Brownsville nonprofit launches affordable housing model in more expensive Rio Grande Valley

Come Dream, Come Build hopes that the DreamBuild housing model, which has already been used in Brownsville, can spread across the nation.

By Gaige Davila, Texas Public RadioMay 1, 2024 9:45 am, ,

From Texas Public Radio:

A nonprofit housing developer in Brownsville is hoping to change how affordable homes are built.

Come Dream, Come Build (CDCB), officially launched its DreamBuild modular housing program last week, an effort more than five years in the making. The program’s concept is simple: give families who need affordable housing a choice in how their homes are built and the option to expand their home if they need more space.

CDCB calls DreamBuild a “grow home” model, where modular homes start at around 600 square feet with one bedroom and one bathroom. Then families can add extra rooms — bathrooms, bedrooms, offices — to the homes, around 300 square feet at a time. Paint, fixtures, porches and more are all customizable, in order to meet the needs of the homeowners.

Those homes are built at CDCB’s site called “The Farm,” a facility tucked away from the intersection of Old Alice Road and Highway 100 in Los Fresnos. Once finished, the homes are taken wherever the buyers want them, usually on land that they, or CDCB, owns.

Gaige Davila / Texas Public Radio

Housing organization representatives and Rio Grande Valley elected officials at Come Dream, Come Build's (CDCB) modular housing development facility called "The Farm" in Los Fresnos, Texas, during DreamBuild's launch event.

CDCB has already built 56 homes for Rio Grande Valley families, with another 24 being developed. The same housing model is being used in Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee, with affordable housing developers in those states developing their own modular homes. Three more developers will build homes using CDCB’s plans by 2025.

This model was developed purposefully to spread to other communities that need safe, climate-efficient, affordable housing, said CDCB’s CEO and Executive Director Nick Mitchell-Bennett. He also said this model is also taking back affordable housing development from a system that has made it more expensive and less accessible.

“We’re the builder and we’re the subcontractor and we’re manufacturing. We’re delivering them, we’re buying the materials at bulk,” Mitchell-Bennett told TPR inside a DreamBuild home on Rochelle Drive in Brownsville. “We’re taking advantage of who we are and the way that we think.”

The DreamBuild program includes giving financial counseling to families who are developing their homes. This rounded approach to housing is necessary for an area that is becoming increasingly unaffordable.

Gaige Davila / Texas Public Radio

Come Dream, Come Build's (CDCB) CEO and Executive Director Nick Mitchell-Bennett (foreground) gives a tour of a DreamBuild model home in Brownsville.

Texas A&M University’s Real Estate Center shows that housing affordability in Cameron County, where Brownsville is, has steadily decreased since 2017. Hidalgo County, which contains the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metro area, fairs no better. Median home prices in Cameron County are now around $270,000 — they were $130,000 five years ago. Cameron County’s median household income is less than $50,000, which is two-thirds the U.S. average.

Part of this unaffordability could possibly be attributed to SpaceX and liquefied natural gas plants developing outside Brownsville, both of which are bringing employees into the area, and they are buying housing.

“We invited them here. We’re excited that they’re working in our communities. They’re bringing jobs, incomes are going up — fantastic, great,” Mitchell-Bennett said. “Where the heck are they going to live? Where are we going to live?”

Brownsville Mayor John Cowen acknowledged the city’s housing needs during DreamBuild’s launch event, reflecting on his time as a member of the city’s housing authority board.

“When I joined the housing authority, we had 3,000 people on our waiting list for affordable housing, back in 2004,” Cowen told the crowd of elected officials and housing organization representatives. “Right now, we have 10,000.”

Developing affordable housing provides Brownsville residents and beyond more than just a place to sleep. A home offers stability for a person or family, along with the opportunity to build a community, wealth and health.

“Our health metrics, our health outcomes in this country, are much worse for those people who are unhoused or those people who are in unstable housing,” Mitchell-Bennett said. “Am I expecting [these homes] to solve all of the world’s problems? No, but I think that having a place to live really settles a lot of the issues, and at least makes them more attainable.”

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