Holy Cross Becomes HOME AGAIN!

Emelda Skidmore and her daughter, L?Tanya Jackson return home to Holy Cross.

Credit: Kevin Mercadel

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, speculation by some city officials in New Orleans projected that 50-60,000 homes would have to be demolished. The initial city listing of homes in National Register and local historic districts in New Orleans "red tagged" contained the addresses of over 2,400 homes.  In the midst of this speculation and the general confusion of the early days after the Hurricane and levee breeches, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and its local partner, the Preservation Resource Center (PRC), immediately initiated efforts to evaluate the physical conditions of the structures in the historic districts of the city slated for demolition with hundreds of volunteer preservationists, architects, and contractors.  As homeowners began to return to the city and wondered if their historic homes could be repaired and renovated, these volunteers provided several hundred home inspections and scopes of work for owners to use as a guide in rebuilding. As well, they participated in weekly workshops updating residents on current rebuilding issues.

In the midst of the rush to demolish buildings and the massive amounts of misinformation regarding mold and the structural integrity of older homes, it quickly became evident to the National Trust and the PRC that a program was needed to visually, physically demonstrate that the historic homes of New Orleans could indeed withstand and recover from the massive flooding following Katrina and the failed levees.  While homeowners fought with their insurance companies over their claims and everyone waited to see if the federal government would provide any resources to help homeowners rebuild their homes or simply tear them down, the Trust and PRC began to identify homeowners in historic districts ready to rebuild.  Thus began the HOME AGAIN! New Orleans program.

The initial grants from the HOME AGAIN! program hit the streets before 2005 ended.  It was felt that immediate, concrete examples were needed regarding the resiliency of historic homes before the urge to demolish took root in the initial paralysis that the city was experiencing.  Based on their extensive experience, the Trust and the PRC knew that while it was tempting to some city leaders looking for quick fixes, the wholesale demolition of historic homes was not the correct solution for the crisis that the city faced.  HOME AGAIN! was designed to make the case that the fastest, most cost-effective, most environmentally friendly way for the damaged historic neighborhoods of the city to recover was to first repair and renovate all historic homes that were salvageable.  HOME AGAIN! was designed to demonstrate that with modest assistance, homeowners, including senior citizens, could return to healthy, safe, and comfortable homes, with their great advantage of familiarity and neighborhood ties.

Kevin Mercadel, NOFO program officer, shows John Hildreth, Southern Office director, and Peter Brink, senior vice president, a potential HOME AGAIN! project.

Credit: Mary Fitzpatrick

Initially, HOME AGAIN! projects were developed in South Lakeview, New Marigny and Holy Cross.  Additional HOME AGAIN! projects were also developed in Treme and Mid-City.  As the program developed, the Holy Cross neighborhood became the focus of most HOME AGAIN! activity.  The decision to concentrate on Holy Cross was the result of several factors.  Initially, as the Holy Cross Historic District is a part of the lower 9th ward of New Orleans, one of the areas of the city particularly hard hit, it was cordoned off for eight months for health and safety reasons – in particular massive debris and water main problems on the north side of the neighborhood.  Although Holy Cross is on high ground, along the Mississippi River, with the same elevation as the French Quarter, and the flood waters receded after only a few days; when the city shut off water and utility service to the lower 9th ward, it also enacted a "Look and Leave" policy for the area whereby residents could only visit their homes during the day, but could not get trailers or remain in the neighborhood overnight.  Holy Cross also had a disproportionately large number of "Red Tagged" buildings, slated for demolition despite being structurally sound.

"Look and Leave" also left the neighborhood without police and fire services. This condition led to widespread architectural thefts in the historic section of the neighborhood, and added yet more obstacles for homeowners in their efforts to repair their homes.  Fortunately, the Holy Cross neighborhood was a very cohesive one.  The Holy Cross Neighborhood Association began to meet weekly in an uptown church in October 2005.  PRC, through its Operation Comeback and Rebuilding Together programs, had already been working in the Holy Cross neighborhood for over ten years and had an extensive, first hand knowledge of the neighborhood.  By November of 2005, the Trust and PRC was already organizing volunteers to remove damaged furniture and salvaging personal possessions from its first HOME AGAIN! project in Holy Cross, the home of Mildred Bennett at 5218 Dauphine St. 

College students volunteer at the Bennett house on Thanksgiving weekend, 2005.

Credit: Mary Fitzpatrick

As we approach the 4th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, much remains to be done in Holy Cross.  However, through the early and ongoing efforts of the HOME AGAIN! program and the other preservation efforts by Trust partners PRC and the State Historic Preservation Office; the ongoing work of a host of other organizations and institutions  such as the Preservation Trades Network, World Monuments Fund, the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, Emerging Green Builders, Louisiana Technical College, Global Green, and ACORN; thousands of volunteers from campuses and church organizations around the country; and, the steadfast work of the residents of Holy Cross and its neighborhood association, Holy Cross is becoming home again.

As the HOME AGAIN! program comes to a close next month; it has invested over one million dollars into 25 HOME AGAIN! projects, 17 of which are in Holy Cross.  These 25 projects resulted in a total investment of over four million dollars.  In addition, between HOME AGAIN!, Operation Comeback, Rebuilding Together, and the State Historic Preservation Office's Historic Building Recovery Grant Program (a grant program lobbied for nationally by the Trust and the Lt. Governor's office that brought over 20 million dollars to Louisiana) 165 historic homes in Holy Cross have received rebuilding assistance. This represents over 16% of the homes in Holy Cross occupied and currently receiving mail. These preservation dollars were some of the first dollars to begin the rebuilding process in Holy Cross and were decisive in creating the conditions that now has the Holy Cross neighborhood recovery on a par with, or ahead of, other hard hit neighborhoods in the city, despite the eight month delay in access and other unique hardships that it had to endure.

A recent report of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center and recent Trust and PRC neighborhood surveys clearly make the case that Holy Cross has reached a turning point in its recovery efforts.  In June of 2005, the CDC identified 2,240 households receiving mail in the Holy Cross neighborhood.  This included "households" at Jackson Barracks, headquarters of the La. National Guard; Holy Cross School, which has since moved out of the neighborhood; and two nursing homes which may not reopen and alone, on two square blocks of the one hundred blocks in the neighborhood, accounts for 217 "households."

In June of 2008, the CDC indicated that 774, or 35%, of the pre-Katrina households were then receiving mail.  In June of 2009, the CDC says those figures grew to 1061 households, or 47% of the pre-Katrina numbers (see attached CDC map).  In other words, Holy Cross grew by 287 households in the last year, among the highest rates of neighborhood growth in the city.  But this is only a part of the remarkable rebuilding and recovery now taking place in Holy Cross.

Trust and PRC staff have been closely monitoring the pace of rebuilding in Holy Cross.  In August of 2009, we identified 70 homes that were renovated, for sale, and or for rent.  We identified another 128 homes that were under renovation, but not yet complete.  If one adds these 198 homes that are vacant, but repaired or being repaired; and discounts the "households" represented by Jackson Barracks and the nursing homes which distorts the numbers if you are looking at a house roughly equaling a household, the percentage of homes that are occupied, or that we anticipate will soon be occupied in Holy Cross goes to 62% of pre-Katrina households.  The momentum of recovery is accelerating in Holy Cross and the return rate for Holy Cross residents is approaching that of the return rate for the city as a whole.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation is pleased that it's HOME AGAIN! program was an important part of that process.



The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places.