New Orleans, LA – Community IMPACT Series: New Orleans Neighborhood Development Collaborative, Oct. 5, 2010
Visit the former site of the CJ Peete public housing project in New Orleans and it's impossible to miss evidence of massive change. The old, campus-style housing project in the Central City area has been torn down, and in its place a new mixed-income residential development called Harmony Oaks is taking shape. But amid the gleaming new townhouses and rerouted streets here, other change is afoot, less obvious but no less important to the overall vision for the neighborhood.
"Our construction, the elimination of the blight, and the redevelopment of the former CJ Peete public housing site, that's only the catalyst," says Una Anderson, executive director of the New Orleans Neighborhood Development Collaborative. "What surrounds that, and what is its heartbeat, is the work that we do with people, and the work that we do with neighbors and residents in Central City."
The nonprofit Neighborhood Development Collaborative is a local partner with the national firms redeveloping the site, and much of its work centers on the social services, the education and the job training, and the neighborhood advocacy and engagement that are all part of the Harmony Oaks plan to bring up its neighbors along with its neighborhood.
"One of the biggest problems with neighborhood revitalization around the country has been that residents that have lived in the neighborhoods for years are often displaced by that revitalization," says Anderson. "We really are focused on ensuring that while we do the physical redevelopment, we're helping people build their lives so they can participate and benefit from that revitalization."
In addition, the Neighborhood Development Collaborative is building some 50 houses in the area around Harmony Oaks, replacing blighted structures or vacant lots with new, affordable homes and providing assistance to help local renters make the leap to homeownership.
One important goal for all of this work is to give more local families safer and more reliable housing options. It's aimed at breaking the cycle of setbacks many families face as they frequently move from one low-quality apartment to the next.
"If you can bring housing stability, be it rental stability or homeownership, to a family, what you've been able to do is both stabilize the income and job environment for the parent, and the school environment for the child,
which has tremendous growth, you know, it helps that family move up the economic ladder over time," says Anderson. "In addition to that with homeownership we feel that's building an asset for the family, it's building family wealth through generations. So we feel it's building both short-term stability, long-term stability for the family, and community stability."
So while the highly-visible construction work progresses at Harmony Oaks, and while the Neighborhood Development Collaborative builds its individual homes along nearby streets, the group also continues to knock on doors, organize neighbors and introduce the new possibilities rising alongside the new housing.
"Well, in the end New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods, and where we fail in that is when residents become isolated," says Anderson. "And if we can create homebuyers who are very much a part of a neighborhood and good neighbors, and are insisting on good neighbor behavior by the people surrounding them, then we're going to build a much stronger neighborhood."