Change Makers: Erin Marrero


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By creating housing and educational services for women at a transitional phase in life, Phoenix Project Nola offers the opportunity for a fresh start in a stable home environment. The tiny house program allows participants to live in a home for one year. Afterward, they have the option to buy it and become a homeowner. Meanwhile, the program’s educational initiative provides resources on career building and personal finance. 

St. Charles Avenue spoke with founder and executive director Erin Marrero, who shared her inspiration for this unique approach to creating more accessible housing.

Inspired by her mother’s work with the Catholic Charities homeless prevention program, Erin Marrero wanted to care for others in a similar way. She decided to create transitional housing for women (particularly mothers) in need. She saw tremendous potential in the use of tiny houses. 

Later on, Phoenix Project Nola expanded to include educational and job readiness skills for those in the program as well.

Marrero founded Phoenix Project Nola in 2017, but she took some time away to care for her two children. Now, she is ready to get back at it with the program’s relaunch, which includes the Eagle Education Program that begins this March. 

The 12-week Eagle Education Program covers financial literacy and home ownership education. This includes helping participants get their resumes ready, and as well as work on career searches. Because Marrero has a background in recruiting and education, it was a natural fit to help these women during a transitional time in their lives with one-on-one coaching. The program includes classes on overall financial wellness, as well as budgeting, career readiness and mortgages. 

In addition, Marrero works to overcome any barriers to entry for the educational program. For instance, participants receive meals and childcare services during classes. This gives them a greater opportunity to make time for the classes while working with people who respect their role as a mother. 

Tiny houses are generally defined as standalone homes that do not exceed 500 square feet, and they have become a popular real estate trend among people looking to downsize and simplify their living space. Although other cities have fostered a greater tiny house community, the trend has not yet taken off in New Orleans to the same degree. However, Marrero sees tremendous potential in these houses for the women in her program. 

“As a mother, we don’t need a lot of space,” said Marrero, adding that a kitchen, living room area, and bedroom suffice for many families. For people transitioning out of a group home or transitional living experience, maintaining a smaller space can be more manageable. Without as much house to maintain, it is easier to focus more on their children and family. With this solution, participants can enjoy the benefits of home ownership with fewer of the stresses that often accompany the cost and upkeep of a house. 

Tiny houses are part of the Homeowner’s Nest Program. The current plan is to break ground on the first tiny house in May 2023. Meanwhile, the larger goal is to make the project self-sustaining by renting out a second tiny house to cover costs for the coming year.

In the future, Marrero would like to counsel a greater number of women and create more tiny houses over the course of each year. However, she does not want to lose the program’s personal element.

“I’m big on the quality of impact over quantity,” said Marrero. “I don’t want to get to the point where I don’t know the women we’re working with.” This intentional approach ensures each participant gets individualized attention focused on their particular needs. 

Marrero credits the community and partnerships with other organizations for helping Phoenix Project Nola grow and expand. With this in mind, there are many ways you can help support their mission.    

At this time, donations toward the cost of the tiny homes would be greatly appreciated. Marrero is also looking for someone with land to donate or lease for the homes. 

For the most part, the program has grown by word of mouth, so Marrero invites you to share information about Phoenix Project Nola on social media. In addition, if you know someone who may benefit from the program, feel free to connect and share information. 

Backed by community support, Phoenix Project Nola is all set to turn tiny houses into huge opportunities.