After Hurricane Katrina displaced public housing tenants in NewOrleans, a redevelopment opportunity was awarded to developers L&M Development Partners, Enterprise Community Partners, and Providence Community Housing, which planned to knock down the original housing, as mandated by HUD. Lafitte residents weren’t too thrilled.
“You’re telling these people you’re taking their homes away from them to rebuild them,” says Jacob Pine, development coordinator for L&M. “In the beginning, [we] had disappointed people who wanted to come home sooner but had nothing to come home to.”
It wasn’t until the team’s outreach to the residents reached its full potential in 2006 that the former tenants started to come around. The team conducted community workshops and design charrettes with residents to see how to design the new low-rise units. They also communicated via newsletters, a website, and a toll-free phone line to continuously obtain input.
“This is more about community development; you don’t want [residents] to feel left out,” Pine says. “You want people to feel like they are at home.”
The most difficult part of the process was employing a team of eight to reach out to former residents and invite them back into their homes. It took a tremendous effort and 2,500 calls daily to reach some 550 families who fled town during the hurricane and were spread out all throughout the country.
As a result of the team’s efforts, the first 95 units in the newly constructed properties were leased to former Lafitte residents. A street grid was designed to connect Creole-style cottages and small apartment buildings to the outside area, and the historical architectural detail closely mirrored that of the overarching neighborhood. The homes were designed with traditional wrought-iron railings on the balconies, familiar front porches, and a mix of stucco and fiber-cement siding in soft shades. It was better than using typical red bricks, Pine says, adding that the developers wanted the homes to feel like a community rather than gated-off public housing.
Now, former Lafitte residents couldn’t be happier.