The mission of Lower 9th Ward Neighborhood Empowerment Network Association (NENA) is to empower residents to play a vital role in our neighborhood’s redevelopment. We implement sustainable projects and programs in decent and affordable housing, economic development and education with clear community involvement and direction.
Brief Organizational History
The Lower 9th Ward Neighborhood Empowerment Network Association (NENA) is a private, non-profit, 501(c)3 organization. NENA is also a Housing and Urban Development certified Housing Counseling Agency. The organization was founded in 2006 to assist residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina in their efforts to rebuild their homes and community.
Since its inception, NENA has emerged as a powerful force for positive change in the Lower 9th Ward. The organization has been successful in mobilizing residents and community programs to advocate for public and private resources to facilitate the redevelopment and revitalization of the community. Working with current and displaced residents, NENA utilizes a resident-based approach for comprehensive rebuilding.
Since its founding, NENA has steadily strengthened in organizational capacity to deliver services. With the support of generous private and public funding sources, such as the Ford Foundation, City of New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA), Louisiana Housing Corporation (LHC), Greater New Orleans, Foundation (GNOF) and United Way.
Of all the areas in New Orleans, Katrina perhaps had the greatest impact on the Lower 9th Ward. The neighborhood is separated from the Upper 9th and the rest of Orleans Parish by the Industrial Canal, and the multiple breaches of this levee resulted in the storm flooding the majority of the Lower 9th, sparing only a few blocks. According to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, 5,537 housing units were destroyed or suffered major damage. Perhaps more than the physical destruction, Katrina served to unmask some of the worst economic, political, and service neglect of a minority population anywhere in the U.S., and the well-documented human tragedy that followed the storm’s physical destruction impacted Lower 9th residents beyond imagination. It is for this reason that the Lower 9th has become shorthand for gross inequities.
Current Program and Accomplishments
NENA’s portfolio of programs and accomplishments includes:
Outreach: NENA conducts outreach to connect to and organize Lower 9 residents, encourage community participation, and provide vital community information. Last year, 332 residents attended 11 community meetings and events.
Housing Counseling and Education: At the core of NENA’s approach to neighborhood stabilization are the housing counseling and education services it provides directly to clients. During this year alone has delivered more than 725 housing consultations to over 220 clients and helped over 15 clients obtain/maintain homeownership.
Advocacy: NENA has partnered with local organizations and political leaders on several advocacy efforts. In 2015, the Lower 9th Ward community came together in the form of the Lower 9th Ward Collaborative to put on the Resilience Fest. The festival was for and with the citizens of the Lower 9th Ward to commemorate our loss, recognize our recovery, bring economic stimulation to our community and encourage an ongoing commitment to becoming whole again after the devastation that resulted from Hurricane Katrina.
Redevelopment of Housing & Community Institutions: NENA’s approach is to cluster widespread home redevelopment around the rebuilding of schools, libraries, and community space in the neighborhood. This work includes the established Lower 9th Ward Community Land Trust (CLT) providing the community with permanently affordable housing. In 2015, the 10 Community Land Trust homes were leased at a 40% vacancy rate.
Economic Development: NENA’s economic development activities have included, but are not limited to, employment and small business assistance. Lower 9th Ward NENA’s economic development strategy is the development of a commercial corridor. In October 2010, NENA completed the first phase of the Commercial Corridor Project by opening NENA’s new building, including a small business incubator. In 2015, NENA began actively supporting small lower 9th ward businesses allowing them space to vend their wares on NENA’s property.
As in other communities in the City of New Orleans, Affordable Housing is tenuous at best. The 2015 Housing NOLA reports: “From 2000 to 2015 Housing costs rose dramatically for both renters and homeowners. Home values have increased by 54%, and rents have increased 50%. More than 70 percent of all households pay one-third or more of their income towards housing costs,” Here in the Lower 9th Ward, only 30 percent of the Lower 9th Ward neighborhood’s residents have returned, as opposed to 90 percent in the rest of the neighborhoods in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.
Compounding the affordable housing crisis in the Lower 9th Ward is the lack of economic development. Only a few of the commercial businesses along St. Claude and N. Claiborne have reopened and many major institutions and key community assets, including the Historic Armstrong School remain unoccupied.
The Lower 9th Ward neighborhood is critical to the rebuilding of New Orleans. Located adjacent to the Industrial Canal and along two major arteries (N. Claiborne and St. Claude) that link to the CBD, the district has maritime access to support the industrial base of the City and is a gateway to the downtown.
The neighborhood is beginning to experience a resurgence. Commercial development is beginning which indicates a trust in the neighborhood’s future. On St. Claude there are plans for the redevelopment of the Holy Cross school into a mixed use, mixed income facility, a Family Dollar is under construction and there is talk of a neighborhood grocery store. On Claiborne, a CVS is under construction and the Sanchez Community Center and Fire station have been rebuilt.
Lower 9th Ward NENA continues to work with the community to meet its audacious goals, which are to:
Create new economic and cultural activities for neighborhood residents and visitors that may be attracted to the Lower 9th Ward.
Strengthen the social, physical and economic connections between the Lower 9th Ward and its neighboring communities.
Meet the demand for approximately 33,000 units (new construction and rehab) over the next 10 years in New Orleans. Building 23 units on vacant lots in the Lower 9th Ward.
Reclaim, repurpose, restore and preserve the neighborhood’s historic community assets for the community. In particular, the Armstrong school structure appears to be sound and has potential to be be rehabilitated.
Convert the neighborhood’s major arteries to boulevards serving both the community and commuters.
Geographic Area Served
Lower 9th Ward NENA serves the Lower 9th Ward and Greater New Orleans area. All of the program’s clients exhibit some of the following characteristics of vulnerable populations, experiencing: fractured or no credit, limited or no savings, lack of understanding and information about the home buying process, housing discrimination, housing affordability, low to moderate incomes, societal barriers due to race, class, gender or poverty, are male/female, and are between the ages of 18 – 80.
From a program management perspective, NENA has recruited strong leadership for the positions of Executive Director, Deputy Director, and Housing Counseling Director. From a project management perspective, NENA has assembled a strong team of professionals Project Manager, Architect, and Contractor.
NENA’s Board of Directors which provides ultimate oversight and accountability, themselves either live or work in the Lower 9th, and have long ties to the community and partner organizations. These connections and criteria for board selection form the foundation for the trust and commitment that is critical to successful community development work. The Board of Directors provides skills and knowledge in the areas of Financial Planning, Accounting, Banking, Real Estate, Education and Non-Profit Management. The board meets quarterly with the Executive Director.
From a volunteer perspective, NENA recruits dedicated and reliable Neighborhood Block Captains. Integral to its organizing and outreach work is a growing network of “Neighborhood Captains,” individual volunteers who monitor the needs of their blocks, and who provide the most intimate, local knowledge of the community. Neighborhood Captains establish and maintain personal contact with returnees or potential returnees. Trained by NENA staff, Neighborhood Captains then act as resources to these families on issues of rebuilding and public and private recovery programs and opportunities.