The Bayou District Foundation (BDF), a Louisiana non-profit, was created by a group of civic-minded New Orleans business and community leaders committed to revitalizing New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Our mission is to implement an innovative community re-development model – focused on education – which enables children and families to escape the cycle of poverty, build a thriving community, and live productive, healthy and fulfilling lives.
BDF is the non-profit partner leading the development of a mixed-income residential community on the site of the former St. Bernard Public Housing Development and surrounding neighborhood in Gentilly adjacent to New Orleans’ City Park. The new community, Columbia Parc at the Bayou District, is providing high quality affordable workforce housing and "cradle to college” educational resources including a state-of-the-art early learning center, a new K-8 charter school, and a new public high school in the Bayou District. Commercial and retail facilities, as well as a health clinic, are being developed within the site to provide "walkable” support services. Additionally, a new YMCA facility and the restoration of City Park’s golf facilities will provide recreational amenities and sustained funding to support Bayou District educational programs. These housing, education, recreation and economic development components will be fully integrated in a unique community redevelopment initiative that will make the Bayou District community a model for similar efforts in New Orleans and other areas across the country.
The East Lake Model
BDF is inspired and informed by the highly successful and proven model of the East Lake development in Atlanta, Georgia. The crime-ridden East Lake Meadows Public Housing Development was adjacent to the historic East Lake golf course. The famous East Lake Golf Club, where golf legend Bobby Jones played his first and last round of golf, had deteriorated throughout the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Crime, drug trafficking, and poverty in the surrounding area had increased to the point where one police officer called the neighborhood "Little Vietnam.” In 1995, through the East Lake Foundation, Mr. Cousins created a public/private partnership with the Atlanta Housing Authority and set out to rebuild and renew the neighborhood through a mixed-income model while simultaneously restoring the golf club to its former glory. As the project developed, a charter school and a YMCA were added to the plan. East Lake is now a thriving mixed income community with a great local school system bordering public and private golf facilities. These facilities provide recreational avenues to the neighborhood with profits from golf operations directed to support programming within the East Lake Community. The Bayou District Foundation, through the assistance of the East Lake Foundation, is working to replicate the East Lake model in New Orleans.
St. Bernard Housing Project and the Surrounding Neighborhood
Following the passage of the U.S Housing Act of 1937, the St. Bernard Project was built to serve low-income New Orleans residents in the 1940s. Initially, the housing community consisted of 744 units in 74 buildings constructed on 31 acres of land. St. Bernard expanded in 1949, adding 700 more units. With this expansion the St. Bernard Housing Community became the largest public housing development in New Orleans.
The St. Bernard initially was more than a housing project. A support system of necessary community services slowly became part of the area. Among these were the Union Baptist Theological Seminary and Asia Baptist Church, which operated a day care center. Built in 1980, the St. Bernard Area Community Development Center was an effective educational, social service and recreational resource for families in the area.
Despite the positive attributes of the development, the St. Bernard Housing Community became widely recognized locally and nationally for its deterioration—both physically and as a safe community. In the two decades prior to Katrina, the St. Bernard Housing community saw the number of available housing units drop from 1400 to 900 because of poor maintenance and upkeep. Overcrowding became a huge issue in addition to a precipitous rise in violent crime (684 felonies and 42 homicides in 2001-2005 within the 52 acre site) as the drug trade overwhelmed the local community.
In addition to these serious problems, the St. Bernard Housing Community was serviced by some of the weakest public schools in the City of New Orleans. The two schools located in the community, Vorice J. Waters Elementary School and Phillips Jr. High School, were under-performing academically and had extreme security, maintenance and financial issues. Realizing the need for transformation, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) was awarded a charter by the Orleans Parish School Board to take over Phillips Jr. High School thirty days prior to Hurricane Katrina.
The only recreational facilities at the former St. Bernard were a playfield and gymnasium operated by New Orleans Recreation Department, each located several blocks from the development. Many St. Bernard residents were contributing members of the New Orleans community, trying to make ends meet as service industry workers and laborers. In 2005, the St. Bernard had a population of over 3,000 children between the ages of 0-19, 790 in the 0-4 demographic alone. Only 218 of the 2,800 adults in the St. Bernard community had a college degree or better. 327 adults had less than a 9th grade education. Less than half of the adults were employed. (GCR & Associates).
The entire Gentilly and Bayou St. John community was devastated by Hurricane Katrina on August 29th, 2005. The St. Bernard Public Housing Community was flooded by 4 to 8 feet of water. The two schools located in the community, Vorice J. Waters Elementary and Phillips Jr. High School were also substantially damaged. Flooded for over 3 weeks, the buildings and schools that make up this community were damaged beyond repair.
Given the existing disrepair and the enormous damage caused by the hurricane, the City Council of New Orleans voted in December 2007 to raze the St. Bernard Housing Development and three other developments around the city. The buildings were demolished in the 1st and 2nd quarter of 2008 and a 'clean site' was delivered in July 2008.
New Orleans City Park
Just west of the St. Bernard Housing Community lies New Orleans City Park. New Orleans City Park is the one of the largest urban parks in the United States at over 1300 acres. The park has served as a cultural, recreational and athletic center for the City of New Orleans for more than one hundred years. City Park has hosted concerts by everyone from The Beatles to Pearl Jam and had active softball, baseball, golf, soccer and tennis leagues. City Park was also the site of countless neighborhood and family gatherings, in addition to other cultural and athletic events like Celebration in the Oaks and the Crescent City Classic 5K.
In terms of acreage, golf dominated the City Park footprint. Three 18 hole golf courses and a full driving range took up over 700 acres of land. Hundreds of live oaks and magnolias filled City Park while natural bayous and thousands of flowers added fishing and bird watching to the list of activities.
With early support from the New Orleans-based Fore!Kids Foundation, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Bayou District Foundation's story continues as more and more join in the effort to rebuild New Orleans. Tom Cousins of East Lake Foundation and former President George H.W. Bush serve as Bayou District Foundation's Honorary Chairmen.
In December, 2008, political and civil leaders joined with former St. Bernard Housing residents to break ground for what has become 700+ mixed-income housing residences. The Housing Authority of New Orleans in partnership with Bayou District Foundation and Columbia Residential (a national leader in mixed-income residential construction, leasing and property management) were and remain the properties developers. With priority given to former St. Bernard residents, the elderly and disabled, Columbia Parc at the Bayou District welcomed its first tenets during Mardi Gras week 2010. There are now 564 families living at Columbia Parc with a waiting list at all income levels. Phase II of housing construction (additional 100 units) was completed in August 2011 with a senior housing center (125 public units) due to be completed in March 2013. Crime has plummeted with only 2 reported attempted felonies since February 2010 within Columbia Parc.
Columbia Parc at the Bayou District has received several awards including Builder Magazine's 'Grand Award' for Affordable Housing Community and the Esolen Award for Tax Credit Excellence. All partners and residents at Columbia Parc share in these successes!