When St. Bernard Parish was ravaged by flooding in Hurricane Katrina and fouled by a massive oil spill, Kevin Pedeaux could have followed many neighbors who left the area for the north shore.
Instead, Pedeaux moved to Tricou Street, just upriver in Holy Cross.
He bought a cottage renovated by Operation Comeback, a program of the Preservation Resource Center, founded in 1978. It was one of 40 houses in Holy Cross that Operation Comeback either renovated or built since making the area its target neighborhood in 2002.
Pedeaux’s household has expanded since he purchased the house: His wife, Ashley, and baby son, Owen, have joined him.
With 80 percent of area homes either flooded or wind-damaged in Katrina, the city’s housing nonprofits stepped up to make sure residents could return. Established nonprofits like Operation Comeback redoubled their efforts and expanded their services, while a host of new ones emerged.
In all corners of the city, volunteers and skilled laborers organized by nonprofit groups saw to it that citizens could return and begin rebuilding their lives.
Here are some major rebuilders and examples of their work.
n Central City
The Colton family — Edwina, Robert and daughter Kimberly — now call Sixth Street, in the Faubourg Delassize neighborhood of Central City home, thanks to Jericho Road Episcopal Housing Initiative. A subsidiary of Christ Church Cathedral founded after Hurricane Katrina, Jericho Road aims to revitalize Central City by developing homes for low and moderate income families and cleaning up vacant lots (planting orchards on some). The Coltons were life-long renters before Jericho Road put them on the path to homeownership. They purchased an energy-efficient and traditionally designed home, one of a trio. Today, the Coltons are active volunteers in their neighborhood, and at long last their daughter has her own private bedroom.
Just a few blocks away from the Colton house on Sixth Street is a house that flooded in its original location in Mid-City, then was rescued by Harmony Neighborhood Development — formerly the New Orleans Neighborhood Development Collaborative — after it was moved out of the footprint of the University Medical Center. Harmony restored the roof and porch, both removed for the move, then lovingly renovated the home. Focused on the comprehensive revitalization of Central City, Harmony partnered with McCormack Baron Salazar on the development of Harmony Oaks. The nonprofit has also built new homes in the LaSalle corridor. First-time homebuyer Le’Kedra Robertson purchased Harmony’s Fourth Street house because of her passion for the neighborhood and its culture.
Janice Bailey had to wait a long time to return home after being displaced by the storm. Her home on Upperline Street, in Broadmoor, had been inundated by water and repairing it was an overwhelming task. But Neighborhood Housing Services of New Orleans stepped up to make her return possible. Founded in 1976 and a local affiliate of a national organization, the nonprofit offers assistance to anyone who wants to buy a home, take care of their home (owner-occupied rehabilitation, maintenance) or renovate (construction management). The nonprofit also has homes for sale and rent. When Bailey became disabled after her long displacement, the group built an access ramp to make things a little easier. Now, she’s home and taking care of three granddaughters who live with her.
Chanda Hayes and her two children lived in Burbank Gardens, in Gentilly, before the breach of the levee on the London Avenue Canal made their home unlivable. But Project Home Again had the answer. Started post-Katrina by the Leonard and Louise Riggio Foundation, the nonprofit came up with an innovative approach to bringing residents back home. It established a “swap” program, whereby those whose houses were destroyed could trade them for new energy-efficient homes. The traded properties would then be redeveloped by the nonprofit, continuing the cycle. To date, the group has completed more than 100 homes in the “swap” program and 70 in its first-time homebuyer program. Hayes has lived in her new Project Home Again house on Wildair Street, in Gentilly, for the past five years and now owns it mortgage free.
For many, repairing and reoccupying their homes was a test of stamina, patience and will. Because of the since-discredited formula the Road Home program used to award repair money, many homeowners found themselves without sufficient funds to renovate. Some were scammed by unscrupulous contractors.
Barbara Bloodworth’s Hollygrove home, on Colapissa Street, was badly damaged. Bloodworth and son Wendell left prior to the storm, but son Wade stayed behind and had to be rescued from the rooftop by the National Guard. Bloodworth turned to Project Homecoming for assistance. Founded by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the Presbytery of South Louisiana in 2007, the nonprofit has expanded its mission to include renovating vacant damaged houses for sale to first-time homebuyers, as well as building new houses.
n Upper 9th Ward
The Musicians’ Village, in the Upper 9th Ward, made headlines when construction began on a vacant tract of land. The idea developed by the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity was simple: Build affordable homes to help bring local musicians home, thereby guarding the essence of the city’s culture. Seventy homes and thousands of volunteers later, the effort has expanded to include the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music. Habitat is also responsible for building or remediating dozens of homes in eastern New Orleans, Hollygrove, Central City and the 7th Ward.
Retired teacher Bernadine Amar lived in the Upper 9th Ward, on Metropolitan Street, before Hurricane Katrina drove her away. Her return was delayed when a contractor used her Road Home funds to gut her home, leaving only a new foundation, subfloor and some framing. After Amar struggled to find aid, the St. Bernard Project took on the challenge. Founded in 2006 by Zack Rosenburg and Liz McCartney after they volunteered in St. Bernard Parish, the disaster assistance nonprofit has expanded to offer aid to residents of Joplin, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; Rockaway, New York; and Monmouth County, New Jersey. The St. Bernard Project got Amar and her two daughters back into their newly redeveloped home on Metropolitan Street.
n Lower 9th Ward/Holy Cross
Of all the nonprofit efforts to rebuild the city, Make It Right has attracted the most attention (it helps to have founder Brad Pitt’s star power). Founded in 2007, Make It Right’s goal was to bring residents of the Lower 9th Ward back to live in energy-efficient contemporary homes that would not be at risk of flooding. Thus far, the group has built more than 100 houses.
Also founded post-storm, Lowernine.org has the same mission as Make It Right but with a slightly different focus. Lowernine.org provides both volunteer and skilled labor to residents whose homes flooded and who don’t have the ability to repair them. One of Lowernine.org’s teams gave a hand to Sterling Williams recently, fixing up his Delery Street home.
Providence Community Housing has done it all in Treme and in the nearby Tulane/Gravier area of Mid-City. The Catholic housing initiative was begun in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, leading to a partnership with Enterprise to redevelop the Lafitte housing project into Faubourg Lafitte and now with others in the NEWCITY group active in the area of the former Iberville projects. Providence also founded and operates the Sojourner Truth Community Center, in the Lafitte corridor, and manages a number of senior housing facilities. Yet all of its work is not mega-scale: The group also built a group of new single-family residences and renovated a cadre of houses moved from the footprint of the University Medical Center to lots in Treme and nearby.
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about homes and gardens. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.