PRC’s Adopt a House Program Sparks Investment

PRESERVING THE PAST
‘Adopt a House’ program is trying to bring back historic homes, with the help of civic-minded investors.

Construction workers have pulled Sheetrock from the interior of a blighted 1890s gabled-roof shotgun double on Dauphine Street in the Holy Cross neighborhood as they restore the home’s tongue-and-groove wood walls. The crew is replacing damaged wood window casings and installing an antique fireplace mantel, replacing one stolen or lost long ago.

Broken stained glass in the old house’s windows will be replaced, too, before hammers and putty knives are put away.

When the work is done, a structure that for years had been an eyesore will be transformed into a single three-bedroom home with two baths, one awaiting a buyer.

The restoration is part of a new initiative of the nonprofit Preservation Resource Center, called Adopt a House, that aims to bring back to life historic homes with the help of civic-minded investors.

Launched July 1, the program is for now targeting 13 blighted homes and 10 parcels where new homes can be built, using traditional New Orleans architectural styles. All of the properties targeted to date are located in Holy Cross, a historic enclave next to the Mississippi River that sustained heavy flood and wind damage during Hurricane Katrina.

The PRC owns all properties that will be made available to investors and buyers.

Organization leaders hope the new initiative will allow for starting more home restoration projects than at any other time in the PRC’s 34-year history.

The program “is ideal for a corporation, foundation or even a family to get involved in the rebuilding process of New Orleans,” said Pamela Bryan, director of the PRC’s Operation Comeback.

As supervisor for the myriad construction projects, Operation Comeback will ensure that the work is in line with building standards set by the Historic District Landmarks Commission, Bryan said.

The program asks investors to commit between $10,000 and $140,000 for a period of 18 months. At the end of that time — when the work as been completed and the property has been sold — they can either redeem their investment or roll it over into the restoration or building of another property. Investments that fall short of the cost of restoring a home will be combined with others to ensure completion of the job.

The private investments allow the PRC to avoid interest charged on construction loans, thereby lowering the total cost of construction and making the home more affordable. Investors do not make a profit on the transaction, PRC leaders said.

So far, three investors have signed on to the program, at the levels of $140,000, $100,000 and $25,000, and one home that is being restored is under contract to a buyer, Bryan said.

In the past, Operation Comeback has renovated and sold about five residential properties each year. Bryan said the organization plans to quadruple that level of redevelopment activity within five years.

“We ask potential investors to look at our portfolio of properties that we have available and decide if they would like to invest in the renovation of one of these properties or the building of a (home) on a vacant lot,” Bryan said.

Operation Comeback staff members, including real estate marketing manager Lisa Ross, are available to give property tours to potential investors.

Bryan said Adopt a House will be expanding into the Treme, Broadmoor, Mid-City and St. Roch neighborhoods in the future. Of the 23 properties targeted in Holy Cross, 12 were turned over to the PRC by a city blight adjudication program, while others were purchased at market rate by the PRC, Bryan said.

Operation Comeback is in the process of seeking more blighted properties through the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority.

The PRC is particularly interested in acquiring and redeveloping properties in sections targeted for extra attention by the city’s Office of Recovery Development and Administration.

“These are architecturally significant structures that distinguish New Orleans from any other city in America,” Bryan said. “The collection of Creole cottages and shotgun houses in our housing stock demonstrate the ability to survive floods and neglect and continue to be substantial enough to warrant further investment.”

Restored homes in Holy Cross sell at prices ranging from $95,000 to $229,000, according to Ross. Home buyers with modest or low income levels may be eligible for extra financial incentives.

Bryan added that as part of the Adopt a House program, Operation Comeback has cemented a partnership with the Police and Justice Foundation, local lending institutions and Consumer Credit Counseling Services to assist first responders, such as police and firefighters, with home buying.

For more information about Adopt a House, please contact Pam Bryan at 504.636.3044 or pbryan@prcno.org