Building Value in New Orleans East

Plum Orchard sits between I-10 and Wilson Avenue, and between Chef Menteur Highway and Dwyer Road. In the middle of it is America Street, where NOAHH has focused much of our building efforts in the last six years. In the spring of 2015, 10 homes were completed in just 10 days on and near America Street in the Habitat AmeriCorps Build-A-Thon. In the spring of 2016 we dedicated another ten homes on America Street. In less than a decade, NOAHH has completed 85 new homes, 39 home repair projects, and two neighborhood cleanup events in this neighborhood.

According to real estate site Zillow, between August of 2010 and March of 2017, Plum Orchard saw a 48% increase in median home value!

Plum Orchard is unique both for the volume of building we’ve done there and the lack of other construction activity. In many neighborhoods where we build, there’s enough construction beyond our own that changes in home value can’t be entirely attributed to our efforts. By way of comparison, the median home value for the city as a whole increased by 17% during the same time.

Why is this exciting? When we sell a home to a first-time homebuyer, they gain all of the stability that comes with homeownership—a predictable and steady mortgage payment amount, no worries about not having a lease renewed, no fighting with a landlord over deferred maintenance and repairs… the list goes on. But they also gain something equally important: a vehicle for building wealth. Increased home value has a real impact on a homeowner family’s net worth.

In the last two years, over 80% of the families we’ve served have been African American. According to What It’s Worth, “as of 2013, the median net worth of white households was approximately 13 times higher than that of black households. Median household net worth of African American renters in 2010 was $2,100.” In a city where 59% of residents are African American, these numbers have very real impacts on the community as a whole. Families of color who become homeowners are empowered to rewrite this narrative not only for themselves, but for many generations to follow.

This shift in home value is also exciting for what it says about the transformation of a neighborhood. The bright new Habitat homes all lined up along America Street are a landscape of hope. These homeowners all worked together on each other’s houses, building their own community in both tangible and intangible ways. That kind of renewal draws in other homebuyers who recognize the new energy in the area.

That energy showed up when Whitney Jett began researching the lots available to her as a Habitat partner family. Whitney grew up in New Orleans East, so she was surprised when she realized where she wanted to live: “I narrowed down the lot to America Street before I even went to that street,” she said. “The street had a reputation, apparently. ‘Dale Street, America Street? Oh, that neighborhood’s rough.’ I thought, ‘Well, not according to the crime map.’ You go up America Street, and and then you get towards Dwyer, and it’s all Habitat houses–and, whoa! I’m among friends.”

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