March 17, 2009 10:59
Acadiana’s architectural heritage is an endangered species. Old houses, barns, businesses and farms are regularly torn down, either for the cypress they contain or at the direction of city and parish councils who put sagging structures on their demolition lists. Leveled houses leave inner city lots like gap teeth in the fabric of neighborhoods. Often it’s too expensive to build new on a lot with little property value, and for the most part, mobile homes are prohibited in city limits.

Fortunately, a threesome of non profits in New Iberia is contrarian when it comes to old houses in need of major overhauls. Rebuild Iberia, Iberia Habitat for Humanity and Southern Mutual Help Association, reports the Daily Iberian, have snapped up an entire block of houses, many of them on the city’s demo list, located in the historic West End. SMHA’s and Habitat for Humanity’s mission is to help low income families purchase homes. Rebuild Iberia was born out of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, to help hurricane victims find places to live. Teamed up, they are using grants and volunteers to rehab some of the finest cottages in the West End, built in a time when craftsmanship delivered sturdy and beautiful structures meant to last a century. With the help of Lafayette architect Steve Oubre, who will provide technical support, seven old houses will be rehabbed. Nine more houses are in the sights of the group. As a unit, they will restore the neighborhood fabric of a once vital area of the city, and provide much needed low income housing that comes with historic charm, architectural quality, and reuse credentials.

Other towns should keep an eye on this project. It’s a great way to reinject life into rundown neighborhoods, show respect for low income families who deserve good housing, and show that we can do more than just pay lip service to our cultural history.