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August 19, 2010

Five years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans still houses to up to 70,000 vacant lots. Two years ago, however, the city put a plan into place to help residents revive their neighborhoods. The resulting Lot Next Door program, created by the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA), offers homeowners the first right of refusal to purchase the vacant lots next to their own. What seals the deal for many is the opportunity to receive $10,000 off of the purchasing price if the buyer agrees to make basic landscape improvements--from building a fence to planting trees to installing rain gardens--through a subprogram known as Growing Home.

Run by Abigail Feldman, a landscape designer and founder of New Orleans-based firm <a href="http://www.heavymeadow.com">Heavy Meadow</a>, Growing Home works with each interested Lot Next Door property owner to develop a landscaping scheme, put a plan in p
Run by Abigail Feldman, a landscape designer and founder of New Orleans-based firm Heavy Meadow, Growing Home works with each interested Lot Next Door property owner to develop a landscaping scheme, put a plan in place, and confirm that the work has been done so each participant receives the $10,000 discount on the purchasing price. Shown here is the blighted property next to Addison and Yolanda Penn's home in the upper 9th Ward that they bought from NORA.
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Growing Home participants are provided free demolition services from the <a href="http://www.lalandtrust.org/">Louisiana Land Trust</a> if they so desire or they can renovate the home on their own. The purchasers earn credits for projects like building a
Growing Home participants are provided free demolition services from the Louisiana Land Trust if they so desire or they can renovate the home on their own. The purchasers earn credits for projects like building a fence, planting trees, planting native species, installing rain barrels or rain gardens, using permeable surfaces rather than regular poured concrete, creating raised planting beds, growing kitchen gardens, constructing composting bins, or building small structures like gazebos and sheds. The Penns fixed up the house next door (shown here), added a fence, and planted a front garden of marigolds, hibiscus, and dusty millers (after excavating through layers of dirt and concrete) and hope to soon rent it out for additional income.
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In Gentilly, longtime residents Arnold Brown and Betty Muller purchased the adjacent lot, built a new fence, and installed four barrels for a rain-collection system. In the front yard, they designed the sidewalk to bump out around the roots of an existing
In Gentilly, longtime residents Arnold Brown and Betty Muller purchased the adjacent lot, built a new fence, and installed four barrels for a rain-collection system. In the front yard, they designed the sidewalk to bump out around the roots of an existing oak tree and added a circular driveway using permeable pavers. Lots available through the program are located primarily in the low-lying areas of Orleans Parish that were most affected by the hurricane, such as Gentilly, the 9th ward, Lakeview, and New Orleans East.
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Just as the property costs drastically range from lot to lot (from $4,000 all the way up to $100,000 and more, Feldman says), the needs of the purchasers also vary. Some individuals buy the lot then create and execute their own plans whereas others requir
Just as the property costs drastically range from lot to lot (from $4,000 all the way up to $100,000 and more, Feldman says), the needs of the purchasers also vary. Some individuals buy the lot then create and execute their own plans whereas others require guidance and assistance. Feldman provides free design advice to low-income participants of the program, and Growing Home provides a list of affiliated vendors and local businesses who offer discounts on materials and services. In Carrolton, Joyce Hickman, with the help of a contractor and volunteers, installed a rain garden on the lot next to her property. Layers of gravel and sand in a trench running the length of the land act as a water-holding trench before allowing the water to slowly seep back into the ground.
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Shown here, Hickman's completed rain garden in Carrolton. The results of the Growing Home program have affected more than just the properties' purchasers, Feldman says. "These people have been living next to blighted lots for five years," she says. "It's
Shown here, Hickman's completed rain garden in Carrolton. The results of the Growing Home program have affected more than just the properties' purchasers, Feldman says. "These people have been living next to blighted lots for five years," she says. "It's incredibly empowering for people to take that piece of land and transform it and make it their own. It's inspiring other people in the neighborhood to do something with their own hands too."
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Since Growing Home launched two years ago, close to 600 people have enrolled in the program, Feldman says. Of those, 175 people have purchased the lots next door to their own homes, 50 have completed their landscaping projects, and the remaining individua
Since Growing Home launched two years ago, close to 600 people have enrolled in the program, Feldman says. Of those, 175 people have purchased the lots next door to their own homes, 50 have completed their landscaping projects, and the remaining individuals are waiting to close on properties. Though almost all projects are residential works, Valerie Woziniak, an Algiers resident, completed the first community garden in May.
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Feldman describes Woziniak as a "community catalyst." In just under two months of closing on the lot next to her home, Woziniak had transformed the space into the Old Aurora Community Garden where friends and neighbors are encouraged to garden and harvest
Feldman describes Woziniak as a "community catalyst." In just under two months of closing on the lot next to her home, Woziniak had transformed the space into the Old Aurora Community Garden where friends and neighbors are encouraged to garden and harvest the growing greens. "These formerly vacant properties are becoming more safe and secure," Feldman says. "It's now clear that someone owns them and is taking care of them, which helps stabilize the neighborhoods."
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Growing Home has a green agenda as well. "It's woven into the program in a subtle way to help push people to a more sustainable future," Feldman says, noting the incorporation of water-harvesting and composting systems in the list of credited projects. Of
Growing Home has a green agenda as well. "It's woven into the program in a subtle way to help push people to a more sustainable future," Feldman says, noting the incorporation of water-harvesting and composting systems in the list of credited projects. Of the approximately 70,000 vacant lots in New Orleans, 10,000 have been sold to NORA to be rehabilitated by buyers. NORA and Feldman hope that of those properties, 3,500 will end up enrolled with Growing Home. "People are just chomping at the bit to do the work, the only thing slowing them down is getting to close the sale," Feldman says. So though not everything is simple in the Big Easy, there are certainly those who are working to restore it to its former glory.
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Run by Abigail Feldman, a landscape designer and founder of New Orleans-based firm <a href="http://www.heavymeadow.com">Heavy Meadow</a>, Growing Home works with each interested Lot Next Door property owner to develop a landscaping scheme, put a plan in p
Run by Abigail Feldman, a landscape designer and founder of New Orleans-based firm Heavy Meadow, Growing Home works with each interested Lot Next Door property owner to develop a landscaping scheme, put a plan in place, and confirm that the work has been done so each participant receives the $10,000 discount on the purchasing price. Shown here is the blighted property next to Addison and Yolanda Penn's home in the upper 9th Ward that they bought from NORA.

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