Low-income lofts almost done

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Construction continues on the Uptown Lofts in downtown Lafayette Wednesday, which should be move-in ready for residents by January.
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Construction continues on the Uptown Lofts in downtown Lafayette Wednesday, which should be move-in ready for residents by January.

Concerns over project raised at meeting

So far, more than 300 people have applied and more than 20 have signed leases to live in Uptown Lofts, a federal housing development for low-income residents near downtown, an official with the development’s owner said.

The more than 70-unit apartment project is expected to be complete by Dec. 31, and tenants will likely move in sometime in January, said John Arceneaux, chairman of the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority.

The project, formerly called Joie de Vivre, was one of the assets purchased in January by the Financing Authority from the nonprofit group Acadiana Outreach Center. The Financing Authority purchased the project before construction began.

The Financing Authority met Wednesday and discussed the project at the request of Tim Supple, who questioned why a public bid was not held for the development’s construction. His concerns were echoed by two others in attendance at the meeting.

Supple also questioned the cost of the project — nearly $18 million — and claimed the same project could have been built in a more expensive market like River Ranch for the same amount. He requested that the Financing Authority conduct an independent audit of the project and the agency should seek public bids for future projects.

“Be transparent. That’s not too much to ask,” Supple said.

Arceneaux said Acadiana Outreach Center gave five contractors the opportunity to submit bids, but only three did and the low bidder was selected.

In response to Supple’s claims about the expense of Uptown Lofts, Arceneaux said the project’s scope and cost were approved by the Louisiana Housing Corp., which administers the tax credit program. The Financing Authority made the purchase under the federal tax credit program. Other projects of similar scope and cost are also under way across the state, he added.

After the meeting, Arceneaux said costs were higher for the project because it also involved retail space and other miscellaneous work such as elevators.

“It’s a superior product,” he said.

Financing Authority projects will be advertised for public bid, a decision the agency publicized earlier this year, Financing Authority trustee Celeste White told Supple.

The Financing Authority’s project, called Studio 114 and is designated for artists near downtown, was advertised for bids, Arceneaux said.

Also, on Wednesday, the Financing Authority approved the sale of 113 loans from its first-time home buyers program to Iberia Bank for $400,000.

The Financing Authority recently took over the administration of the program from the Lafayette Consolidated Government Community Development Office. Arceneaux said the program is managing 740 loans. The money from the loan sale will go back into the home buyers program, Arceneaux said.

Supple also questioned why the loan sale wasn’t advertised for bid.

Arceneaux explained that because the loans are an asset in the agency’s portfolio, the Financing Authority was not required to seek bids.