|Leonard Riggio, founder of Barnes & Noble, Inc.|
Founder and chairman of Barnes & Noble Inc., Leonard Riggio, and his wife Louise will announce plans Wednesday for a new partnership to build and furnish 100 homes in Gentilly for working-class New Orleanians who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office said. The Riggios founded the nonprofit Project Home Again, which previously built 101 energy-efficient, single-family homes in Gentilly.
This represented the largest privately funded residential rebuilding program after Katrina. It was supported by a $20 million gift from the Riggios.
Unlike the Make It Right project in the Lower 9th Ward, in which famous architects submitted designs that aimed to push the boundaries of environmental friendliness and energy efficiency, or Habitat for Humanity, which built scores of homes aimed at musicians using largely volunteer labor, Project Home Again strived for designs that blended into the neighborhood and targeted people of modest incomes who had been homeowners before Katrina.
To participate, people had to earn less than 120 percent of the area's median income, or less than $73,320 for a family of four. They also had to have a job, pass credit checks, go through homeownership training, and have no liens on their original property.
Once accepted into the program, they gave their original lot -- with or without an unrepaired house -- to Project Home Again, and Project Home Again gave them a new house in return and let them pick out furniture to go with it. All the new homes were assigned a value of $150,000, and $30,000 of the mortgage was forgiven each year so participants owned it free and clear after five years.
If the lots that people turned in were well-located, Project Home Again would build new homes on them for other people. Otherwise, the group swapped the properties with the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority for other lots that were closer to each other or other Project Home Again houses to create density.
Riggio, a Jazzfest regular whose wife's grandparents emigrated from Italy to New Orleans at the turn of the last century, was moved to do something after Katrina by the images of human suffering at the Superdome.
"This is the kind of event where citizens need to lend a hand to their neighbors," he said. "We felt compelled to jump in and be at the side of these good people."