Residents of the West End of New Iberia are “bringing back” their community. SMHA has supported the community to articulate its vision for the future, by providing technical assistance, leadership development opportunities, and investments in improving the built environment. This has catalyzed a successful resident-led, resident-driven community redevelopment initiative that is making positive change in this historically significant neighborhood in New Iberia.
SMHA’s West End Redevelopment Initiative was launched in the Fall of 2008 in partnership with the City of New Iberia and a private donor who was born and raised in the district. The “West End” of New Iberia is a historically African-American area of the city that has great importance in New Iberia’s history. Included in the area are a music hall that once attracted artists including Ike and Tina Turner; Mrs. Bobb’s boarding house, which was the only place that African-American travelers to New Iberia could find overnight accommodations; and the birthplace and childhood homes of many of the most prominent Iberia Parish families of many different races and ethnicities – African-American, Cajun, Creole and Lebanese immigrants.
SMHA engaged an urban planning firm to work with community residents and other stakeholders to create the West End’s Master Plan that defines what residents want their community to be. The Master Plan was created through over 100 hours of community charrettes with current and former area residents, private sector actors, government representatives, law enforcement, health care providers, the school district, homeowners, and renters. Included in the 600-acre Master Plan for the four distinct neighborhoods that make up the West End are a magnet school, a health clinic, community gardens, a Farmers Market and a cultural arts center.
SMHA’s work improving the physical environment (improving the curb appeal of homes and businesses, rehabilitating nearly 30 owner-occupied homes and constructing five brand new homes – the first homes developed for homeownership in the West End in several decades) and building community leadership and capacity to “make change” has resulted in numerous community-led improvement efforts.
The Neighborhood Associations established through the charrettes in 2008 are now operating independently from SMHA and recently joined together to create the West End Council of Neighborhood Associations (WECNA), a 501(c)3 not-for-profit. SMHA supports WECNA directly with grants, technical assistance, and mentoring from SMHA CEO Lorna Bourg. SMHA has sponsored WECNA leaders with community leadership training opportunities, contributing to WECNA Board members now serving on the City Council, the Parks and Recreation Board, and other opportunities to shape the policies that impact their community.
Other small not-for-profit partners emerged because of the positive activity in the West End, and WECNA and other community-led partners are hard at work to improve their West End community by advancing the arts and African-American history, improving resident health, running a hydroponic community garden cooperative and neighborhood produce market, facilitating education improvements and establishing after-school and summer programs.