Young Developer Pursues Dream of Building Affordable Homes
LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — So what do you when you have a dream project that you’re convinced can change your neighborhood but more than 100 people say no to helping you finance it?
Terrica Smith just kept moving forward.
As owner of Cachet Real Estate, agent with Real Broker LLC and managing partner for Salt Capital Equity Group, she had an idea of bringing to life the Madeline Cove project, a housing development planned for Madeline Avenue on the city’s north side. Now that funding is in order, the plan is to break ground in six months on the $14 million development that will feature 30 affordable homes, 60 townhomes, a 50-unit senior complex and a retail building.
But you should also know a little more about Smith. She’s a black woman in her mid-30s when most developers for projects like these are middle-aged white men. She’s also a former foster child who aged out of the system at age 16 and later spent time living on the streets of New Orleans.
So handling dozens of naysayers to her idea — new construction on the Lafayette’s north side — was not that much of an obstacle.
“You have to hold on to that dream,” said Smith, who landed in Lafayette after Hurricane Katrina and then enrolled in real estate school. “This was an extremely hard task for us, and together we pulled through. The reason this development is near and dear to my heart is because growing up in area like this, it’s extremely hard to dream when you don’t see anything around you worth dreaming about.”
The project, which still has to go through the municipal permitting process before breaking ground, aims to address housing needs of the city’s north side. While the Brook Pointe apartments now under construction and other projects will help, Madeline Cove will offer homes for sale that will be priced at $150,000 and below, Smith said.
The need is so great that one large local bank has a waiting list of more than 300 people for affordable housing, she noted.
“There’s a whole community that is wanting for something like this on this side of Lafayette that want to be on this side of I-10 and want to be in the corridors where it’s easy to get in and out of,” said Chris Dupuis, an engineer and partner with Salt Equity Group. “There’s not affordable new construction homes in the city of Lafayette — and I don’t mean this in a disparaging way — that are not in a flood zone. It’s taken a little bit of an effort from our standpoint to create a mechanism to get to that point.”
The development will also resurrect the Madeline Cove project, which went dormant after previous developers installed the streets, drainage and electric and even began building the first house before activity halted. Court records show Hammond-based Southeast Property Group bought the property in 2006, and the development and its 50 lots went into adjudication.
The property now resembles one that went through the eye of Hurricane Katrina. It’s overgrown with lots of trash, old furniture and broken glass. There’s a slab on the left just as you enter that’s from a house that was partially built under the previous developers but was later torn down before completion.
Once the developers get the development replatted, construction can begin. First will be the home sites, which will be 1,200-1,400 square feet, followed by the townhomes, which will be 1,000-1,100 square feet. The senior center , featuring 50 living units that will each be 500-600 square feet, will follow, and then construction will begin on the retail center, which will feature up to five spaces for light retail, a coffee shop or maybe a grocery store.
The team is utilizing the Opportunity Zone program for the project, Smith noted.
“A lot of things we’ve gone through in the last year is a hearts and minds change,” Dupuis said. “Most of the people see what they know. We made sure it was an Opportunity Zone. That way people can understand the benefits associated with it. We’re going to make sure our costs are acceptable. Most builders might say you can’t build that cheap. We say, OK, we’re just going to talk to someone else we can deal with.”
Yet at the heart of the project is Smith, who made a passionate statement on Facebook earlier this month as a victory lap of sorts. Earlier this month, she visited the White House along with other Acadiana leaders and business officials to speak about the area’s progress with the Opportunity Zone program.
That’s a significant jump from a time where she was living under an overpass on Claiborne Avenue as a teenager while caring for her son.
“My mentor was being homeless,” said Smith, who details her experiences in her book, “Frightened, Scared and Alone No More,” which published in 2018. “It was the scariest moment of my life because people are pulling on you, trying to attack you. It’s not safe. You can’t sleep. I made a promise to my son under that bridge. As long as I had air in my lungs, I would never be homeless again.”
By AP reporter Adam Daigle