Rebuilding New Orleans: From Homes to Entire Neighborhoods


Editor’s Note: All week long I’ve posted stories about people and organizations that are helping to rebuild New Orleans. Posts on Monday and Tuesday looked at a California church that sends a work group to the city every winter. Wednesday was about a family that takes the trips every year. Yesterday I started a story about Project Homecoming. Today is part two of the story.

NEW ORLEANS –  Project Homecoming was born in 2007 after it became apparent that many homeowners whose homes were destroyed after Hurricane Katrian were struggling to rebuild. Elderly, disabled and the poor were especially at a disadvantage. Many had received monies to rebuild from insurance or the government, only to have those funds stolen by unscrupulous contractors.

A volunteer from California works on a the North Rampart house being rebuilt by Project Homecoming.

A number of churches in the Presbytery of South Louisiana, along with the national Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, partnered together to create Project Homecoming to help those homeowners who were disadvantaged. Since that time the group has utilized nearly 10,000 volunteers from around the country to rebuild more than 125 homes.

Now five and a half years since Katrina, the organization is re-gauging its focus, to include not only helping individual homeowners, but also entire neighborhoods.

In the fall of last year, the organization started construction on its first house without a homeowner. The more than 120-year-old house on North Rampart Street in the Lower Ninth Ward was donated by an overwhelmed owner who had inherited the property – along with blight liens, taxes, and looming construction costs.

“It was in worse than zero shape,” said Construction Manager Noelle Marinello. Twelve feet of water invaded the house when the levees broke after Katrina; a large hole in the roof from wind damage had let in five years of rain, wind, and pests.

The home on North Rampart Street that Project Homecoming is rebuilding with the help of volunteers.

Teams of volunteers have rotated in every week to clear out the once overgrown lot and completely rebuild the classic New Orleans shotgun house structure.

Public Relations and Marketing Director Vann Joines said the home will be priced to make it accessible for a low-income family, without negatively affecting home prices in the surrounding neighborhood. Low-income is defined as making 80 percent or less of the area’s median income. One report puts the city’s median income for a family of four at $66,000 a year.

The North Rampart Street house is in essence a test case for Project Homecoming, as it prepares to tackle rebuilding efforts through a city grant of $500,000 the group was awarded. The organization will be using the money to purchase 13 lots from the state, which acquired the properties in a buy-out program after the disaster. Officials plan to build 11 new homes and rehabilitate two existing homes over the next two years.

The 3-bedroom, 2-bath 1,200-square-foot homes will be energy efficient using green building materials, Joines said. The houses will be raised high enough to escape future flooding, and be able to withstand hurricane-force winds. And Project Homecoming will work with neighborhood associations to ensure that each home fits the architectural character of the community.

Each home is expected to cost between $190,000 and $200,000 to build, but will be sold for approximately $150,000. Project Homecoming officials, working in partnership with other nonprofits, will help low-income homebuyers secure mortgages of between $85,000 and $90,000, as well as “soft second” grants to cover the remaining cost.

Qualified homebuyers will also be counseled and trained in how to save money and manage finances so they can meet future mortgage, tax and maintenance responsibilities.

Executive Director Jean Marie Peacock said other “holistic” efforts to help neighborhoods Project Homecoming is undertaking include partnering with neighborhood associations and other agencies to build community gardens, clear lots, and identify blighted properties for future rehabilitation. They are working with one school to teach students about urban farming.

As volunteers preparing for a new week of work were told recently by Operations Director Kevin Krejci: “We are here for the long term to make sure that community-wide recovery happens.”

For more information about Project Homecoming and how to help, go to Or call the toll free number: (877) 942-0444.

Next: One man’s story of survival.