The Neighborhood Development Foundation Gears Up for Its Annual House Party
By Anitra D. Brown
Fred Johnson worked with the Neighborhood Development Foundation for about three years when he considered leaving for other career opportunities. Around that time, he says he got a call from the late Rudy Lombard, co-founder of the NDF, summoning him to his office.
“He called me ‘nephew’. He said, ‘Nephew, come down here. I need to talk to you,’ ” Johnson recounts. When he got there, he says Lombard told him that some original supporters and leadership of the NDF would be leaving the following year. Lombard wanted to know that he could count on him for consistency.
“I looked at him, went back upstairs and I got back to work,” says Johnson, who started off as an outreach specialist with the NDF when it was founded in 1986. He is the longest-serving member of the staff today. In 2010, he was selected as NDF’s chief executive officer, succeeding long-time past CEO Rosalind Peychaud, who led the organization from 1993-2010.
NDF was created to help more low and moderate-income New Orleanians realize the dream of homeownership. Since 1986, the Neighborhood Development Foundation has screened more than 13,000 individuals, trained nearly 8,000 people in home-buyer education courses and more than 750 individuals in financial fitness. As of December 2014, NDF has helped 3,266 New Orleanians get more than $184 million in financing to purchase homes, with home sales totaling more than $268 million.
NDF’s Executive Vice President Rosalind Washington cites the many partnerships NDF has established through the years as she and others reflect on the organization’s success. There have been the banking partners like First NBC and Capitol One, whose support Washington describes as “consistent and non-stop for 30 years,” Wells Fargo and Liberty Bank & Trust Co. Throughout the years, NDF has had a special relationship with Liberty, she adds.
“Whenever we did not have a home office, Liberty provided a space for us,” she says. So wherever you saw a Liberty, you saw NDF.”
She also points to American Express, the city of New Orleans and out-of-town organizations Housing Partnership Network, based in Boston, and Enterprise Community Partners out of Columbia, MD.
Peychaud says it was vital for NDF to look outside of the New Orleans community for partnerships and funding opportunities because of the swelling number of non-profits in the region competing for local dollars.
Recently, the NDF has expanded its reach by partnering with St. John the Baptist Parish to offer training and education in home buying to residents of that parish, Washington adds. “As we grow, we share our knowledge,” she says.
There are other statistics the organization likes to points out. For instance, the average family size of those who have received training and support from NDF is three. Also, the majority of the homeowners who go through the NDF home-buyer training program are female heads of households.
Johnson says he likes to start discussing strategies to get to homeownership with NDF participants, especially single mothers, several months before tax refund season.
“I start talking to them in October, so that they know what they are going to do with their refund money before they get it. I tell them to take $5,000 and put it in a savings account. Then, go back to the bank and borrow $4,000 against the five. They use the money they borrowed to pay off bad debt; and when they start paying the bank back, their credit score begins to rise.”
He says that if he can get participants to follow that plan for two years in a row, by the end of that second year they have usually accomplished two things—improved their credit score and saved enough money for a down payment.
“Our message is simple,” Johnson says. “Stop renting. We have an environment where we are not talking over people’s heads. We try to demystify the (home-buying) process, so people are not afraid of it.”
Throughout the years, NDF has augmented its offerings to fit the needs of its clients. They have included a maintenance program as a part of their training, which Peychaud says is important for first-time home buyers coming out of rentals.
“If you have been a renter, when something breaks or needs to be repaired, someone else fixed it. As a homeowner, the buck stops with you.”
And when it became evident that there were quite a few home buyers in the program investing in doubles with plans to occupy one side and rent out the other, NDF began offering a landlord training class so that those homeowners would know what they needed to run their real estate investment like a business.
“The landlord class has been instrumental in educating first-time home buyers and landlords,” Johnson says. “They needed to know that being a landlord is not just collecting rent. The thing about NDF is we have been in the trenches working. We started quite a few firsts. And we started doing home-buyer training when there was no concept of it.”
Not everyone completes the training program at NDF goes on to own a home, and Johnson says that okay. Homeownership is serious, and he doesn’t want anyone to do something they are not ready for.
“That’s been the heart of the program. We just people rise to their natural level.
In fact, it took the NDF quite some time to follow its own advice. Until 2010, the nonprofit rented space for its offices. But under Peychaud’s leadership plans for the NDF to purchase its space began to progress. In January 2010, NDF moved into its offices at 1429 S. Rampart St., in Central city. It was a move that Peychaud says she wanted to make before leaving NDF.
“The amounts of rent we were paying were exorbitant,” she says. “So before I decided to move on, I wanted to make sure the allocations were in place, and we just had to follow through.”
Johnson is plain in his assessment of the decision to buy a building for NDF.
“We weren’t practicing what we preached,” he says. “Now, NDF owns its own home.”
The NDF offices include training rooms, spaces for individual counseling and a room that can be reserved by members of the community for meetings. They building they purchased was historic, but distressed and the surrounding community was rundown, with dilapidated properties and crime all around. But with the renovation of the building that now houses NDF, Peychaud, Johnson and Washington all say the surrounding neighborhood as also began to experience a revival.
“This building turned the face of this neighborhood around,” Johnson says.
As for NDF clients that complete the program and go on to become homeowners, they are able to buy anywhere in the city of New Orleans that their money will take them, says Peychaud. And while the NDF does not limit its clients to any particular neighborhoods or developments, during Peychaud’s tenure as CEO, NDF began acquiring several lots in Central City where it built affordable homes to offer clients another place to consider buying when they are ready. Peychaud dubbed the development Hoffman Triangle as the area is near the building that once housed John Hoffman Elementary on S. Prieur Street.
On March 28, the Neighborhood Development Foundation is hosting its annual House Party, the organization’s signature fundraising event now in its 20th year. Peychaud serves as the co-chairwoman of the House Party fundraiser, along with co-chairman state Rep. Walt Leger.
The event begins at 6:30 p.m. with a Patron Party in the third floor board room of First NBC Bank at 210 Baronne St. The gala continues at 7:30 in the historic main office lobby of the bank. The evening will include food, silent and live auctions and entertainment.
In addition to supporting the NDF by attending the gala, contributions can be made to the non-profit organization’s general fund, which helps to fund its various training classes.
For more information on donating to NDF’s general fund or to purchase tickets to the March 28 gala, call 504-488-0155.