As Hurricane Katrina recovery continues on a house-by-house basis in parts of New Orleans, a different sort of initiative, called Project Home Again, has found a way to build back hard-hit Gentilly by leaps and bounds. With more than 100 new homes already completed, Project Home Again has recently re-upped its commitment with a new plan to build 100 more.
The nonprofit Project Home Again was created in 2010 by Barnes & Noble bookstore chairman Leonard Riggio and his wife Louise, who funded the project with $20 million from their family foundation, which was the largest housing-related contribution in New Orleans since Katrina. They began with a pilot program to build a cluster of 20 homes in Gentilly, which soon expanded to 100 new, energy-efficient, single-family properties and added one more, for 101 total, as an appreciation for the New Orleans notion of lagniappe.
“This is probably one of the most miraculous stories,” said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu during an event to announce the program’s next round. “We are here today to have the second chapter of the story written.”
Landrieu described Riggio as the city’s “guardian angel,” and he said construction was already underway for 30 of these second-round homes around Gentilly.
From the start, Project Home Again has taken a different approach to homeowner recovery, with an emphasis on clustering new homes to kindle a sense of community. Gentilly was chosen as the area to test the program because it had been a strong neighborhood before the storm where people from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds chose to live together.
The project is also aimed specifically at working families who had owned homes in Gentilly prior to Katrina. Qualifying residents chosen to participate receive a new home at no cost on the condition that they turn over their flood-damaged house or the property where it once stood to Project Home Again, which will either build a new home on the lot or swap it with the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority for land that’s better positioned for clustering new homes. To qualify, residents have to be employed, pass credit checks, complete homeownership training and have no liens on their original properties. For information, see ProjectHomeAgain.net.