Hurricane Katrina roared ashore in Louisiana on Monday, Aug. 29, 2005. By 4:30 a.m., water was coursing into the Lower Ninth Ward as floodwalls failed on the east side of the Industrial Canal. Soon after, additional breeches would cause mass inundation.
The city shaped like a bowl was filling with water. By Aug. 31, 2005, 80 percent of New Orleans and nearby parishes, including parts of Plaquemines, St. Bernard and East Jefferson, were submerged. Some homes would stew in murky brown water for weeks.
As soon as it was safe to return, the nonprofit Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans jumped into gear. It was uniquely qualified to do so with existing programs already targeting blight remediation, assistance for low-income and elderly homeowners, and neighborhood revitalization. The Holy Cross Historic District, in the Lower Ninth Ward, became a major post-Katrina focal point for the PRC’s work.
Hurricane Katrina created a preservation emergency. Not only were residents displaced from their homes, causing a massive housing crisis, but the threat of mass-scale demolitions put the entire fabric of historic neighborhoods in jeopardy.
Founded in 1987, the PRC’s Operation Comeback program began in the Lower Garden District as a blight-remediation effort, focused on encouraging the purchase and renovation of vacant older homes. It expanded to additional neighborhoods, including Holy Cross, where it had acquired and renovated four homes before Hurricane Katrina. Meanwhile, Rebuilding Together New Orleans — a local affiliate of the national Rebuilding Together organization and, until 2019, a program of the PRC — had been making critical repairs to the homes of low-income, elderly and disabled homeowners in New Orleans since 1988. (Last year, Rebuilding Together New Orleans became an independent nonprofit organization separate from the Preservation Resource Center.)
With established track records working in Holy Cross, the two PRC programs quickly accelerated their work after Katrina, attracting additional resources for the area. Operation Comeback ultimately returned more than 40 flood-damaged homes to occupancy, built six new houses and erected a community center in the area, all according to historic preservation standards. Thanks to an army of volunteers and staff, Rebuilding Together New Orleans restored 37 houses in the Holy Cross neighborhood, making it possible for residents to return.
The PRC’s work also expanded to neighborhoods throughout the city, and over the years since Hurricane Katrina, restored hundreds of homes.
Before, during and after photos of 938 Lizardi St., a restoration project of the Preservation Resource Center. The site was one of PRC’s many transformative projects in the Holy Cross neighborhood after Hurricane Katrina.
Rebuilding Together is still helping in-need homeowners in New Orleans. You can find out about its work at rtno.org.
PRC also continues to assist local residents. Its Revival Grants program helps low-income homeowners to make critical repairs to their houses and to come into compliance with the city’s historic preservation regulations. The Revival Grants program is working in the Tremé neighborhood now, but hopes to expand to other neighborhoods in the future.
Hopefully New Orleans will never face a housing emergency the likes of Hurricane Katrina again. But if it does, the Preservation Resource Center will be there once again to bring residents home.