Lessons learned from the Harmony Oaks redevelopment:
- You can do good work even in a devastated city, but you have to build an alternate set of systems until the regular systems get up and running again.
- A city’s social-service providers know the landscape, but if they are in crisis, you can galvanize outside resources before you hit the ground and “lead on the partnershipping” by providing money to the providers so that seasoned locals can get back to work.
- With creative thinking — and a strong resident word-of-mouth network — you can find people scattered across the country.
- Service providers can work together across state lines if everyone is working toward the same goals.
- Peer counseling can ease post-traumatic stress disorder. But without high-quality mental-health interventions, it can linger on for years after a natural disaster, negatively affecting health, employment, and parenting.
- During tense times when rumors take hold quickly, it helps to stick to a strict meeting schedule and communicate, even over-communicate, with residents, so that accurate information is what spreads.
- Let people vent for weeks or months, until they can plan productively, even if that means relaxing your usual timetables.
- Show residents the developments you’ve completed elsewhere and let them have unfettered access to those developments’ tenants.
- To build trust, stay in close touch with residents, provide food and beverages at any gatherings and use flexible foundation cash to pay some overdue bills, buy groceries, or hire residents to do outreach.
- Be open to adjusting rules of tenancy to local traditions and expanding the role of residents in the new development.
- Seize one-of-a-kind opportunities by maintaining a strong set of funding partners who can literally fill a gap overnight.
- Make a list of potential barriers to return and find ways to address each one.
- Understand that residents may have mixed reactions to a new complex. One neighbor may see it as peaceful and less intrusive while another may see it as dull and lacking warmth.
- Determine literacy levels early and assemble early partnerships to address them, in order to better improve lives and move toward more stable employment.
- When coming into a complex political environment and culture like that of New Orleans, you will have to prove yourselves. Having a deft local development partner helps you dodge bullets, navigate the landscape, and put your foot in the door.
For information on the Harmony Oaks report, go here.