Revitalizing an historic Lafayette neighborhood one home at a time

by Patrick Flanagan

Six low-income Lafayette families are becoming homeowners thanks to a $60,000 Affordable Housing Program grant.

Six low-income Lafayette families are becoming homeowners thanks to a $60,000 Affordable Housing Program grant.

One of six homes recently constructed in the McComb-Veazey neighborhood using a $60,000 Affordable Housing Program grant.

The grant, which helps families cover the down payment and closing costs on the new home, is being offered through a partnership between Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas and MidSouth Bank. The grants are awarded through Lafayette Habitat for Humanity and are focused on revitalizing the historic Lafayette neighborhood known as McComb-Veazey.

Six homes have already been built, and 14 more are expected for the estimated $1.5 million development, according to a press release from Federal Home Loan Bank.

"This is a great partnership between the city, Habitat for Humanity, LHFH, and MidSouth Bank," says City-Parish Mayor-President Joey Durel. "What this partnership does is truly give our low income citizens a hand up,' not a hand-out, because the recipients must pay their mortgage. Homeownership gives people a sense of pride, and that pride will be reflected in the pride they take in their neighborhood. They not only own get a new home, but will now feel a stronger sense of ownership in their community."

One of the program's beneficiaries is Yoshanna Benoit, who recently moved into one of the new homes with her six children.

"This will be the beginning of a fresh start for my kids and me," says Benoit, a long-time employee of University Medical Center. "I really appreciate what Habitat has done for us. It has been a long journey but it finally has come to an end. I am glad I got to work along with the volunteers and everyone else to be able to build our home."

Benoit, like other participants in the program, was required to put sweat equity into her home's construction - between 300 and 450 hours per homeowner. She was also required to undergo a home-buyer education program focusing on the financial and maintenance issues that accompany homeownership.

The program is part of a revitalization effort started in the McCom-Veazey neighborhood between 2006 and 2008, when a plan was drafted for the preservation and future development of the area.

Benoit's home was designed by UL Lafayette's School of Architecture and Design in a manner consistent with the other homes in the neighborhood.

"It doesn't look like your typical Habitat house," says Lafayette Habitat's Executive Director Melinda Taylor. "One of the desires of the neighborhood is that the houses that we build would fit in with the best examples of the architecture there."

According to the press release, Habitat provides the homeowners with mortgages between 20 and 30 years, with zero-interest financing. The homes are financed at or below cost, and cannot exceed 30 percent of the buyer's gross monthly income.