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Barnes & Noble Founder Leonard Riggio to Fund 100 More Homes in Gentilly
by M.D. Dupuy
The people behind the largest single post-Katrina housing development are at it again, and their project has nothing to do with Brad Pitt or the Ninth Ward. Gentilly was one of the areas hit hardest by the Federal Flood, and Barnes and Noble Founder Leonard Riggio and his wife Louise came all the way from New York to create “Project Home Again.” The pair is at it again, with 100 new homes slated for completion in the next 12-18 months.
The nonprofit is geared towards the redevelopment of the city’s most storm torn areas, specifically Northern Gentilly.
Riggio isn’t a native himself, but he said he’s always had a deep affection for the city of New Orleans.
“I love jazz, good food, I love people who love to party,” laughed Riggio. The business mogul and NOLAphile even became acquainted with the concept of lagniappe and tacked on an extra home to his last project, bringing the total number of homes built to 101.
Despite Riggio’s tremendous generosity, he said his plans were initially met with suspicion from some, namely Councilmember Hedge-Morrell.
“She was sizing me up. She told me, ‘we don’t bring cheesy homes here, don’t bring any of that New York stuff here,’” laughed Riggio, recounting his earlier experiences with the District D Representative.
Hedge-Morrell’s initial reticence disappeared once she realized how dedicated Riggio and his wife were to the success of Project Home Again.
“My guardian angel sent Mr. Riggio to me,” Hedge-Morrell said. “Do you know that song that starts, ‘did you ever know that you’re my hero?’ Hedge-Morrell asked the audience, in earnest.
Following the Bette Midler reference (“Wind Beneath My Wings” is the song’s official title) speakers hammered out the details of the project.
The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority is investing $1.26 million into the project, which will build 100 two, three, and four-bedroom homes for first-time homebuyers. Recipients must earn less than 120 percent of the area’s median income, and Riggio made a point to note that the working class families he’s targeting are the backbone of the city.
“I’m a Democrat,” explained Riggio. “Mayor Landrieu is a Democrat, and he’s the first one I’ve heard in a long time use the term ‘working class.’ We chose Gentilly because it was a working class community,” said Riggio.
Executive Director of NORA Jeff Hebert credited “linking and leveraging funds,” with the project’s success, noting that the cooperation between private and public sources made such an expansive redevelopment possible. Those interested in applying for a home can visit the Project Home Again website.
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