materials to build 70 micro-homes on Phase I of the Village,” she said. “We currently have 18 professional licensed builders either working or committed to building 28 micro-homes on Phase II. We will have a total of 200 micro-homes on Phase II and plan for 100 of those to be built by our builder partners.

“I think that this is a very tangible way for builders to use their time and talents to make a real difference in the Austin community by helping to mitigate homelessness here. They can meet formerly homeless individuals already living here and some have even formed lasting relationships with CFV neighbors (residents). Some of the current builders on Phase I are returning to build on Phase II. They are able to see firsthand that what they are doing is making a real change in people's lives.”

MLF has launched their Ten-Year Plan $60 million campaign in the fall of 2017. The plan includes building out and occupancy of Phase II plus moving forward with Phase III and Phase IV which will lift up a total of 1250 chronically homeless men and women off the streets by 2027.

“We are on target financially and with our construction. Phase II construction should be substantially complete and occupied within the next three years, with Phase III underway by then as well. We are continuing to raise money and make plans to acquire assets to reach our goal by 2027,” Wilbanks said.

Trevor Huffard is the owner of GeoFaze SIPs and has been an EPS dealer since 2018. His company is now located in Connecticut but is well-known in his former location of Texas where he owned a company that manufactured SIPs.

“The Community First! Village is really unique,” said Huffard. “The house really isn’t the important part. The supportive services and amenities offered is what makes it a successful place for people and families to improve their lives.

“I love what MLF is doing. They are really trying to create a sense of community for the homeowners. There is a lot of fun design even though the houses are tiny. There is just so much spirit in the project.

“I have had very little to do with their success, but I can see there is really a sense of something special being done with the community.”

Mike Mattison, Director of Sales and Marketing for EPS, added, “We have over 400 authorized builders across the country. Many of them work in their local communities whether it is donating time, money, or talents to worthwhile projects. We are proud when we can have the opportunity to further their reach to improve the lives of others such as this development by MLF.”

Mobile Loaves & Fishes is a social outreach ministry that has been empowering communities into a lifestyle of service with the homeless since 1998. The organization was founded in Austin, Texas and Community First! Village is just one of three core programs for the organization. Learn more by visiting mlf.org.

EPS is a manufacturer of structural insulated panels for residential, commercial, and agricultural construction. They are headquartered in Graettinger, Iowa with additional facilities in Perryville, Missouri and Clyde, New York. Learn more by visiting epsbuildings.com.

GeoFaze SIPs distributes structural insulated panel building packages throughout Texas and Southwestern U.S. They work closely with owners, designers, and builders for a precise, simple, and sustainable building envelope. Learn more by visiting geofaze.com.

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