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University: UL Partnership to rebuild community – video included

Megan Wyatt, Daily Advertiser, Jan. 31, 2014

Click here for video by Megan Wyatt.

Graduate students in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s School of Architecture and Design are watching their ideas become reality through a partnership with Lafayette Habitat for Humanity.

During a public presentation Thursday evening, students unveiled three-dimensional designs of two houses at the Rosa Parks Transportation Center.

The homes will be constructed this summer as part of a small-scale community or “pocket neighborhood” project in the McComb-Veazey neighborhood in Lafayette.

The property on which the homes will be built presented significant space constraints and layout challenges for the students, who also had to consider neighborhood house style, building efficiency and energy efficiency in their designs.

“This was a drastic realization for us,” student Stuart Monte said. “The hardest part was the space constraint. How do you make a house that is desirable and comfortable but also cost-efficient?”

The student-designed homes are part of a 13-house plan that includes a pavilion and park on less than two acres of land.

The UL-designed houses are each about 1,200 square feet with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Monte and the other design students plan to help build their designs this summer with Habitat for Humanity.

It demonstrates the passion the students have for the project because they have already received their grades, said UL professor Geoff Gjertson, who facilitates the partnership between the school and the nonprofit.

The pocket neighborhood homes are only one part of the partnership.

Students began designing homes with Habitat for Humanity in fall 2010 and have since completed construction on two other homes in the McComb-Veazey neighborhood.

One of the student-designed homes on Marne Street will be ready in early February for working mother Yoshonna Benoit.

“It’s really exciting,” Benoit said. “It’s nice. It came out real, real nice.”

As a requirement for receiving a Habitat for Humanity home, Benoit attended financial-planning classes and helped to build the home.

Her house has four bedrooms and two full baths to accommodate her six children, ages 11 to 18.

Her payments will be less than the rent she currently pays.

Melinda Taylor, executive director of Habitat for Humanity, said creating new houses in core neighborhoods is an important part of the Lafayette Consolidated Government’s Comprehensive Master Plan.

The construction of the houses is funded, in part, by a housing-specific grant from LCG.

“It’s important to pay attention to the core neighborhoods because a city can rot from the inside out,” Taylor said. “There’s a lot of history and a lot of possibilities here.”

The McComb-Veazey neighborhood is one of the oldest in Lafayette.

It began in the early 1900s in an area that was once considered the suburbs. It’s now defined as the area bordered by Evangeline Thruway, Pinhook Road, Surrey Street and Simcoe Street.

A mix of older homes, vacant buildings and empty lots, many have been trying to revitalize the area to its former glory.

Tina Shelvin, vice chair of the McComb-Veazy Coterie, said the new houses add warmth to the neighborhood. She said she just wants to “walk up with a pie and say, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’” when she passes them.

“It’s important to invest in the neighborhoods in existence,” Shelvin said. “To see these students do a presentation on flagship houses that incorporate our core values and neighborhood style is nice to see.”