Nonprofit converts empty, historic north LC house for new homeownership

Project Build-a-Future showed off the results of its latest endeavor Wednesday, a restored and energy efficient two-bedroom, two-bath two-story on Mill Street in Lake Charles. Built in the 1930s, it has plenty of character — and a history that makes it significant to the community.

The nonprofit has been revitalizing the community through quality, affordable home-ownership initiatives since 2001.

This house, however, is a little different. For starters, it’s a rehab.

“We tend to do new construction,” said Charla Blake, PBF executive director, “but part of our revitalization efforts include keeping the character of the neighborhood.”

Secondly, the Mill Street property didn’t follow the usual PBF timeline. Work was scheduled to begin the summer of 2020. Then came COVID, the hurricanes, the ice storm and flooding. Hurricane Laura caused some damage and invited the rains of Delta inside.

“We had to repair the roof,” said PBF executive director Charla Blake, “which we hadn’t planned on.”

COVID and weather events also made it harder to get quality contractors who would meet PBF’s standards and to get building materials.

As is often the case with older homes, taking care of one thing led to the discovery of another. The roof had asbestos shingles original to the house. Asbestos mitigation, coupled with the price of a new roof was around $40,000.

“We couldn’t have finished the project without FEMA and insurance money,” Blake said.

The original wood floors, trim and doors were refurbished. New, energy-efficient windows have been installed that retain the charm of the original windows and bring in the light, making every surface gleam. Water-resistant flooring was installed in the kitchen and baths. A turquoise vintage-style range and oven graced the kitchen, and the new owner asked contractors to leave at least one of the house’s original, horizontal, tongue and groove wood walls. The outside got a makeover with paint that helps accentuate some of the house’s architectural features.

An architect by training, Blake said a person interested in rehabbing an older home should have a 30 percent contingency plan, because such projects often come with surprises.

Historically significant 

One discovery about the old house with lovely bones was a welcomed one. It is historically significant to the community as the former home of Ralph Reynaud.

Claudia Williams, not originally from Lake Charles, drove by it a couple of times as she enjoyed seeing the progress. She is a member of the Lake Charles chapter of the Southern University Alumni Federation formed here 70 years ago., and she knew Reynaud was the first president of the Federation.

When she realized the Mill Street property was once his home, she began digging into the history of the African American educator and principal for whom the school and recreation center is named.

Hope and a plan

PBF has worked with low- to moderate-income clients to make home ownership a reality, and the work often starts with homebuyer counseling and education.

“We want people to be ready with their income to be able to financially purchase,” Blake said. The nonprofit also has a rental program and a post purchase program.

“Once you buy a house, we will work with you to make sure you are saving for retirement, planning for our children’s education and if you’ve been in your house for 10 years and you want to add a garage, for example, we can help navigate that process.”

PBF has programs to help its future homeowners and current homeowners understand the borrowing power of escrow, the importance of a will, a succession because once you have worked so hard to own a home, we don’t want to see you lose it, Blake said.

Funded by grants, donors and foundations, next up for PBF is three new build constructions that could start at the end of July.

The owner will move into this beauty on Monday.

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