In the late 2000s, Montgomery County, once a mostly rural area, was one of the fastest growing areas in the nation. And like many such changing counties around the United States, the availability of affordable housing presented a challenge.
Mobile homes damaged by the winds and rain of Hurricane Ike in 2008, resulted in new homes for 54 residents of Montgomery County, Texas. Little did they know just how much that hurricane would change their lives.
That didn’t deter Dr. Joanne Ducharme, director of Montgomery County Community Development, from seeking a unique solution for those in need after Hurricane Ike. Securing federal funding for low-to moderate-income residents, Dr. Ducharme worked to narrow down the proposals for construction. Once completed she gathered applications for assistance.
“We prioritized our housing assistance for the elderly and ill,” Ducharme said. “And, we needed to house them quickly and efficiently.” These residents also had to own the land where their damaged structure sat.
And, there was another requirement. They had to build stronger and safer homes to better withstand or mitigate the effects of subsequent storms.
Though Montgomery County sits about 40 miles north of downtown Houston, it’s not unusual for wind and rain events that hit Houston to also pummel this largely rural area to its north. Also, the east and west forks of the San Jacinto River wind through Montgomery County, creating a watershed that exacerbates flooding.
Developing and implementing a solution, the county met the challenges of time, logistics efficiency, and storm mitigation.
Modular units, built to the appropriate housing code at a factory in Fort Worth, Texas, replaced the demolished structures and placed on new slabs.
“In this way, the house was under construction in Fort Worth while the demo and foundation work were underway on site,” Ducharme said. “Families were generally displaced from their property four to five weeks [during the process]. Most were able to stay with relatives for that amount of time but would not have been able to do so for months on end.”
Because they owned their land, other arrangements could be made so individuals and families were not away long.
“We placed pods on site to store belongings. In some cases, some owners were able to stay on the old property while we constructed an alternate location on their land, at a higher elevation,” Ducharme explained. “The cost savings were enormous and enabled us to replace more houses.” After the family settled into their new home, the county removed the pods.
Built to withstand 120 mph winds, the two- three- or four-bedroom modular units, arrived in two pieces from the factory. Constructed with strong, cement infused HardiPlank fiber siding and the homes feature a homey cottage look with a six-foot wide porch of treated wood.
Specifications called for a long list of other items to strengthen or mitigate the structures: engineered roof trusses with spacing at 24 inches on-center, i.e., wall studs installed at the center of one frame member to the center of the next; hurricane clips to reinforce roof stability in high winds, insulated doors, durable vinyl flooring, a 4/12 roof pitch—a roof that rises four inches in height for every 12inches — and water shut-off valves.
“We didn’t want to replace a mobile home with another mobile home,” said Autumn Edge, senior case manager for Montgomery County Community Development. “And, we wanted to harden the housing stock … to take the weather factor out.”
Part of that hardening or mitigation included elevations.
“Nearly every home was elevated approximately the same height, exceeding the county base flood elevation requirements by about 2 ft.,” Edge said. The modular structures, built on concrete beams, offered the residents protection in bad weather. Elevated 8-10 feet on wood piers, two homes are in particularly flood-prone areas.
Edge said residents were able to select interior and exterior colors, carpeting and some style accents — something they had never been able to do at any time in their lives. From signing the application to completing each home, residents could expect a wait from three to five months before moving into their new, dream-come-true homes.
Not a long wait considering the tests of time and weather the structures have been through since construction. The last one was built in 2012 and all have stood up well through “the Memorial Day 2015 flood, Hurricane Harvey (2017), and Tropical Storm Imelda 2019,” Ducharme recounted.
Part of the mission of Montgomery County Community Development is to develop decent housing and a suitable living environment with the use of innovation to improve people’s lives, build hopes and strengthen the community.
- Know your risk, whether it is high winds or flooding, learn more about your flood risk:
- FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program website
- Information about FEMA’s Flood Maps
- Taking steps when repairing or rebuilding, can make all the difference in the next weather event: Wind Retrofit Guide for Residential Buildings
- Hurricane Mitigation Property Retrofitting
- FEMA Building Science Resources to Assist with Reconstruction after a Hurricane