For those of us who were here ten years ago, for those of us who called New Orleans home at any point before the storms of 2005, there is a strange mix of both distance and currency to Hurricane Katrina. It can seem like only yesterday, or it can seem like it was a hundred years ago. It’s tempting to focus on the progress we’ve made; it’s difficult not to focus on what (and who) hasn’t returned. The narrative of resilience is dear to us because it shows that our hard work is paying off and because it tells us we have the strength to keep working. That many of those speaking of resilience, recovery, and rebirth are not from New Orleans tells us someone is paying attention, and that gives us hope that the care and support from around the world will continue.
At NOAHH, we commemorate the storms because we are proud that in the aftermath, so many chose to give time and resources to help with rebuilding, and that we could be a part of that. We commemorate the storms because they were a defining event in the 30 year history of our affiliate, and we wish to honor those who helped us, those who worked with us, and those who were lost to us. In the personal stories our partner families tell, you will find few that don’t have some reference to Katrina. So many of our staff and volunteers came to NOAHH because of the storm, and so many of our donors gave in response to the storms. We could not have built 450 homes in the last ten years if not for the storms. We commemorate the storms because they changed our lives.
The sad truth is, however, those 450 homes are only the start of what is needed, and that there was a need for that and more even before the storms. Affordable housing has always been an issue in New Orleans; the storms only made the problems worse. Many people want to forget Hurricane Katrina and the painful months and years that followed, but the sad truth is that the damage done by the storm is not gone–it’s only harder to see. Homes have been rebuilt, neighborhoods have begun to flourish, and improvements have been made throughout the city. Much of New Orleans is better now than it was ten years ago. But rental prices continue to rise, and the loss of housing during the storms exacerbated that problem significantly. Our mission to fight substandard housing has always been in response to a crisis; Hurricane Katrina just made that crisis visible. Now, as we look forward, it is our hope that the cause of affordable housing does not fade from the hearts and minds of our supporters, because we know we have more work to do.
Today, we will announce a new partnership that will help NOAHH build homes in the Lower Ninth Ward, and with hard work and support, it is our hope that this partnership will yield a development to rival the crown jewel of our post-Katrina work, the Musicians’ Village. We understand that to make affordable housing available for everyone, we must do more than build homes, and with that in mind, we will be joining with organizations throughout the city to find new ways to address the many issues surrounding housing matters, from blight to crime to economic opportunity, as part of our work in the Lower Ninth Ward and everywhere in the New Orleans area. This week, we’ve started work on the first rental units being built with Covenant House, and we continue to expand our existing programs, from A Brush With Kindness repair projects to Habitat Urban Gardens to our ReStore. And our home-building program, the core of our mission, remains strong. With our new partnerships and existing programs, we are looking forward to not just continuing but eventually winning the fight against poverty housing.
We have hope and faith that one day poverty housing will be a thing of the past in the New Orleans area, and the progress we’ve made since the storms is a powerful sign of that. The last ten years have been the most productive years this affiliate has ever had (in response to the most significant need and the most humbling influx of support), and as we move forward, we hope to live up to the unspoken promise of our continued recovery: to come back better, wiser, more beautiful, and more vibrant. The last ten years would have been impossible without the support of hundreds of thousands of people (to whom we cannot possibly extend enough gratitude), and the end of poverty housing in New Orleans will be a work of equal or greater challenge. But as we look back over what has been accomplished, we see the resilience that has been so often spoken of these last few months, and we know that with your support, that end is possible.