Filed Under:  Local, News

Homeownership is up in New Orleans

30th April 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

William and Tess Monaghan founded Build Now in 2008 with the mission of building quality, affordable housing in the greater New Orleans area for people affected by Hurricane Katrina. Since the storm, Build Now has expanded its mission has expanded to assisting first time homebuyers and other residents who want to build in New Orleans’ blighted and underpopulated neighborhoods.

In an interview Jaclyn Hill, Executive Director of Build Now, explained, “We are committed to building elevated, energy-efficient homes in the New Orleans’ architectural style, that combine green-building technologies with modern amenities. The Monag­hans believe that quality new homes should be an affordable option.”

With that philosophy, Build Now has become the leading organization for the returning and the first time homeowner to have the opportunity to build a home. As she continued, “As a nonprofit, we provide extensive case management to our clients and walk them through the entire construction process, from obtaining financing and designing their floor plan to building their home with our licensed construction team. Simply stated, new construction is vital to the economic development of our blighted and underpopulated neighborhoods. Build Now acts as a catalyst in that process by serving as a one-stop shop for building for residents and constructing homes that better equip our community for future storms.”

Build Now has played an extensive role on in-field development and building homes in neighborhoods with extensive blight? “To date,” Hill continued in her interview with The Louisiana Weekly, “we have constructed over 50 homes and have more than a dozen more under construction in the greater New Orleans area. This amounts to 64 families (and counting) for whom we have helped make home ownership a reality in our blighted and underpopulated neighborhoods. We continue to partner with private citizens, companies, non-profit organizations, and city agencies to target underpopulated neighborhoods and implement strategies to increase infrastructure and develop blighted areas. House by house, block by block, we, along with others, are working diligently to remediate blight and beautify our neighborhoods through the promotion of home ownership and new construction.”

Efforts like this, and the simple determination of New Orleanians to return home and become stake holders in their community has improved individual homeownership nearly seven years after the storm. As she outlined, “The 2010 census shows that homeownership rates in New Orleans are 49.3 percent, and we suspect they will continue to grow as the City promotes homeownership through its Soft Second Mort­gage program and interest rates are at historic lows. City agencies, such as the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, are also doing their part to promote homeownership by working with NSP2 partners, such as Build Now, to develop blighted lots in underpopulated areas to be sold to first time homebuyers and low to medium income households.”

This has been particularly true for African-American ownership v. rental percentages. “African-American ownership is better than before the storm. The 2010 Census showed 45 percent owned, while 55 percent rented, compared to the 2000 Census in which 41.6 percent owned and 58.4 percent rented,” Hall said, but she added that returning to pre-storm rates of ownership have become more difficult in areas that experienced complete devastation, i.e., Lower Ninth Ward. As she explained. “One of the obstacles we face in the Lower Nine Ward is the lack of accurate information on the whereabouts of owners of blighted and vacant lots.”

“We would like to contact them to let them know about the programs and resources we have to help them rebuild their homes. We have tried using code of enforcement lists and reaching out to churches and neighborhood associations to obtain this information, with some success. Thank­fully, groups such as Beacon of Hope are working to survey these neighborhoods to address this need.”

As for the elements besides new homes that make viable neighborhoods, that the media often does not talk about, Hall noted, “For a neighborhood to thrive, its resident must feel safe and secure, both emotionally and physically. As part of our mission, we construct homes and create jobs through our utilization of local subcontractors and materials suppliers. To date, we have distributed over $3 million dollars to local workers and over $4 million to material suppliers. We additionally provide residents with piece of mind in knowing they own a new elevated, energy-efficient home engineered and built for our unique climate. As a non-profit organization, we are also able to subsidize the cost of building a new home for our clients through our fundraising efforts and unique case management system so that they receive a higher-quality house than they otherwise would be able to afford for the same amount.”

Hall specifically cited the cooperation and help of the District D Councilwoman in Build Now’s work. “We have worked closely with Cynthia Hedge-Morrell to promote our Own Now Nola program in the Gentilly area. This is a new program designed to help first time homebuyers and low- to medium-income households ac­quire and build a new home on an otherwise blighted, vacant property.”

But, government sometimes also gotten in the way. “Through our unique case management, we are able to apply for and receive Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and Road Home funds to assist our clients in the rebuilding of their homes. Unfortunately many residents were not informed that funding was available to build a new elevated home, so many opted to elevate their preexisting home using HMGP funds. Several local journalists have recently reported that the program was skewed from the beginning to promote existing home elevation rather than new construction. We are curious to see how the government responds and whether additional funding will be provided to address these concerns.”

As for Build Now’s long-term vision, “At last count, there was over 43,755 residential blighted and/or vacant lots in New Orleans, which means there is a lot of rebuilding work left to be done! To better serve our community, Build Now has expanded its mission to help even more families. Historically, we have only helped people who needed assistance in rebuilding their storm-damaged properties, but through our new Own Now program we help people acquire a lot to build a new home. In doing so, we have increased the amount of people and families we can assist and in turn, the development of our city’s blighted, underdeveloped neighborhoods.”

She asks anyone seeking to become a homeowner to visit Build Now’s new office at the New Orleans Healing Center at 2372 St. Claude Ave, Ste. 270, NOLA 70117. Hall concluded, “We are very excited about the completion of our 50th home and the 14 houses we have under construction.”

This article was originally published in the April 30, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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