New Orleans public housing decentralized

This article, published in The Hullabaloo on October 22, 2010, spurred me to pursue further research in my graduate-level Economics of Regulation class.

David Gilmore, chief of the Housing Authority of New Orleans, gave final approval Tuesday for the city to apply for a $65-million federal grant that would fund the redevelopment of Iberville, the last major public housing complex left in New Orleans.

The highly competitive Choice Neighborhood grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, aims to transform areas of concentrated poverty into “viable and sustainable mixed-income neighborhoods by linking housing improvements with appropriate services, schools, public assets, transportation and access to jobs,” according to its website.

City officials say the Iberville housing development’s proximity to the French Quarter, St. Charles streetcar line, and planned LSUbiomedical campus and teaching hospitals make it ideal for redevelopment.

“You tie it all together and you will have one of the greatest neighborhoods in the city,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said at an affordable-housing conference Sept. 23, reported The Lens.

In 2008, then-Mayor Ray Nagin ordered the demolition of the“Big Four” public housing developments — St. Bernard, C.J. Peete, Lafitte and B.W. Cooper—and subsequently their rebuilding by private developers as mixed-income housing. As a result, many former residents could not return to their neighborhoods as originally promised, due to the decreased accommodations for low-income residents.

At Monday’s public meeting — the last before the Oct. 26 deadline for the federal HUD grant — HANO and its two selected private developers, HRI and McCormick Baron Salazar, presented their redevelopment plan to a room of approximately 200 Iberville residents, stakeholders and members of the public.

Joshua Collen, HRI vice president of development, laid out a plan that guaranteed “one-for-one replacement,” a term that theoretically means each of the 821 current public housing units at Iberville will be replaced upon rebuilding the site, so as to accommodate the families that live there.

The reality of “one for one,” however, has played out quite differently at C.J. Peete and St. Bernard, which have already been redeveloped by McCormick Baron Salazar and HRI, respectively. Both sites went from originally accommodating more than 1,000 public housing units to providing about 700 total units, split evenly between public housing, public-assisted housing and those rented at market rate.

“We’ve seen what you did, HRI,” said Carey Reynolds, a resident representative of the Iberville Redevelopment Working Team. “We need a contract with the residents and the developers so that anybody that wants to come back into their neighborhood is going to be able to come back. All this is going to be written in stone.”

Many audience members questioned the legitimacy of the Iberville Redevelopment Working Team, which consists of four elected and three appointed officers, saying that past appointed committees of public housing developments received advantages; such as nicer housing, in exchange for rapidly complying with the developers’ wishes.

“So don’t forget, when you’re sitting at the big table, being appointed — because a lot of you weren’t elected to where you are today — where you came from,” community activist Sharon Jasper said. “Mr. Gilmore, I want to say to you: You have to respect the people. Stop picking a chosen few. Let every resident have an equal voice, not just the chosen few who are working for HANO or getting some kind of kickback.”

Reynolds, one of the elected members of the Iberville team, acknowledged the inequality inherent in redeveloped mixed-income housing but said his team would be more accountable than those of the “Big Four.”

“Some are getting the hamburgers, some are getting the filet mignons,” Reynolds said. “You aren’t going to have any sellouts in this Iberville project. You are not going to buy off the whims and the wishes of the real estate sharks, the so-called landgrabbers. We got a history at Iberville. This is a brand new day.”

Cody Marshall, another member of the Iberville team, said he would fight for Iberville residents’ rights.

“The developers don’t care much about the people here anyway,” Marshall said.

One Response to New Orleans public housing decentralized

  1. Pingback: Good Policy, Bad Implementation: Evaluating HUD’s Shift Toward Voucherization in Low-Income Housing « Off The Broken Record

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