On October 3rd, Youth Rebuilding New Orleans sold its 9th house in the program to Sci Academy biology teacher Ben Ifshin. Project HOMEwork (Housing Opportunities for Metro Educators) helps teachers buy affordable houses, simultaneously employing local youth. After purchasing blighted homes, YRNO rebuilds with volunteers and then sells the houses to deserving teachers at below market prices in exchange for their continued efforts to educate the city’s youth.
A Washington, DC native and University of Vermont graduate, Ifshin moved to New Orleans almost five years ago to work for the Gulf Restoration Network—an environmental nonprofit committed to a healthy Gulf of Mexico—before taking a position coaching football at Sci Academy and eventually becoming a teacher at the school. He had only rented places since moving out of his parents’ house more than 10 years ago—most recently in the uptown section of the city—and buying a home from YRNO allows him to put down roots here.
“It just makes me feel more rooted to the community and makes me feel more permanent as a piece of the city,” said Ifshin. “More like I am building a neighborhood, rebuilding the city in a way.”
Ifshin knew of YRNO because Sci Academy is a partner school in the Future Leaders Initiative. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of kids and a better group of adults to be working with every day,” Ifshin said. “It’s a great place, a very positive place, a place where people go and work really hard to help make this world a better place. That sounds kind of cheesy, but it’s a great, great institution.” He went on a service trip with some students and worked on the house next door to his new home at 318 South Salcedo Street in Mid-City, which has been under construction since early this year.
“Youth Rebuilding New Orleans is one of our most popular and one of my favorite extracurricular programs. The kids just loved volunteering with you guys,” said Ifshin. “I was actually looking to buy a house for like four months and just couldn’t find anything that I could afford, and then finally this house came out and it was exactly what I was looking for—size, neighborhood, everything.”
YRNO acquired the property in the summer of 2013, so finishing the house and getting the right buyer had been a while coming. “It’s really exciting to be able to finally sell the home, seeing it go from something that didn’t look habitable or repairable to something that is a home,” said Executive Director William Stoudt.
“It’s really exciting to get a teacher; it’s even more exciting to get a teacher from a school that we work extensively with,” Stoudt added. “It’s great to be able to partner with them in a new way, but also partner with a teacher that we believe in and know is one of the best biology teachers in the city, and being able to reward him for all his hard work.”
The South Salcedo property also happens to be the one where YRNO had thousands of dollars’ worth of tools stolen in January, but that proved only a slight blip in the process of rebuilding the home, thanks to an outpouring of generosity from the New Orleans community. The organization kept moving forward, and is now in the midst of acquiring even more blighted houses to renovate and sell to teachers.
“If you are looking for a house and you are a teacher, give us a call. Even if you don’t want to buy one of our houses, we may be able to help,” said Stoudt.