ABWK Partners Highlight the True Value of a Home

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The damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina had a toll that went beyond a monetary value. For those able to return, it was often a matter of literally picking up the pieces. Flood waters from the federal levee breaches filled some houses from floor to ceiling, ruining everything in them. Many homeowners had spent most of their lives in the homes they lost, and over the course of decades, they created memories that gave their homes profound sentimental value and altered the home to their specific requirements. The emotional value of a home resides in the comfort of a home’s familiarity, in the little features adapted to the homeowners’ preference, and the unique ways a homeowner makes their home their own. The storm posed a direct threat to this, and repairing the damage has proven a difficult trial for many New Orleanians.

Because NOAHH is devoted to ending substandard housing in New Orleans, the affiliate began the A Brush With Kindness (ABWK) program a few years ago to address the repair needs of those who might otherwise not be able to afford them. In 2014, NOAHH has completed nearly 30 ABWK projects, mostly exterior repairs. Many of the homeowners who have joined our ABWK program are seeking to mend their homes after nearly a decade of delays, for repairs that often made homes unlivable or that threatened their ability to stay in the home. Some, like John Washington, have faced setbacks in the form of bad contractors and health issues, while others have had financial obstacles to overcome. By making home repair affordable, NOAHH allows homeowners to remain in the homes they’ve grown to love.

Their stories are often broadly similar: after decades in their homes, the storm brought flood waters that wiped everything out. The specific details always differ. Some have raised families in their homes, while others have moved into their homes as a part of their retirement. Some face health issues, some give back by caring for others with health issues. All of them are hard working families in New Orleans. The Bachemin family is just one of many in our ABWK program, but their story would sound familiar not just to our other partners, but to many in New Orleans.

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Madeline and Elmore Bachemin moved into their home in 1996 to be closer to their jobs at city hall, tired as they were of fighting the traffic on I-10 every morning. Madeline worked in the administrative department–she was the first African-American secretary for the fire chief, and Elmore was an investigator for the city. They lived in Little Woods out in New Orleans East, but Elmore noticed the home on Gallier St. while working in the Upper Ninth Ward. Seeing it for sale, they bought it to be closer to work.

The brick home, they said, is not typical of their neighborhood, but has more of an Uptown style to it. It had more room than their home in the East as well. They bought their home together while their three daughters were in high school and college, and now, the Bachemins are proud grandparents. They converted the back of their home to a separated area for guests, so that their visiting children could have a nice place to stay when they were in town. It has a kitchenette and bedroom, and it makes it easier for their family to remain close, especially during the holidays.

Their neighbors are mostly other retired people. Because of their similar backgrounds and circumstances, they understand each other’s needs and look out for one another. Many of the neighbors have been around for a long time, and bonds of community and trust have formed among them.

“We love our home and our neighborhood,” Madeline said. “As senior citizens, we can identify in this part of the city as the neighbors are in our age range. We are grateful for NOAHH helping us with our home.”

This month, NOAHH staff and volunteers are installing a wooden rail on the side steps and fixing the fence around the house, as well as working on the garage roof and parts of the trim around the house. These minor repairs will keep the house in good shape and prevent any damage from expanding. By helping with exterior maintenance, NOAHH is helping to prevent major problems from arising that might force the Bachemins out of their home of 20 years. Their children will still have a place to gather, and they will still have friendly, familiar neighbors they can rely on. Like most families that have joined the ABWK program, they did so not just to continue or complete the repairs on their homes for the affordable solution provided, but because of their love for their homes and communities. They have lived in the city for decades, and with a little help, they will be able to remain for decades to come.