Challenged MHC in California Transformed with Public Space

An hour east of Palm Springs, California, in the eastern Coachella Valley, where manufactured housing communities (MHC) dot the landscape of farmworkers who are sometimes living in dilapidated pre-HUD Code homes, lies St. Anthony’s Trailer Park, says The community’s sporadic clean drinking water (arsenic has been found in the well) and electricity are improving since non-profit Pueblo Unido community development corporation assumed management in 2010. During the rainy season the dry desert would turn to mud. Enter Chelina Odbert, the 36-year-old co-founder of the nonprofit Kounkuey Design Initiative, based in Los Angeles. Although her effort did not mend the 42 percent poverty rate, she worked collaboratively with the residents to develop a community space including a playground, an outdoor stage, a shaded area for people to sit and chat, and a community garden at a cost of $45,000. After over a year of planning and permits, old railroad ties form the foundation for the zocalo, a traditional town square for this community of 570, as MHProNews has learned.

Ms. Odbert and her five co-founders were involved with disaster relief following Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina, and developed a sanitation system for a dense slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Over a dozen universities in the U. S. now offer a degree in public interest design, and more than 1,000 architectural practices have committed one percent of their time to pro bono work. Kounkuey, however, obtains ideas for the space from the residents, and then works with them to develop income generating efforts such as selling produce from the garden, or weaving baskets to sell through a co-op. Changing from a trash-strewn lot to St. Anthony’s park has added a social cohesion to this MHC. “It had a really bad look,” said Janet Mandujano, a 30-year-old mother of three who grew up here. “Children grow up thinking it’s normal. You get used to it because it’s the only place you have.” ##

(Photo credit: Monica Almeida/–dancers enjoy the Fiesta to dedicate the new community space.)

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