Revisiting Rural: Concordia Parish, Louisiana
This is the second story in Revisiting Rural, a series which explores success stories from the Housing Assistance Council’s 50 years of helping build rural communities.
Since 1995, Macon Ridge Community Development Corporation (CDC) has helped low-income residents of Concordia Parish, Louisiana, access affordable, quality homes. Located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, the rural parish is home to more than 2,000 households who live in inadequate housing. About a third of Concordia Parish residents live below the poverty line, including 43% of children.
Like many housing nonprofits, Macon Ridge was founded on a passion for service and a vision for the community’s future. To Eddie Ray Jackson, Macon Ridge’s Executive Director, the mission is straightforward: “I want to see people do better, to live in a good home where they can still pay the bills.” But Macon Ridge needed help to make their vision a reality.
I want to see people do better, to live in a good home where they can still pay the bills.
In 2001, the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) awarded Macon Ridge a $22,400 technical assistance grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI), paired with one-on-one technical assistance to grow Macon Ridge’s capacity. Over the next three years, HAC assisted Macon Ridge with preparing draft budgets, helped strengthen organizational practices, and provided expert guidance on the programs with which Macon Ridge was working. As Jackson remembers, the skills they learned from HAC’s technical assistance “kept us afloat.”
One major area of focus for HAC’s technical assistance was on Macon Ridge’s single-family homeownership program. In addition to the financial and physical security a home provides, homeownership can be a powerful tool helping families build wealth. As well as sharing our own expertise, we invited Macon Ridge to a peer exchange hosted by Self-Help Enterprises (SHE), a housing organization in Visalia, California, that has built more than 6,000 single-family self-help homes. The exchange allowed Macon Ridge’s team to learn skills from expert peers.
HAC also encouraged Macon Ridge’s leadership and staff to connect with other rural housing practitioners from across the country by attending HAC’s biennial National Rural Housing Conference. Jackson credits the network Macon Ridge developed at this conference with making it possible for them to receive a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rural Innovation Fund. The award financed the construction of 10 new single-family homes, along with homebuyer education for 150 people. As these affordable homes were completed, Macon Ridge sold them at-cost to low-income families and recycled the funds into the construction of additional units. This system allowed Macon Ridge to multiply its impact.
Concordia Parish sits on the west bank of the Mississippi River.
By 2003, Macon Ridge was building or rehabbing an average of 35 quality, affordable homes per year. “Macon Ridge brought new single-family homes to towns that hadn’t seen new construction in 20 years,” remembers Andres Saavedra, a former HAC board member who worked with Macon Ridge through the Local Initiatives Support Corporation. But they didn’t rest on their laurels.
As the housing needs of the area evolved, so did Macon Ridge. By 2015, Macon Ridge realized that most of its potential clients needed better credit scores before homeownership was the right choice. As Jackson explains, there are “only so many homes you can sell.” So, Macon Ridge pivoted from homebuyer units to rental.
Over a third of Concordia Parish’s residents rely on Social Security benefits or other public assistance. As Eddie Ray Jackson notes, for many of these fixed-income residents, renting makes more sense than buying. Since Macon Ridge had less experience managing rental properties, they partnered with HAC again for our 2015 round of USDA-RD, RCDI technical assistance. Over the next three years, HAC worked with Macon Ridge, providing technical assistance and training on scattered site development for rental and assistance with applications for grants from the Louisiana Housing Corporation.
Jackson credits Macon Ridge’s long-lasting relationship with HAC for the organization’s longevity: “HAC has been there since day one.” In over 20 years in affordable housing, Eddie Ray Jackson has seen housing organizations come and go. But thanks in part to technical assistance and training from HAC, he proudly proclaims, “we’re still here.”
When we invest in and build the capacity of nonprofit organizations like Macon Ridge, entire communities are strengthened.
Of the roughly 9,400 homes in Concordia Parish, Macon Ridge CDC built or rehabbed over 300. This accomplishment is made even more impressive by the over 200 additional homes they developed in neighboring parishes. As HAC’s director of Training & Technical Assistance, Shonterria Charleston notes, “When we invest in and build the capacity of nonprofit organizations like Macon Ridge, entire communities are strengthened. A single high-capacity organization has the ability to positively impact communities and change hundreds of lives for the better.” HAC’s goal is to empower rural communities with the knowledge, skills, capital, and information they need to ensure everyone has an affordable home. Macon Ridge CDC has used those tools to make the entire parish a better place to call home.