Splintered reality…renewed dreams

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The Salvation Army’s EnviRenew restores and rebuilds in New Orleans.

by Christin Davis –

Many homeowners are unable to rebuild, including this man: Raymond Benjamin, 62. When his house was deemed uninhabitable by the city, the land was cleared by a construction company under false promises to rebuild. Raymond now lives on the lot in an old trailer–a gift from the local junkman–with no running water or electricity. His neighbors, he said, “help him out.”

As New Orleans approaches the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, The Salvation Army is concluding the pilot phase and moving into full implementation of its community revitalization program—EnviRenew.

“We are purposely reducing vulnerability using a triple bottom line assessment: quality of life, energy efficiency and affordability,” said Lindsay Jonker, EnviRenew director. “We have taken a largely economic and environmental topic—rebuilding New Orleans—and focused on the social component to address the comfort of families.”

EnviRenew is galvanizing community resurgence in a city that was devastated by the 2005 natural disaster. When Katrina ripped through the city of New Orleans that August, it left 80 percent of the city under water—up to 15 feet in some areas.

The country watched aerial footage of residents rescued by helicopter and boat from inundated rooftops. When the swampy water receded, roughly 228,000 occupied homes (45 percent) in New Orleans alone were flooded, according to an American Red Cross report.

A different expression of recovery
The need for affordable housing in the city is great. According to the Brookings Institution, the loss of housing in New Orleans drove up rent, resulting in the current cost for a typical apartment to hit $733 a month, which, as Portfolio reports, is more than a person working in food preparation, retail or lower-rung health care jobs can afford.

EnviRenew is intelligently and efficiently targeting this problem.

“We are trying to holistically recover in New Orleans, which is whole-heartedly the mission of the Army,” said Captain Ethan Frizzell, area commander for The Salvation Army in New Orleans. “We’re just expressing it differently.

“We want to restore the person to where they were before Katrina and prepare them to handle the next storm too,” Frizzell said. “At the same time, we must be respectful of the neighborhood, create a sense of community, provide replicable strength-based social work and rebuild with energy efficiency.”

From Katrina relief donations, The Salvation Army allocated $12 million to EnviRenew in September 2009. Scheduled for completion in September 2011, the program has four components: 125 home renovations to meet green home sustainability standards; 125 grants for new home construction throughout five neighborhoods; 250 EcoBaskets of products for home improvement resulting in energy savings; and a wiki-like website, envirenew.com, which chronicles the challenge of rebuilding and records data to allow for program duplication.

Partnering to rebuild
To fulfill the work of building neighborhood appropriate, energy efficient homes, The Salvation Army recruited local partners and subject experts.

Green Coast Enterprises, a New Orleans-based real estate development company, is managing all renovation and building for EnviRenew, including installing spray foam insulation, energy efficient windows, low flush toilets, wood flooring, and low VOC paints to reduce home energy costs and improve quality of life in the home.

“It’s about people, planet and profit,” said Will Bradshaw, president of Green Coast Enterprises. “We want to improve the community fabric, leave the planet in a better condition and be financially viable.”

Green Coast Enterprises has completed renovations on 15 New Orleans homes and another 10 are currently in progress.

“I love the investment The Salvation Army has made and I wanted to walk alongside it,” Bradshaw said. “EnviRenew is a model that says, ‘Here’s how you rebuild a community and achieve recovery.’ It’s inspired by vision and the leadership has brought in the skills needed to meet that vision.”

The Salvation Army is also working with the United States Green Building Council, which is hosting its annual Natural Talent Design Competition for students and young professionals in 2010 in conjunction with EnviRenew. Young architects will compete in designing an 800 sq. ft. house, seven feet above grade, fulfilling the LEED Platinum specifications (a certification designating the highest standards for green design, construction and operation), for under $100,000.

Four designs will be chosen and announced in August 2010; the houses will then be built as part of the EnviRenew program in the Broadmoor neighborhood.

“This competition is exciting because of the potential for the design to actually be built, and built for the betterment of lives,” said Anisa Baldwin Metzger, the USGBC green building coordinator in New Orleans. “That is beyond what most architects have the opportunity for. Architects are often hired by the wealthy or by corporations. People who could really use the thoughtfulness don’t always get it, but here we have designers’ minds centered around real needs.”

The neighborhoods
EnviRenew will work with five New Orleans neighborhoods to build 25 homes each. Two areas have been selected: Broadmoor and Riverview; fifteen neighborhoods applied for the three remaining slots, which will be announced within the next month.

Two EnviRenew homes are currently complete, with the 123 remaining homes scheduled for completion by September 2011.

“It’s been 4 1/2 years, but we are finally figuring out our recovery,” Metzger said. “There is so much hope here—in the new building projects taking off, in the new mayor, in the Superbowl victory—it’s like a euphoric high of hope for the city.”

Read more about this program, the selected neighborhoods, and the residents it is impacting in the summer 2010 issue of Caring, “Sacred Space,” to be released in May. Become a fan at facebook.com/caringmagazine.org or contact caring@usw.salvationarmy.org for subscription information.

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