Nonprofit breaks ground on development in Iberia Parish

A nonprofit group known for its work in rural community development is stepping into the private housing market in a big way.

The Southern Mutual Help Association, of New Iberia, broke ground Monday on a 600-home River Ranch-style development planned for nearly 100 acres on the edge of New Iberia.

Teche Ridge will be the first so-called traditional neighborhood development in Iberia Parish, a concept that mixes restaurants, shops, office space, parks and a wide range of housing options in a walkable and largely self-contained community.

The concept has proven popular in Lafayette Parish, which is home to two large Traditional Neighborhood Developments — River Ranch in Lafayette and Sugar Mill Pond in Youngsville.

What distinguishes Teche Ridge is that Southern Mutual Help Association wants to ensure that working-class families and young people just getting started in a career are not priced out of the upscale development.

“Not only the bank president, but the teller,” said SMHA Chief Executive Officer Lorna Bourg.

Teche Ridge was designed by architect and community planner Steve Oubre, who also designed River Ranch and Sugar Mill Pond.

“I never really intended to build things for wealthy people,” Oubre told a crowd that gathered for the Teche Ridge ground-breaking on Monday. “The problem is that when you create great places, they become gentrified very quickly.”

Oubre said that with Teche Ridge, “We have an owner who is not going to let gentrification control who lives in this community.”

Teche Ridge development is a outgrowth of SMHA’s work in rural development and community building, Bourg said, and the hope is to create a complete community that will serve as home to a diverse mix of economic groups and occupations.

Homes being marketed for pre-sale in Teche Ridge range from $200,000 to more than $300,000.

That price range could cut many families out of the market, but Bourg said her group will keep portions of the development affordable by offering an unusual system of financing known as shared equity.

Under a shared equity arrangement, SMHA would keep a certain percentage of ownership in the home, allowing a family to buy it at below market cost.

SMHA’s ownership interest is considered an investment, Bourg said, and if the home is ever sold, SMHA would then get a return based on its original ownership stake plus any proportional gain in value.

Bourg envisions some residents starting out with a shared equity home and then moving into a larger home as their incomes rise.

“You can live here and grow old in the same community,” Bourg said.

She said about 20 percent of the development is expected to be sold under shared equity agreements.

The shared equity agreement allows Teche Ridge to offer homes that are affordable without compromising the quality of the homes, Bourg said.

The development is scheduled to be built out over the next 10 to 15 years on a now-vacant tract near the intersection of Old Jeanerette and Emile Verret roads.

The plan calls for 600 homes and 200,000 square feet of commercial space, Bours said, and construction of the first homes is expected to begin next year.

The development has been in the works about six years and had been slowed in part by difficulty securing financing during the recent housing downturn.

SMHA has been involved in rural redevelopment initiatives for more than four decades, including work in health care, education, farm workers rights, housing and hurricane recovery.