Good gumbo is serious business in New Orleans. Family recipes are closely held secrets that are passed through generations at just the right time.
For Christina Smothers, the responsibility of making her family’s gumbo was recently passed to her by her mother. It’s a big deal – and one she fully embraces.
Making gumbo requires the right ingredients, like fresh vegetables and seafood and a fine-tuned mixture of spices, along with a little patience and a bit of good luck. When Smothers makes her next pot of gumbo for her family to enjoy, she’ll have a new good luck charm. A new gas stove in a new house.
Smothers recently moved into the 1,300-square-foot home in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward. Born and raised nearby, Smothers saw entire neighborhoods in her hometown destroyed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Families have rebuilt their lives after the storm, but housing prices have soared in recent years, making it difficult for some to afford to live in their beloved Crescent City.
Smothers worked with Home by Hand, a nonprofit affordable housing developer, to help purchase her new home. During the five-month construction period, the nonprofit connected Smothers to lenders and down-payment assistance programs and helped her complete homebuyer training and credit counseling. In addition, she performed 100 hours of community service work on her home and the homes of fellow program participants.
“I have a beautiful home,” Smothers said. “It is almost unimaginable. I am blessed.”
Home by Hand recently celebrated the completion of Smothers’ home, the first in its Choice Neighborhood Initiative Scattered Site Project in the Treme and Seventh Ward neighborhoods. Smothers’ home is the first of nine the nonprofit will build in an effort to create affordable homeownership opportunities for low and moderate-income buyers in an area that is experiencing rapidly rising property values and, along with that, the displacement of some New Orleanians who have lived in the neighborhoods for years.
Regions Bank is a national leader in affordable housing services and can finance the construction of income and rent-restricted properties across the country. The bank worked with Home by Hand to provide a $600,000 construction loan for the organization to support new houses. Additionally, the bank recently approved a $700,000 revolving line of credit for construction of homes in the Lower Ninth Ward.
We are grateful to Regions Bank, the City of New Orleans and the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority for coming together to make affordable housing a real option for people who want to live in New Orleans.
Oji Alexander, Home by Hand Executive Director
Graham Ralston, New Orleans-area Market Executive for Regions, said the mission of Home by Hand complements the bank’s priority of supporting more affordable housing.
“Home by Hand is not only about building houses. It’s about helping strengthen neighborhoods with affordable options while developing properties that reflect the distinct character of our communities,” Ralston said. “The opportunities provided by affordable homeownership are important for the growth and success of New Orleans. When we talk about creating more inclusive prosperity, this is an example of that. It’s about ensuring more people have the opportunity to thrive here in New Orleans.”
Home by Hand Executive Director Oji Alexander said Smothers’ home shows what government agencies, businesses and nonprofits can do to meet a pressing need.
“The project is an excellent example of public and private partners combining resources to create sorely needed affordable housing,” Alexander said. “It is nearly impossible for nonprofits to build affordable housing without the right partnerships. We are grateful to Regions Bank, the City of New Orleans and the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority for coming together to make affordable housing a real option for people who want to live in New Orleans.”
Smothers said the support she sees from these organizations is inspiring to the next generation of New Orleanians.
“I am excited that nonprofits and developers are reinvesting in areas across New Orleans to help people who have not had an opportunity to create wealth for their families,” she said. “The work to prioritize housing opportunities for low-to-moderate income individuals is something I am glad to see happen in my hometown. Homeownership is helping me create a legacy for my daughter to be proud of.”
Family gatherings have moved to Smothers’ new home, a five-minute drive from her mother’s house, so that her mother doesn’t have the burden of hosting, cooking and cleaning for everyone as she ages. Just like the gumbo recipe, Smothers is happy for her home, especially the kitchen, to be the new gathering spot for her family.
“Having people centered around the kitchen is so New Orleans,” she said. “That is how good gumbo is enjoyed. With family around.”