In a few months, Tririce Collins will get a whole new sense of peace, as she and her 10-year-old twin boys move to the Lower 9th Ward, into a new home built through New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity.
The three-bedroom, two-bathroom house will have vaulted ceilings and larger outdoor front and back porches, giving each of the twins, Tyrin and Tyrel, their own room with a shared bathroom, while Collins, 38, gets her own bedroom and bath at the back of the house.
It will be a far cry from the apartment they live in now, where the boys and their mother sleep in beds shoved up against opposite walls of the same bedroom.
“I’m so thankful to have my home,” she said. “I am so thankful and so happy that my sons will have space of their own in the house and a yard to play in.”
On Saturday, Habitat’s hammers and saws worked with even more purpose than usual, with the local chapter hosting its first-ever Pride Build, which bringing together local members of the LGBTQ community and allies to help build the Collins’ family’s home.
“Decades of systemic discrimination have barred LGBTQ families and individuals from homeownership,” the organization said. “Through Pride Build, we hope to raise awareness of the need for affordable housing for all and its power to transform lives for the better.”
Collins said she is thrilled with the location of her new home. Tennessee Street is quiet enough that the boys can ride their bikes without worry, she said. And the yard is just big enough for her to host the entire family, like her great-grandmother Katie Harris used to do when Collins was growing up, with meals that were famous for their stuffed bell peppers and sweet-potato pies.
The new Habitat designs implemented on Tennessee — created by local architects Michael Bell and J.C. Carroll — are different than they would have been only a few years ago.
The more open indoor spaces are a pandemic-era necessity that the local Habitat chapter recently adopted into its home-construction designs. But there has also been a change in philosophy that workforce housing can look different, shedding outdated designs such as clunky outdoor window and door frames and a reliance on overly basic floorplans. Marguerite Oestreicher, the local Habitat chapter’s executive director, noted that the home’s porches also have lighting and ceiling fans.
Indoors, the vaulted ceilings alone make the space much more attractive, plus the bedrooms are built with accessible attic storage space overhead, so that families can store children’s toys or clothes or Christmas and Mardi Gras decorations.
Exterior upgrades could also improve streetscapes across the area, since this Habitat chapter is a busy one: it has built 657 affordable homes in the area since 1983.
The notion that low-income housing should look different dates back nearly a century, to the earliest days of this country’s plans for affordable housing. Planners, worried that low-income housing might compete with market-rate housing, created bare-bones interiors. Some apartments were furnished with curtains instead of closet doors or bathrooms where water couldn’t flow to the sink and the tub at the same time: tenants had to flip a lever on the wall to direct the water to the correct faucet.
In the Collins household, the extra privacy within the newly designed home is especially necessary, since both boys have been diagnosed as autistic and, so, too much stimulation can cause sensory overload for them.
Collins realized that her boys might be autistic while they were still in pre-school because they were barely speaking. At the time, the boys were so identical that she would send them to school in different-colored shoes so that teachers could tell them apart. Though they remain behind their age group academically at ReNEW Dolores T. Aaron Academy, she said, they both regularly make the honor roll for making progress toward their individualized goals.
Right now, the boys are trying to figure out how to decorate their own rooms. While they both love to watch football and basketball games, Tyrel will likely have a prominent poster of Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James in his room, while Tyrin will choose one of Golden State Warriors standout Steph Curry.
Habitat homeowners qualify if they earn between 30% and 80%of the average local income and agree to partner with the organization, by taking classes in financial literacy and basic home repair and by either helping to build their home or volunteering at the Habitat’s ReStore retail store.
If the Collins family moves into the house on Tennessee Street in time for Labor Day, Collins plans to host a family gathering there. She’ll follow the Grandma Katie model, inviting family, friends and neighbors and cooking to excess.
“I’ll cook enough so that everyone has something to eat and so they can all leave carrying plates of food,” she said.