It’s Time for Us to Buy Back the Block

By Lorraine Gil

What’s not to love about New Orleans? The architecture, music, food, genuine love received by locals captivates me and reminds me of the island my parents come from. The colors of the homes, the horns in the streets, and joy of the people is something I feel in my core when walking through the French Quarters. There is no doubt the spirit of New Orleans lives in the people. Still with all of its colorfulness, I can’t deny the discomforts of living in this American Gem. Crime, potholes, less than desirable public education, and the signs of gentrification can sometimes be a distraction from all of the beauty New Orleans has to offer. All of these issues deserve an individual blog post but I’m a realtor by trade, so I will touch on gentrification.

I’ve been in New Orleans five years. Yes I know, I’m not a native to the Crescent City, but check out my perspective. I see NOLA through new eyes, with admiration, love, fear and hope. Born in  New York City to Dominican immigrants, raised in California, outside of Los Angeles, I’m now a proud tri-coastal girl. My mother moved us to Echo Park in Los Angeles before it was “Silverlake” from Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan before it was “WaHi,” so I’ve experienced my share of urban revitalization.

My husband Lance was born and raised in the Fischer Projects; he had three sons before we met in college in California. We came back to his hometown to help raise the boys alongside their village. Since Lance had the opportunity to experience college somewhere completely new, it made him realize how uniquely beautiful New Orleans is. We want the boys to know their city and understand its historically rich culture. They’re gearing up for high school and we’re busy teaching them they can beat the odds by supplementing their school work with real life experiences and showing them through our actions what they can accomplish.

As a real estate professional, there are many avenues I can take on the topic of gentrification. There are pros, like long term homeowners benefiting from the new value of their homes and job opportunities.The cons list includes the displacement of New Orleans core and culture, its PEOPLE and that hits this city particularly hard. New Orleans’ history is documented in books of course, but have you have ever sat with an elder who’s shared some pre Karina stories?  You know that the history sounds much better in that NOLA drawl!!

Since Hurricane Katrina, many can see the gentrification happening in historically black neighborhoods throughout the city. Throughout the Marigny, Treme, Bywater for example; coffee shops, trendy bars and restaurants have emerged that don’t necessarily fit the needs of the original residents of the neighborhood. As the prices rise, it seems that what made the neighborhoods vibrant and culturally rich, the people, are being priced out. But what can we do?

In the words of Rick Ross, it’s time for us to buy back the block! Real estate plays a major role in gentrification. Financial and real estate literacy are important. Understanding that real estate is a tangible investment that can be leveraged could save many people from feeling pressured to sell their homes during times of need. Teaching our children from a young age that owning property they can pass down to their own kids will build generational wealth.

One way to combat the change that is happening in the city is to begin to benefit from it as we advocate and provide education for those that cannot.

Sometimes all it takes is to plant a seed. Financial literacy should be more accessible to underserved communities. You’d be surprised to know that paying a mortgage is often times less than paying for rent. Think about it. If it wasn’t, why would your landlord invest in the rental market? Topics such as finances and credit that should be “Adulthood-101”  often get ignored until we run into it later down the line. Those are topics that should be explored. Financial literacy needs to be talked about at the dinner table, put into curriculums at schools, shared at community churches.

There are non-profits in place like Project Homecoming, helping people rebuild what they lost after Katrina. Operation Hope, through Regions Bank offers financial literacy for low income communities. Other organizations put out grants to help bridge gaps in homebuyer’s market for first time home buyer’s lower income brackets. Currently, there’s a 65,000k grants up for grabs (let me know if you know anyone that would benefit). I would also suggest finding a real estate professional you trust and start asking questions. They shouldn’t mind walking you through the process from the very beginning.

I’m not saying these things to defer from the topic. Gentrification is real; it’s happening. I believe education for the communities gentrification affects can spark change of thought, thoughts which in turn get people investing in their neighborhoods when they reach a place in their lives to buy a home or when it’s their time to invest. I’m out there everyday. I see the changes happening. I see the black and brown owed construction companies, realtors and investors being apart of the change and growing in the real estate world and it’s a beautiful sight. I will continue to strive to be apart of a community of professionals who sparks change and who doesn’t mind passing on my knowledge, the best way I know how.

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