Even before Katrina, the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) knew it had to do something about the state of C. J. Peete, one of the notorious “big four” public housing sites. Since opening to fanfare in 1941, the development had become synonymous with violence, crime, addiction, and neglect, immortalized in popular music for the danger of its streets. By the time Katrina threatened in August 2005, most apartments had already been shuttered. Fewer than 100 families remained. Displacement from the hurricane was especially hard on the families who had been living at Peete. Housing vouchers did not cover utilities. Ties with social services were severed.
In 2007, when the Housing Authority of New Orleans selected the team of McCormack Baron Salazar, Landwide Development, and the New Orleans Neighborhood Development Collaborative to revitalize Peete, the site was in ruins, but the first order of business was to find scattered residents. This work fell to a non-profit partner, Urban Strategies, Inc., who managed to reconnect with 377 of 541 former Peete households. Urban Strategies also linked funding organizations with service providers in New Orleans to lay groundwork for long-term support in the community.
When it came time for a master plan, inclusion of grassroots leadership was key to the creation of a design that met the needs of all stakeholders, and provided residents a sense of ownership in their community.
Today, Harmony Oaks consists of 460 homes, 193 of them set aside for public housing residents, the remainder divided between workforce and market rate renters and homeowners. The community includes parks that preserve original live oaks, a renovated community center, a fitness room, community pool, tot lots and a playground. A new charter school, the KIPP Central City Academy, has been built on the site of the former Carter G. Woodson middle school in partnership with the Recovery School District and facilitated by McCormack Baron Salazar and Urban Strategies. At the north end of the community, Magnolia Marketplace features 6.5-acres of major retailers, providing both goods and services and jobs to Harmony Oaks’ residents.