INSANE: State Bond Commission OK’s Subsidies For Low-Income Housing In New Orleans CBD

Just when they were FINALLY getting rid of the Iberville Housing Projects, which constitute the worst utilization of prime real estate in North America and represented perhaps the worst of FDR’s New Deal federal abuses (to think that Storyville, which by now would likely be considered one of the coolest historical districts had it survived the wrath of the feds, was razed for a housing project ought to make for a retrospective blood-boiling), we once again have stupid government policy effectively depressing the economic development of downtown New Orleans.

WWL had the story on its six o’clock broadcast tonight…

Kabacoff might well be right that 120 apartments for broke old people might not ruin the neighborhood around the old Texaco building.

But Upper Canal Street is supposed to become something of a theater district. And having the place be overrun with bag ladies and paupers doesn’t exactly scream glitz and glamour to attract the swells to the theater.

Just on the other side of the Claiborne overpass from these two state-funded slum generators there’s a perfectly good bombed-out neighborhood which has streetcar access to downtown and isn’t going to be completely gentrified by the new hospital construction there. Heck, just on the other side of the approach to the Crescent City Connection and just to the lake side of St. Charles Avenue is an ideal bombed-out neighborhood which also has streetcar access to downtown.

Why is it necessary to put poor people on Canal Street? Isn’t Canal Street supposed to be the heart of New Orleans’ Central Business District? Don’t we want Canal Street to show off the best our state’s largest city has to offer?

Instead we’re going to put broke people into government-sponsored living – not just nearby, like in the case of the Iberville projects, but directly on the street.

Kabacoff is just looking at a good turnaround deal, and you can’t really blame him. He can get that old Texaco building dirt-cheap, then he gets the state to float a bond for him to finance the renovation of the building. Then he can get government-subsidized rent from his tenants, most of whom he figures will be too old to really break the place up too badly (particularly if he can find a way to limit the number of cats they take in). So sure, he’s going to tout the Texaco Building project as a win-win; a sizable property is returning to commerce, it’ll look a lot better once it’s done over than it does now and it won’t hurt the neighborhood too badly.

As for the Hotel LaSalle, it was renovated as late as 2004 as a Southern Decadence Festival hotspot and a venue for God-knows-what. A dead owner later, the place was taken over by squatters who offered it as low-cost housing for mimes before the NOPD shuttered the place in 2009. On the surface, the idea for the latest renovation might make some sense. But neither Landrieu nor the City Council think this is going to work

The $11.6 million planned renovation of the former Hotel LaSalle, which is connected to the Saenger Theater, will include 33 affordable rental units and street-level retail space. Leasing priority will go to artists, musicians and employees of performing-arts venues, according to statement released by Reliance.

Reliance CEO Robert Jackson declined to provide further comment.

Opponents of the redevelopment argue that housing at that location does not conform with the city’s plans to create a thriving performing arts district in that area. The Saenger, scheduled to reopen next year, is seen as one of the anchor venues of the district.

Downtown Development District CEO Kurt Weigle noted that planners have been talking about rezoning the area to allow for high-intensity, bright signage that residents might find irritating. Weigle echoed other detractors in stressing that the objections center around any residential use at that specific location, as opposed to low and mixed-income housing downtown.

Weigle, along with City Council members Kristin Palmer, Stacy Head and Jackie Clarkson and the Canal Street Development Corp. submitted letters of opposition in an attempt to halt the project from moving forward. But their concerns were at odds with at least one LHFA board member, vice chairman Guy Williams, who said the new complex could be vital for people who will work in the district.

Meanwhile, the Revive NOLA people the WWL piece references have a different argument, and it’s a pretty good one…

The 20th century was one long disastrous experiment in bad public housing, like the infamous Cabrini Green. And now they want to make the Texaco Building and the LaSalle Hotel into the new Cabrini Green. New Orleans has tried these high rises, too – we all know the results. Working people in our city deserve better than crime-infested high rises, and the taxpayers deserve better management of our money.

The LaSalle Hotel developer wants to force people to be renters when they could be homeowners. For 1/3 the cost of the high-density debacle, we could help people become homeowners while building up neighborhoods that need housing construction and more people. That helps everyone – it’s common sense.

There’s also a major question to be asked here, which is this – if Mitch Landrieu, who is the mayor of New Orleans, has a plan for that area which he openly says these two warehouses for brokedicks do not comport with, why on earth is the state of Louisiana forcing them down his throat? Who’s in charge of this Charlie Foxtrot?

Consider this from a month ago. It’s the Times-Picayune’s write-up of the Texaco Building project getting some $22 million in Bond Commission funding (the Hotl LaSalle project is only getting about $900,000 in tax credits)…

The project caught some flak from commission members who complained that the cost to renovate and build out the 112 units averaged about $297,000 each.

Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, said for that price, the bonds could be used to build individual homes in New Orleans for the tenants. He said another housing proposal before the commission would cost about $92,000 per unit.

“That seems to be a significant increase” for the Texaco units, Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Jefferson, said.

Collen said more work has to be done to improve the structure than some other properties seeking bond commission authorization.

The Texaco building project was approved even though the commission passed a resolution several months ago placing a moratorium on bond issues involving construction of new housing in New Orleans that is financed with federal block grant money or recovery dollars.

Commission Director Whit Kling said the panel has heard — and approved — two other housing requests at the behest of New Orleans officials, like the mayor.

Kling said the rule remains in place pending hearing from officials of the newly created Louisiana Housing Corp., which is expected to verify the need of additional residential and rental units in Orleans Parish and other areas.

“There were some questions raised about New Orleans becoming overbuilt” with housing, state Treasurer John Kennedy told new panel members. Kennedy is chairman of the commission.

Kling said the approval of the Canal Street project was only the third exception made to the general moratorium.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief fiscal adviser, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, urged the panel to approve the Canal Street project..

“We have always supported this as seniors housing,” Rainwater said. “This particular project will not have an impact on the overall (housing) marketplace.”

Rainwater said Mayor Mitch Landrieu supports that project and that the development needs to be done. “This project has been delayed quite some time,” he said.

Did it sound like Mitch was all that fired up about the Texaco Building project on today’s WWL piece to you? Me neither.

By the way, here’s the entry on the project from the minutes of the Bond Commission’s Jan. 19 meeting; for all the grousing the Picayune recorded about the Texaco Building project, you’ll notice how contentious the vote actually was.

Mr. Kling provided a synopsis on Item 22, Louisiana Housing Finance Agency (1501 Canal Senior Housing Project), and the Commission’s existing policy regarding housing in Orleans Parish. After some discussion Senator Murray moved to rescind the policy regarding housing in Orleans Parish and approve Item 22. The motion was seconded by President Alario. After some discussion, additional information was provided by Josh Collen, VP Development, HRI Properties. After further discussion, Representative Fannin offered a substitute motion to approve Item 22 as an exception to the existing policy and invite the new Louisiana Housing Corporation to discuss housing in Orleans Parish. Senator Murray withdrew his previous motion.

Really responsive to the local outrage in New Orleans, no?

This looks an awful lot like $23 million in state dollars amid a bad budget situation which will be spent on screwing up New Orleans’ plans for economic development within the CBD. And yet nobody from the Bond Commission seems to give a rat’s rear end about it.

Maybe this is much ado about nothing. But it sure seems like our tax dollars are going up in smoke on real estate developments which don’t really make sense, and our politicians are largely oblivious to that fact.

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