Lessons in sharing a vision of success with the Bayou District Foundation

blogimage_BDFFrom The Intersector Project Case Library: Transforming the Largest Public Housing Development in New Orleans

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed St. Bernard’s Housing Community (SBHC), the largest public housing development in New Orleans. Prior to the storm, SBHC was plagued with overcrowding, failing schools, and violent crime. In the wake of Katrina, a small group of civic leaders was invited by a friend in Atlanta to learn about a redevelopment project in East Lake, Atlanta, which used a holistic community revitalization model: providing residents with safe mixed-income housing, as well as access to quality education, public services, community programming, healthcare, and neighborhood businesses like banks and grocery stores. After visiting the East Lake community and seeing its successful transformation firsthand, these civic leaders decided to form the Bayou District Foundation (BDF), with the goal of replicating the East Lake Model at the former SBHC site and surrounding neighborhood.

As a founding member of BDF, Gerard Barousse, a native New Orleans real estate developer, was chosen as the organization’s leader. BDF decided that the model could be a good fit for the SBHC and a “game changer” for the neighborhood and the City of New Orleans. The BDF was selected to oversee the redevelopment by the Housing Authority of New Orleans through the Request for Proposal process. Working closely with government agencies, the BDF brought together numerous private and non-profit partners to carry out their mission.

After visiting East Lake, and familiarizing themselves with the holistic community revitalization model, the five board members of the BDF had a collective vision for the project. But after showing renderings to potential partners and the community, they were met with unease. Because the model was new, some partners were not familiar with how it would look and function, and remained skeptical about trying something “unestablished.” Committed to their mission, the BDF board members realized they would need to show their partners firsthand how effective the model had been in Atlanta to build support. They organized multiple trips to East Lake to see the model in action and included the New Orleans Housing Authority and City Council, as well as members of the community. At the time, East Lake’s redevelopment had been in operation for 12 years, so the results were evident: the community had seen a dramatic drop in crime, impressive educational and economic achievement, and a stable environment for families. The East Lake model gave the BDF the successful example they needed to build consensus among partners and community.

The Intersector Project Tookit refers to this process of building consensus among partners as Share a Vision of Success — the agreement on a set of project goals and ideal outcomes that clarify the mission and priorities of the collaboration. Defining a common purpose links stakeholders together and creates a mutual understanding of the benefits of success.

The Bayou District Foundation is one of the largest urban transformation projects underway in the United States. BDF has overseen construction of a new housing community, Columbia Parc at the Bayou District, which includes over 685 mixed-income housing units, met with 100 percent occupancy and waiting lists. Crime in the community has plummeted, with a 99.7 percent reduction in felonies over a four-year period. Accessible quality education is now becoming a reality for residents, with schools moving into the neighborhood. An Educare Early Learning Center is available to residents, with a K-8 charter school and college prep high school under way. Additionally, a mobile health clinic, recreational facilities, retail support services, and various community support programs are in process. Continuing successes include:

  • Educare of New Orleans, a world-class early education center, opened its first facility in the southern U.S. at Columbia Parc. Replication of a high performing K-8 tuition-free charter school is opening adjacent to the Educare facility to form an “education block” in the center of the community. Nearby a new McDonogh 35 College Preparatory High School facility is under construction and will also be relocated to the site. Kingsley House, an established Head Start provider and social service organization in New Orleans, serves as the on-site community support services provider for residents and Educare operating partner.
  • An estimated 100 permanent and 700 temporary jobs were created through the redevelopment. The BDF has also partnered in the rebuilding of the neighboring City Park golf courses, driving range and practice facilities and will use revenue-sharing to generate a sustainable funding stream for community programs within the Bayou District
  • A mobile health clinic was installed on site at Columbia Parc. Wellness is a priority, with a swimming pool, three playgrounds, playfield, community garden, and fitness center in use, and plans for a both a permanent health clinic and new YMCA to offer recreational and community programs and serve as the charter school’s physical education partner.