Providence Community Housing Helps New Orleanians Find Homes

November 25, 2014

Providence Community Housing fosters healthy, diverse and vibrant communities by developing, operating and advocating for affordable, mixed-income housing, supportive services and employment opportunities for individuals, families, seniors and people with special needs.

Diane Muses’s new house on Iberville Street is about half a dozen blocks outside the French Quarter. I asked if she could give me a tour, and she happily led the way.

“This is the kitchen,” Diane beamed. “This is the living room.  This house has two full bathrooms!”

To say Muse loves her new home is somewhat of an understatement

“It’s just past beautiful,” she exclaims. “I don’t know what more to say.”

Muse has always worked, but she’s never owned a home before. She says, “I never dreamed I would ever own a home. The way I got this home, it wasn’t no one but God — because Providence looked for me. Providence contacted me. I never contacted Providence.”

Muse is talking about Providence Community Housing, but a bit of a miracle wasinvolved. See, the state gave Providence – Community Housing – a list of people who suffered significantly from Katrina. Muse says she was just like anybody else; she lost her home, her cars, everything. And here was Providence, out of the blue, saying: Hey! You want to own a home? We can help you.

“They set me through this process,” Muse explains. “Everything they told me to do, I did it. I was raised to think I’d never own a home. Once I met the ladies at Providence, it was smooth sailing, they walked me step for step.”

“Providence was founded right after the storm to address the needs of affordable housing, try to bring people home,” says Terri North, the CEO of Providence Community Housing.  She says as other developers were jockeying for tax credits and resources flooding into post Katrina New Orleans, Providence set a clear mission.

“We’re going to represent the people who are probably not going to be the best served. We want to make sure the residents of Treme that lived there before that were displaced, the residents of Lafitte that were displaced, have the right to come back. They have an enormous historic culture that has been built for years upon years. And if they are displaced and they don’t come back, we loose that as a city.  We lose it as a city, and we don’t even know what we’re loosing.”

Providence went to Atlanta, Houston, and Baton Rogue to make sure displaced New Orleans residents had all the information they needed so they could return, if that’s what they wanted to do.

A few years later, when HUD — The US Department of Housing and Urban Development — decided to tear down the Lafitte Housing Project, HUD asked Providence to be involved in the new housing that would take its place.

“What we rebuilt, we did with the help of the neighbors,” says North. “And I said: what do you want to see? What kind of units do you want? And that’s what we built.  They were very, very clear that they didn’t want to see big buildings. They wanted to see singles and doubles and things of that nature that looked like the neighborhood they were in.”

The result is Faubourg Lafitte.  You may – or may not — have noticed it, driving along Orleans or Lafitte Avenues. North explains, “We didn’t want our development to be noticeable.  I mean it’s about the residents and the people who live in the neighborhood, and they wanted it to be seamless. It was important for them to fit into fabric of neighborhood.  It’s a historic neighborhood.  We were building new construction, but we could be sensitive to the way the neighborhood looks.  And when you drive by, we don’t want you to go, oh, that’s Lafitte!  We want you to say those are really nice house.  That’s a compliment.”

Because the Faubourg Lafitte development replaced the housing project’s big buildings with smaller singles and doubles, there are less units in those city blocks.  But Providence is committed to replacing every single unit, and so they’re building homes in the surrounding neighborhoods – homes for sale and for rent, homes like Diane Muse bought.

“When they gave me a list of homes to go look at,” recalls Diane Muse, “this was the first home I seen. I didn’t go nowhere else. I stopped right here, stood outside on the sidewalk, called them, and told them this is where I wanted to be. And I’m not going nowhere!”

Written by Eve Abrams for the Community IMPACT Series and produced by WWNO in partnership with the Greater New Orleans Foundation. To learn more about Providence Community Housing, click here.