So far, my summer series on historic preservation in New Orleans has touched on some of the hardest structures to preserve in Central City: modest shotgun housing (“shotgun” refers to a narrow building where there is no hallway, but all rooms lead into each other from front to back) and historic public housing. The National Register designation report for Central City asserts that seventy percent of the district’s building stock is one-story shotgun style (which makes me wonder how much of this stock has been lost since the report was written in 1982), but also describes the building types that comprise the remaining thirty percent. Working-class renters with a bit more income could afford to rent in a distinctly New Orleans ‘camelback’ or a two-story shotgun, still primarily within two-family structures. The district also has dozens of two-story side-hall layout homes built to house wealthier Central City residents.
This house has been partially renovated by the Felicity Street Project and is on the market for $97,500. Structurally sound and with a new roof, the interior is still completely unfinished and windows will need to be replaced by the buyer.
Whereas a single-story shotgun layout is less than ideal for most modern families, some of the other housing types are more intuitive rehabilitation opportunities for market-rate developers. The Felicity Street Redevelopment Project, a developer and community organization, uses a revolving loan fund to partially-renovate historic homes in the part of the neighborhood closest to Saint Charles Avenue, mainly along Baronne and Carondelet Streets. Structural, roof, and siding repairs on this 1850’s home have stabilized the historic structure; but much of the costly interior work, finishes, and windows still need to be completed by the homebuyer, at the homebuyer’s expense. The list price is $97,500, which is approximately the amount of debt that an average NONDC (New Orleans Neighborhood Development Collaborative) homebuyer can support to borrow for a finished house with the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms.
The Felicity Street Redevelopment Project also recently supported the renovation of the above four-unit rental property on Baronne Street, owned by a couple who lives across the street in their own beautifully renovated home. Three-bedroom units in this building are rented for approximately the same price as apartments in the wealthier Garden District across the way, and there’s even a new yoga studio on the block, which is practically a symbol of gentrification.
The prospects for future market-rate historic rehab in Central City look relatively bright, and it’s encouraging that some of these beautiful and valuable historic resources are being taken care of again. But how will this type of development impact the rest of Central City? More broadly, what are the planning implications of the ‘preservation gap’ that fails to connect rehabilitated historic working-class housing with the contemporary working-class population?
Laura Manville is a Master in City Planning candidate at MIT and a 2010 New Orleans Fellow at CoLab. For her fellowship, she is working with the New Orleans Neighborhood Development Collaborative as they develop homeownership units for the HOPE VI revitalization of the CJ Peete housing project. Her research is on the preservation of affordable and public housing.