Do you live in a home or apartment that costs $329 per square foot? Me neither.
Thanks to your tax dollars, however, 112 New Orleanians will have the opportunity, with subsidized rent, to boot.
At its last meeting, while the legislature was busy across town trying to balance the budget, the newly formed Louisiana Housing Corporation (“LHC”) voted to spend $33,252,033 in taxpayer money to redevelop the 17 story New Orleans Texaco building at 1501 Canal Street, which has been vacant for 15 years. The project will create 112 900 square foot apartments for low-income seniors at a cost of roughly $300,000 per apartment, or $329 per square foot. The current average Louisiana home price is $109 per square foot.
According to the LHC board booklet, the project will include “energy-efficient appliances (including a range/oven, refrigerator, dishwasher, and microwave oven), modern window coverings, … a professionally-designed fitness center, … common rooftop patio with breathtaking views, spacious lobby with contemporary furniture, original art, music, wireless internet, lounge/community room with large flat-screen TVs and seating, business center with computers and printers, … and gated service parking lot with direct access to building for an additional fee.”
It would have been cheaper for taxpayers to buy each of these seniors a home in the expensive Country Club of Louisiana or English Turn subdivisions.
What’s the LHC? It’s the state’s “streamlined housing agency” created last spring by Governor Jindal “to unite dozens of housing programs previously spread across five state agencies.” (Governor’s website). Its mission is to create “affordable housing” for low-income Louisiana citizens. The governor appoints most of its board members.
I sit on the LHC board as State Treasurer. Mine was the only vote against this wasteful project. In hopes of at least slowing down this runaway train, I asked the LHC board at least to reduce its cost by 20%. The board refused.
Louisianians are compassionate, generous people. We will gladly give a hand up to our less fortunate neighbors. But building a small number of expensive units is unfair to the hundreds of other low-income seniors in New Orleans who could also have been provided safe housing with the same amount of money if the LHC had chosen to rehab some of the 47,000 blighted properties in the city, which would not have cost $329 per square foot and would not have concentrated poverty in a new housing project. It’s also unfair to taxpayers who foot the bill.
My critics will argue that some of the $33 million is just “federal money.” “Federal money” is still taxpayer money, including Louisiana taxpayers. It should be treated with the same care and diligence as state tax dollars, especially when our federal government has run up a $15 trillion sovereign debt that our children and grandchildren will have to pay back, probably through higher taxes.
The LHC’s mission is admirable. It should be fulfilled by using common sense to weigh costs and benefits. $329 per square foot flunks that test. As a smart person once said, doing good does not mean doing it at any cost.