During my time spent in New Orleans, rebuilding houses with AmeriCorps NCCC, I had the opportunity to visit the Lower Ninth every week, educating our volunteers about the floods of Katrina. The Lower Ninth Ward was the hardest hit by the floods; more than 4,000 homes were destroyed and the majority of the 1,800 deaths were of those living in the Lower Ninth.
Two years after the storm, Brad Pitt visited the neighborhood, which was still an open field of various concrete slabs where the waters had knocked homes off their foundations. He promised to “make it right” and created the organization Make it Right, to provide affordable housing for many survivors of the area.
Visiting the Lower Ninth was the best part of the week, not only for the tour we were able to give and not only for the po’boys and crawfish the volunteers usually bought us, but because of the uniqueness to the Make it Right homes.
The homes were designed by architects around the world and were created to be energy efficient and storm resistant. The roofs are made of metal which absorbs less heat than our shingled roofs and are far more durable. The roofs are also equipped with rainwater harvesting systems so that each home can hold 600 gallons of rainwater to reuse as they wish, which may include washing cars or watering lawns. These systems also reduce runoff, seeing that the majority of New Orleans is below sea level and swampy enough. Solar panels have been installed in the homes and every roof has its own escape hatch, as many people were trapped in their attics while the storm surge rose higher in their houses.
Many of the homes were constructed with an ivy filled lattice on the outside walls, to create a shadow, thus lowering the amount of heat absorbed by the house even more. Every home has been built above the Katrina flood lines and there is talk of many houses having anchors, so if they were ever again picked up by a flood they would not be washed away. New framing techniques have also been added to the homes and they can now withstand winds of up to 130mph. They are all made to be mold and termite resistant and the concrete used in the foundations and sidewalks are pervious, which basically means they soak up water instead of it collecting elsewhere.
Another brownie point goes to Make it Right for hiring local contractors and workers who may have otherwise been out of a job.
Currently, 14 families are home and 19 more houses are under construction.
To learn more about the Lower Ninth and Make it Right, visit makeitrightnola.org