N.O. Council OKs demolition at Iberville housing project

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Mi-Angel Thomas, 6, rides her bike in the Ibervillie Housing Complex in New Orleans on Friday. The New Orleans City Council voted unanimously Thursday to demolish the complex.
Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Mi-Angel Thomas, 6, rides her bike in the Ibervillie Housing Complex in New Orleans on Friday. The New Orleans City Council voted unanimously Thursday to demolish the complex.

The City Council on Thursday approved the demolition of most of the buildings at the Iberville public-housing complex as the Housing Authority of New Orleans and the city begin a redevelopment plan they say is necessary to revitalize Canal Street and the Central Business District.

The decision to allow the demolitions came despite some residents’ pleas to delay it pending the creation of a plan to ensure they could get work not only on the demolition but in the rebuilding.

But Josh Collen, vice president of development for HRI, which is overseeing the redevelopment, told the council work cannot be delayed since $15 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits from the Louisiana Housing Corp. are riding on this phase of the demolition work being completed by Dec. 14.

The motion allows for demolition of 60 of Iberville’s 74 brick buildings. Other buildings will be renovated.

The buildings will come down as part of a multiphase demolition that will begin in July. The motion stipulates that every one of Iberville’s 821 apartments will be replaced. About 440 of those units are occupied now, and those residents will be guaranteed housing in the new Iberville, Collen said.

HANO will relocate about 350 families, said Lesley Thomas, an agency spokeswoman. Relocation of residents began in January and will be completed by October, Thomas said. Residents have been assigned a counselor to help them find temporary housing.

During Thursday’s council meeting, members of Stand with Dignity, a group of public-housing advocates, asked the council to enforce a HANO policy that would require contractors working on projects costing more than $25 million to sign agreements promising to hire members of the community.

HANO representatives, however, told the council that state law does not allow public agencies to make contractors follow that policy.

They also pointed out that public-housing residents already must comprise at least 30 percent of hires made to work projects that cost more than $100,000.

Many of the Stand with Dignity members said they want to work, and they see those opportunities as a way to reduce crime.

“We as a city cannot succeed unless each of our people believes they have a fair chance,” District E Councilman James Gray said.

Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer said that while it was too late this time to make sure a community workforce agreement was put in place, future demolition permits would hinge upon HANO hiring more public-housing residents.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded HANO a $30.5 million grant to begin the work on the Iberville, the last of the large traditional public-housing complexes in the city.

Plans call for 261 units of workforce housing and 315 units of market-rate housing to go with the 304 on-site public-housing units.

The redevelopment will go beyond the boundaries of the 23-acre housing development. About 2,400 new apartments, some above stores and cafes, are envisioned for an area bordered by Broad and Rampart streets and St. Bernard and Tulane avenues. That work is expected to cost about $600 million, with the cash coming from a variety of sources, including federal tax credits, bond sales and FEMA.

Nolan Marshall III, director of policy for the Downtown Development District, asked the council to approve the demolitions so plans for the redevelopment of Canal Street and the CBD can continue.

“It’s important this proceeds as expeditiously as possible,” he said.

Unlike the council meeting in December 2007, when police used stun guns and handcuffs to gain control of an irritated, standing-room-only crowd protesting the demolition of the so-called Big Four complexes, Thursday’s meeting saw no fireworks.

Only one woman chided the council after it voted to approve the demolitions. She continued to excoriate the council as a police officer shooed her into the hallway.