The vital role of housing for our security and stability has been proven in 2020. The pandemic has shown definitively that a home is a place of safety, a place to work, a place for school, and a place where our whole lives can happen.
NOAHH has been challenged this year to continue to serve our community amid myriad constraints while planning for a very different post-COVID future. It became immediately clear to us that “business as usual” wouldn’t be good enough. Many of our partner families are frontline essential workers or musicians whose work disappeared over night. With the tremendous economic impacts, particularly on these low-income families and the population we serve, as well as broader economic uncertainty facing everyone, we needed to reimagine every aspect of our work. After an initial shutdown, we resumed operations in a radically changed way.
We made the difficult decision to pause applications to our homeownership program in order to focus on the families we were already working with. NOAHH also offered mortgage deferrals to all homebuyers both in the spring and the fall to support our many partner families whose income was severely affected by the pandemic.
We also paused volunteers and sponsored builds. Not being able to welcome volunteers to our build sites was emotionally jarring. Building community and bringing disparate groups of people together is a major part of what drives our work. It was a visceral loss, as was not being able to share the joy of working side by side with the family who will buy the home. We miss the fellowship, but we continue to build homes.
We launched online sales sites for our ReStores and then reopened our stores to limited capacity with strict protocols in place. We introduced our first new floorplans in over a decade, and expanded our home repair department so we can serve more people. We live in a city of beautiful old homes in urgent need of repair, particularly among the elderly living on Social Security. These repairs help them age with dignity in a safer, more accessible space and improve their quality of life in the comfort of the familiar place they have always called home.
When Hurricanes Laura and Delta made landfall in Acadiana, New Orleans welcomed over 12,000 evacuees who are now facing difficult choices that are familiar to those of us who survived Katrina: stay in a new city to start over or return and rebuild. No matter what they choose, we will offer solidarity and resources. We have already sent volunteer teams to the hurricaneaffected areas in western Louisiana to help with recovery work. Not long after Laura and Delta, Hurricane Zeta made a direct hit on New Orleans, and many new calls for repairs have come in.
With support from our board, we have also started planning new programs:
Our affiliate has built many doubles since we began our rental program, but in 2021, we will develop plans to sell doubles to partner families, inspired by the local tradition of families renting out half of their double to a relative. We will be providing those homebuyers with enhanced training to help them succeed and establish the foundation for generational prosperity-building.
We are also planning future projects in Jefferson Parish using innovative new ways to build. We are eager to return to the West Bank and other parts of the parish, to work with their home repair and homebuyer assistance programs, and to forge new partnerships.
Finally, as an organization, Habitat has work to do internally in terms of uncovering biases, diversifying our employee base, and creating additional opportunities. So far, NOAHH has found new sources for recruitment, improved internal policies on hiring, and engaged consultants on an ongoing plan to ensure equity and inclusion in our work. We recognize these are important milestones, but they do not address the scope of the situation that everyone in this country is facing. We are determined to do our part.
The perseverance of our partner families inspires all of us. Their dedication to the dream of homeownership, resourcefulness, and hard work continues to humble me. People continue to plan for a better future, and we share this confidence while recognizing the challenges ahead. We will be there to support them. Sincerely,
New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity