Executive Director Latimer: “We’ve helped people find jobs, helped them get out of housing dilemmas, and helped them get unstuck with bureaucratic dilemmas.”
March 15, 2006 -- The calls from Katrina evacuees range from “I’m out of propane” to pleas of “I can’t take it anymore.” Each week, 45,000 of these calls pour into a call center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Affordable Housing Resources (AHR), a Nashville NeighborWorks organization, and its sister organization in Baton Rouge, the Resource Foundation, manage the call center. Eddie Latimer, executive director of the Nashville nonprofit, sees this work as a “rewarding ministry.” “We’ve helped people find jobs, helped them get out of housing dilemmas, and helped them get unstuck with bureaucratic dilemmas,” he said.
The organizations are working as sub-contractors for a FEMA hurricane relief contractor, Shaw Industries of Baton Rouge. They are charged with managing data on 14,000 trailers used by FEMA to temporarily house Katrina evacuees, a job that includes managing the call center. The president of the Resource Foundation, Robert Whittington, had previous experience in large data management operations.
The Resource Foundation, which had moved from Nashville to Louisiana in July 2005, had already begun working to create more affordable housing in Baton Rouge before the hurricane. A subdivision of 71 homes was already being planned in South Baton Rouge; the two-year construction schedule is being compressed into 15 months to accommodate evacuees. North of Baton Rouge, AHR and the Foundation are building an additional 40 affordable homes. In addition, the organizations are looking to build 125 homes in the Waveland-Bay St. Louis area of Mississippi.
“The need for housing is so huge,” said Latimer.
“NeighborWorks America has been helpful to us not only in providing grant money, but also in providing help in locating capital for our projects,” he said. NeighborWorks America awarded AHR a $125,000 grant towards administration of the call center and an additional $300,000 grant to support the construction of new affordable homes for evacuees.