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By Katherine Sayre, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune 

on February 15, 2017 at 4:00 PM, updated February 16, 2017 at 9:26 AM

A city effort to bring hundreds of new and returning residents to the Lower 9th Ward began Wednesday (Feb. 15) with construction on the first of what could be 250 new housing units built on vacant lots over the next five years.

New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit residential developer promoting home ownership, is the first of four groups picked by the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority to buy and build on 175 NORA-owned lots offered last year in a request for proposal process. NORA made available about 200 properties for the Lower 9th Ward initiative.

"We heard the cry from the community as to what they wanted to see -- see more families and rooftops here in the Lower 9th Ward," said Brenda Breaux, New Orleans Redevelopment Authority executive director. 

Habitat for Humanity plans to build on 48 of the NORA lots with a mix of rentals and home ownership in single-family and double-family houses. On Wednesday, the group celebrated the start of construction on a double-family rental on Lizardi Street, which will serve as an "incubator" for families who need time to financially prepare for buying a house through the nonprofit.

Jim Pate, New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity executive director, said affordable rentals will allow families time to pay down any debt and save before buying a house, providing relief from exorbitant rents being charged around the city.

The 48 houses and duplexes being developed will eventually be home to 72 households "with a focus on bringing back families that want to come back to the Lower 9th Ward," Pate said. Habitat for Humanity owns other lots in the neighborhood, bringing their planned total to 100 houses over the next five years.

Eleven years after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, the hardest-hit Lower 9th Ward has only about 37 percent of the population it had before the storm. In June 2005, the neighborhood had 5,363 residential addresses receiving mail; in June of last year, that number was 1,968, according to The Data Center.

NORA has estimated that its housing initiative could bring as many as 900 new residents to the neighborhood. 

NORA is working with three other development groups to participate: Perez APC/Harmony Community Development with 61 properties and 72 units, the St. Bernard Project with 36 properties and 72 units and Neville Development for 35 units on 30 properties.

A fifth group, Jourdan Valley Development, withdrew their plans to develop on 13 of NORA's lots.

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