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 Phillip Rollfing  

Urban analysis

Planning students assist B/CS
community needs assessment



Students across disciplines within Texas A&M University’s College of Architecture collaborated with public and community officials last year to determine housing needs for the low- to moderate-income population in the cities of Bryan and College Station, Texas.

The process required students in Sherry Bame’s Introduction to Planning course to conduct first-hand applied research, collect and code data, and analyze and interpret their results.

The students evaluated more than 16,000 homes in low- to moderate-income housing areas as determined by the 2000 U.S. census. They concluded that while average housing sales prices have steadily increased since 1990, the median income has remained unchanged.

“So what we’re doing is pricing people, the majority of the population, out of housing in the Bryan College Station area,” said Bame, the project director and associate professor in the department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning.

The students’ conclusions were placed into the cities’ 2005-2010 consolidated plans, which were submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in June 2005. Based on these plans, HUD provides an annual Community Development Block Grant to both cities. The grants help “develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment through the expansion of economic opportunities for low- and moderate-income persons.”

“It really is a safety net to keep people so that they can maintain an independent style of life,” said Bame.

The HUD funds can be applied towards a homebuyer’s down payment and/or provide monthly assistance to help qualified residents afford housing. Once the urban areas are defined and prioritized by need, the cities work with partners in the community to meet those needs. For example, the city may renovate a portion of the neighborhood, then the homeowners and developers come in and do the rest.

“It’s all about collaboration, working together,” said Debbie Eller, College Station community development projects coordinator. “It really revitalizes areas in the city. It’s helping the citizens that live in those homes, but it’s also improving a tax base for the city, because the values are higher.”

Another major factor the students’ analysis examined was the unique problem of the fluctuating demand on the housing market that is created by the different numbers of students in town over the year. A key concern, for instance, was what to do with a housing market that is stagnant over the summer, a result of the 47,000 college students, including those from Blinn, living off-campus during the school year.

“It’s a really interesting flavor of our two cities in terms of this huge student demand that comes and goes,” Bame said. “The students contribute phenomenal economic growth for the two communities. I had heard that, but it never really made such an impact until I actually saw it in the study.”

In addition to the undergraduates’ housing market analysis, graduate students in Bame’s Healthy Systems class, surveyed health and human service providers and community residents to assess their perceptions of needs and quality of life in Bryan and College Station. Due to state and federal funding cut-backs, the students found that more than half of the 28 major social service programs in the two communities were in critical need of alternative funding. The top five at-risk groups most in need of HUD funds were the homeless, low-income, elderly, disabled or mentally handicapped and teenagers, respectively.

“We know work like this benefits the students and I think it’s great for them to do something locally,” Eller said, who plans to invite another planning class to participate in the next community needs assessment. “We like the idea of giving them some real-world experience that correlates with their classwork.”

“Every single student, every undergraduate that came out of this will never look at a community the same again, wherever they live,” Bame said. “That says to me that I have done my job.”



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Low-income housing