Odyssey House Louisiana (OHL) is a nonprofit behavioral health care provider with an emphasis on addiction treatment. OHL was established in 1973 as a nonprofit residential substance abuse treatment facility with the mission of empowering people to conquer addiction. Today, Odyssey House offers a professional, structured and caring Therapeutic Community with comprehensive services and effective support systems that enable individuals to chart new lives and return to their communities as contributing members.
A United Way Partner Agency
Early morning the last day of July 2006, a slight buzz began to spread around the business offices of OHL. The agency had just been invited to a press conference held by Mayor C. Ray Nagin to announce that OHL was one of 22 nonprofit and private agencies to submit a successful application to the City of New Orleans to redevelop local adjudicated properties. The buzz started leaning towards slight chaos when the invitation to the press conference stated that OHL was part of the Initiative for Targeted Neighborhood Development of 100+ Properties. Yes, OHL had applied for 107 properties. Did we realistically expect to receive all 107? Not so much.
To be perfectly candid, minor panic ensued. Mostly generated from OHL’s three-man construction crew when they were informed that OHL had 270 days to renovate the properties it received. We here at OHL dearly respect and admire our construction crew- but 107 properties in 270 days? Had our fearless Executive Director finally bitten off more than he could chew? Even Ed seemed a little quiet that day…
But, the panic died and Ed resumed his chatter when the City confirmed that OHL had been granted a much more manageable 50 properties to restore and renovate into affordable sober living housing.
A total of 2,500 properties were awarded to developers as part of the mayor’s 100-Day Implementation Plan to eliminate blight in the city of New Orleans. These properties were adjudicated to the City due to the owners’ failure to pay taxes for over five years. The 100-Day plan was implemented to eradicate these properties as city eyesores and drains on the economy, as well as address the severe lack of affordable housing in post-Katrina New Orleans. The City invited developers with proven track records to submit applications to develop mixed-income communities out of these blighted properties.
OHL applied for these properties with intentions to renovate the structures into viable, affordable housing based on income level to graduates of its residential substance abuse treatment program. Clients often don’t have the best resources available to them upon leaving the program, and Hurricane Katrina only exacerbated these problems by eliminating reasonably priced housing. With the renovation of these properties, OHL would quite literally be laying down the foundation for clients to return to the community as contributing members.
And so the task of acquiring these properties began. OHL was able to choose 50 properties from the 107 it had originally requested. Instantly, OHL administrators and staff were able to add real estate surveying and property inspection to their resumes as they searched Esplanade Ridge, Mid City and other surrounding areas for the most promising properties, many of which ended up being vacant lots. OHL was also surprised at the number of properties that were well maintained with residents clearly living in viable houses that had been rebuilt or restored since Hurricane Katrina.
After months of the exhaustive process of choosing properties, finding out these properties were, in fact, not available, and scouring New Orleans for more properties, OHL was able to confirm 50 properties it would be receiving from the City. At this point in the process OHL has been ceded the properties from the City, however, the actual transfer from the current inhabitants or land owners to OHL has yet to take place as City lawyers must first legally take over the properties before the deeds can be transferred to OHL.
As with all the pieces of post-Katrina recovery, progress is slow, but the final outcome will be a true milestone for OHL. With these properties available to graduates, OHL can provide a full continuum of care for its clients, ensuring that once they leave our home, they can establish safe, well maintained homes of their own.