• Ben Shenk

Taking Back The Yard: How One Central City Homeowner is Combating Regular Flooding on His Property


Walk down the 2800 block of S. Johnson Street, and you’re bound to meet Leo, or as he’s known throughout the neighborhood “Coach”.


Coach has been an anchoring presence in the neighborhood since the 1980s. Over time, he’s become a patriarch of sorts amongst the neighbors, known and respected up and down the neighborhood.


Over the decades he’s spent as a homeowner on S Johnson St., he’s seen the neighborhood change dramatically, and in recent years has watched regular flooding and puddling take a toll on the houses, homeowners, and block as a whole.


"If you're living in New Orleans, if you stayed here as long as I have...there's going to be water."


The Challenge

Specifically, flood water has been affecting Coach’s home and block in three major ways:

Over time, regular flooding and ineffective grey-infrastructure water management practices, relying largely on catch basins at the far end of the street, have led to subsidence that threatened the foundation of Coach’s home. Rusted gutters have exacerbated the problem, leaving rooftop runoff to puddle around the home.


In addition, street grading and regular puddling has left the front of Coach’s home, along with the rest of the block, riddled with potholes and muddy rights of way.


The use of heavy construction equipment to clear the lot adjacent to Coach’s house after Katrina created a low spot on Coach’s side of the street, leading to a pool of standing water that takes away parking and makes the sidewalk inaccessible after rains.


Coach's home and adjacent lot. Runoff often pooled in front of the gate, making the sidewalk inaccessible.

The challenges facing Coach’s home is not isolated incidents. Most of the houses and buildings on the block are suffering from the same issues: subsidence, potholes and mud, and inaccessible sidewalks and streets.


These kinds of obstacles leave homeowners like Coach feeling stuck, frustrated, and at times hopeless; unsure of where to turn to address issues that have become almost normalized in a city that receives over 60” of rain annually, and unable to pay for major interventions and foundation repair to offset the impact of the rainwater.


The Process

The Umbrella Partners had the opportunity to meet and get to know Coach through our community outreach and engagement efforts in early 2019. After sharing what Umbrella’s partners do for homeowners (providing trees, rain barrels, and stormwater interventions), Coach initially expressed a desire to be a pilot to receive rain barrels.


After a site analysis, it was clear that Coach’s property had more compounding issues, with a puddling and muddy ROW immediately in front of his home, and rusted out gutters which made rain barrels ineffective.


Through several conversations, together with Coach, the partners decided to pursue piloting a permeable pavement installation in the ROW to help improve the accessibility and aesthetics of Coach’s home, while developing a relationship with a local gutter company to subsidize new gutter installation to allow for rain barrels.

Coach had laid turf mats down to help mitigate the mud when the ROW and sidewalk flood.

Plans changed once more when city ROW protocol determined that the permeable pavement was not to be installed ahead of planned roadwork on the 2800 block of S. Johnson in the near future.


Luckily, thanks to Coach’s flexibility and the cooperation of the Neighborhood Development Foundation which owns the empty lot adjacent to his property, Coach was able to move forward with alternate plans.


The final plans included removing an uneven paved and brick walkways along both sides of his home, and replacing them with gravel trenches topped with pavers to retain water while maintaining accessibility. Through the process, local stormwater management landscaping firm and Launch NOLA Green Alumni, Mastodonte, was able to replace rotting wooden steps as well, with new gutters and a rain barrel on its way in November 2019.


Throughout the process, Coach was constantly involved and asking questions about the work that Mastodonte was doing. Luisa and Arien, the owners of Mastodonte, were eager to share, to the extent that by the end, Coach himself was a sort of "Stormwater Management Ambassador" to the neighborhood, even being featured on the evening news discussing his home.


Results

Coach’s property is now able to hold over 1000 gallons of runoff, enough to hold more runoff than his house sheds in a 1” rain event.


He no longer has to navigate mud and puddling along his house, nor the mosquitoes that breed in the constant pools where window AC units drip. This retention also helps mitigate the subsidence that has threatened the foundation of Coach’s home, and plays a role reducing the overall burden of runoff on the block.

A gravel trench walkway on both sides of Coach's house provides water retention, accessibility, and adds a level of pride to his outdoor spaces.

More importantly, Coach was able to protect his home and actively create a positive impact for his neighborhood, and in doing so has already begun encouraging others to play their part to make their homes and communities better through stormwater management.


Insights

Through our relationship with Coach, and the experience of working alongside him to mitigate the effects of runoff on his property, Umbrella partners walked away with several key insights for furthering the success of future projects:


Homeowner Buy-in

Coach showed us what a successful homeowner relationship can look like. Throughout the process, Coach contributed to the plans, asked eager questions about the designs and installation, and owned the process for himself. This sort of buy-in and ownership has been transformational in making the process smooth, ensuring ongoing maintenance of the installation, and furthering the impact by sharing the work with neighbors.


Check out the gallery below, following Mastodonte's progress at Coach's home.


Nonprofit and Community Collaboration

Partnership with the Neighborhood Development Foundation played a pivotal role in allowing work to take place at Coach’s home after initial designs for ROW work were rejected.


Building Public-Private Partnership

In order to create sustainable, impactful, and visible change that neighbors can see and adopt, it is critical to develop close partnerships with the city. By building intentional partnerships with city agencies, nonprofits, businesses, and residents would be empowered to install ROW interventions that would serve both residents and improve city infrastructure by retaining runoff, reducing subsidence, and improving sidewalk and street accessibility.


Addressing Root Causes

Rusted gutters compounded runoff issues, leading to pudding and erosion.

Coach’s property made clear the importance for Umbrella’s partners to earnestly evaluate the root causes that hinder homeowners from better managing their runoff, and in doing so, plan to go the extra mile. In Coach’s case, he understood the importance of stormwater management, and pursued the installation of rain barrels - but was barred from making a change due to rusted gutters. By taking a step back and addressing the underlying gutter issue, Coach was empowered to create change, rather than prohibited by rigid processes or economic barriers.



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