News & Awards

September 2007 "Rebuild Healthy Homes: Hundreds in New Orleans Have Learned How" The Trumpet

September 2007

By Kathleen Canedo

NEW ORLEANS -Almost 600 people have participated in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) Rebuild Healthy Homes program since it was introduced to New Orleans in late April. This free training program was developed to instruct homeowners, contractors and volunteers in the New Orleans area how to safely rehabilitate properties damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The workshops help ensure that workers protect themselves from potentially hazardous materials and situations and are designed to significantly reduce the number of work-related injuries and illnesses.

“As we work to help families rebuild their homes, we want to make certain that everyone rebuilds in the safest way possible so nobody gets hurt,” says HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson. “This free training program will offer step-by-step instructions to rehabilitate homes safely so homeowners and other volunteers can protect themselves as they rebuild their lives.”

With a goal of training several thousand participants, HUD Rebuild Healthy Homes workshops are available throughout the city to anyone who is rehabilitating or renovating a hurricane-damaged home. Teaching people to properly protect themselves while helping to rebuild New Orleans is especially helpful now that New Orleans is entering another hurricane season.

“We have over 25 local trainers who are part of this program that would be thrilled to present the workshop to your community group, organization, PTA meeting, group of neighbors or business anywhere you know there is a group of people who can benefit from learning how to safely and properly rehabilitate hurricane-damaged homes we’ll bring the training to them,” says Crystal Celestine, Site Manager for the Rebuild Healthy Homes program. Celestine owns three properties in New Orleans that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina, so she has first-hand knowledge of just how beneficial these workshops are.

Local Trainer, Erika Wimby May, has been with the Rebuild Healthy Homes program since it began and has conducted a number of workshops. “These workshops are great because they are interactive,” May says, “This is not a lecture or a seminar but a dynamic session that includes activities and an open dialogue. Participants really enjoy the demonstrations and appreciate having a venue where they can talk about their problems with renovations. People need someone to talk to who has been through the same challenges and the participants really benefit from and like the training.”

Those who participate in the training receive step-by-step instructions demonstrating safe and proper mold and lead-based paint removal; safe work habits that can prevent accidents such as heat exhaustion, electric shock, and carbon monoxide poisoning; and practical tips to identify and avoid fraudulent contractors. This guide is written in both English and Spanish and features detailed illustrations that make it simple for those rehabilitating homes to follow along as they work.

HUD met with many New Orleans homeowners to determine how best to support their rebuilding efforts and developed this training program to address the high priority issues that came from these conversations. Homeowners who have returned to New Orleans cited many different reasons as to why they have not yet begun to rehabilitate their homes: some people may not have the resources to hire someone to do the work, some may be waiting for volunteers or laborers to begin work on their property, and some may want to do the work themselves, but do not know how to start the process or do it safely. The training also helps homeowners comply with local requirements as they remediate their homes.

This timely training program addresses all of the most significant safety issues confronting anyone rehabilitating hurricane-damaged homes. In addition, it empowers homeowners to accelerate the rebuilding process by providing them with information on the steps needed to get started or to hire a credible contractor. The workshops increase safety awareness and help prevent illnesses€”including lead poisoning, respiratory ailments, and allergic reactions€”as well as accidents and injuries that can occur when rehabilitation is done without proper safety.

“I found the workshop to be very educational for the homeowner who is choosing to tackle the task of preparing a house for remodeling,” said Jed Fisher, a New-Orleans area contractor with KatFish Home Improvements LLC. Fisher attended a workshop conducted by Trainer Penny Johnson on July 14th. “Not only does this workshop stress the safety aspects of how to prepare for such an undertaking, it also provides the basic knowledge of what to look for regarding structural, electrical, plumbing and mechanical (HVAC and gas) hazards that might be present in a hurricane-damaged home. This workshop also gives the homeowner important information that could help them from being taken advantage of by dishonest contractors. I recommend this workshop to every homeowner in New Orleans who is going through this challenging process.”

HUD works to increase homeownership, support community development and improve access to affordable housing free from discrimination.