New Orleans, Louisiana Project Home Again Land Swaps

Executive Summary

The New Orleans Project Home Again (PHA) in Louisiana involved a land swap and redevelopment program implemented post-Hurricane Katrina that can serve as an example for how public-private partnerships can help people retreat away from flood-prone coastal areas. Through this project, PHA aimed to concentrate redevelopment at higher elevations away from low-elevation floodplains and expand relocation options for impacted homeowners. The hurricane-damaged homes on participants’ original properties were demolished and converted to climate resilient open space for flood retention, environmental, and community benefits. Specifically, PHA used a land swap program that enabled low- and middle-income homeowners to relocate to less vulnerable areas with new affordable, clustered housing. The PHA program demonstrates how land swaps can offer a tool for planners and policymakers to effectively guide redevelopment in disaster recovery settings and expand affordable and resilient housing opportunities. A similar land swap model could also be considered in a pre-disaster context and phased over time, if community consensus, vacant or developable land, and funding for housing construction exists. 



Following Hurricane Katrina, disaster recovery plans in New Orleans, Louisiana focused on the need to build back “smarter” and more resilient to future hurricanes and potential flood risks. This included plans to cluster redevelopment at higher elevations away from low-elevation flood risks and build affordable hurricane-resistant housing. One legal tool used to achieve this goal was land swaps to “swap” or exchange title to two properties between two different owners. Project Home Again (PHA), a non-profit housing organization, developed a unique land swap program where low- and middle-income homeowners could relocate to less vulnerable areas with affordable, resilient cluster homes. The PHA program is one of the largest land swap programs implemented in an intensely developed urban area, and may provide a useful example to other land-use planners and policymakers regarding how land swaps can be used in both pre- and post-disaster recovery settings to enable managed retreat from coastal hazards and flooding. 


Managed Retreat Examples

Land Swap

PHA was established to build 101 homes in New Orleans for working-class families displaced by Hurricane Katrina. PHA implemented a combination rebuilding and land swap program to enhance resilient land-use patterns and redevelopment post-Hurricane Katrina. Instead of buying out individual homeowners or providing assistance for in-place rebuilding, PHA guided the relocation of communities and redevelopment of housing away from low-lying, hazardous areas. Through the PHA program, low- and moderate-income families were voluntarily given the option to relocate to one of three clustered residential developments that included storm-resistant houses within the city, elevated above the 100-year or one-percent chance flood levels. PHA focused on relocating entire neighborhoods rather than individual homeowners and clustered new development in order to maintain community connections, encourage residents to remain within the city, and increase density for environmental and city administration benefits. 

Public-Private Partnership

To implement the land swap, PHA utilized a public-private partnership to acquire sufficient land. PHA collaborated with the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA) - a local government agency that administered the land swaps on behalf of the city. PHA participants were required to swap title for their damaged properties with PHA in exchange for a new single-family home constructed on a property in one of the three clustered neighborhoods. The hurricane-damaged homes on participants’ original properties were demolished and converted to open space for flood retention, environmental, and community benefits. In need of more land to meet program interest, PHA also purchased approximately 75 lots from NORA that are located within the three designated neighborhoods in order to concentrate redevelopment and increase density in these targeted areas. PHA acquired properties from NORA to supplement the land it already had “banked” or allocated for the land swap. By the end of 2011, 101 new homes were built within New Orleans’s Gentilly planning district, mostly within the three neighborhoods. The homes were designed to be elevated, energy efficient, and cohesively blend into the neighborhood, and built to withstand future hurricanes and storms.

Relocation Assistance

PHA developed program eligibility requirements and benefits to help people most in need of relocation assistance. To be accepted into the PHA program, participants were required to earn less than 120% of area median income, be employed, complete homeownership training, and have no debts on their original, Katrina-damaged homes (which could make the transfer or properties more difficult). Participants accepted into the program then agreed to swap their original properties with PHA - with or without existing structures that may have been destroyed or damaged during Hurricane Katrina - in exchange for a newly built two- or three-bedroom home located in one of the three clustered developments. Each homeowner received a forgivable mortgage on his/her new home, with the amount determined by the difference between the appraised values of the original and new properties. Specifically, program participants received an annual mortgage forgiveness of 20% from PHA, which transferred ownership of the home to participants after five years of occupation. As part of this mortgage forgiveness plan, program participants were required to occupy the home as their primary residence for the full five-year period. Between December 2008 and March 2013, 93 low- and moderate-income families swapped land and moved to new neighborhoods through the PHA program.



PHA was funded by private sources through a $22-million philanthropic gift. 


Considerations and Lessons Learned

The PHA program demonstrates how land swaps can offer a tool for planners and policymakers to guide redevelopment in disaster recovery settings and expand affordable housing options to better enable displaced and vulnerable residents to relocate to safer areas. It is important to note, however, that other governments would have to identify comparable funding sources to be able to replicate the PHA program model. Land swaps may be increasingly used as a tool to facilitate retreat as sea-level rise and extreme weather events impact the livability of certain coastal areas for development. A similar land swap model might also be considered to increase resiliency and support managed retreat in a pre-disaster context, through phasing land swaps over time with community support if vacant or developable land and necessary funding to construct new, affordable housing are also available.


Publication Date: 2013

Related Organizations:

  • Project Home Again
  • New Orleans Redevelopment Authority

Related Toolkits:


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Resource Types:

  • Best practice
  • Case study
  • Funding program
  • Project

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