HUD secretary, Mayor Landrieu break ground on Iberville redevelopment
The biggest step yet in what is billed as a transformation of a huge swath of downtown New Orleans came Monday as local, state and federal officials gathered to break ground on the development that will replace the 72-year-old Iberville housing complex, the last of the city’s traditional public housing projects.
The multimillion-dollar Iberville redevelopment is necessary to revitalize Treme, Canal Street and the Central Business District, officials said.
“I think that one of the things that we decided to do as a country and as a community is not put it back like it was, but to build the way it always should have been,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.
“This particular development, because of where it is — it is immediately adjacent to the Treme neighborhood, next to Canal Street, next to Rampart, next to the Claiborne corridor, across the street from what hopefully will be the new City Hall — that’s all kinds of great promise.”
The redevelopment plan calls for a one-for-one replacement of the development’s 821 units with new or renovated structures both on the Iberville complex’s actual site and in the surrounding neighborhood.
The new units will be multi-family buildings and town houses designed to blend in with the surrounding neighborhoods, a sharp departure from the large brick structures that once defined public housing in New Orleans.
The first two phases of construction will create 227 rental units, including 81 public-housing units, 97 market-rate apartments and 49 “workforce” units, defined as affordable housing for households with income less than 60 percent of the area’s median family income. Construction is expected to be completed by early 2015.
The full project is planned to include 880 units, including 304 public-housing apartments, 315 market-rate homes and 261 workforce units.
The plan also includes the addition of 112 housing units for elderly Iberville residents at the former Texaco Building on Canal Street. Renovation of that building began in November.
The Iberville redevelopment is part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhood Initiative, HUD’s latest program aimed at transforming distressed urban areas and traditional public housing into mixed-income neighborhoods with links to schools, transportation and jobs.
The idea is to ensure “that people have access, not just to wealth, but access to jobs, access to family, access to schools,” City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer said. “That to me is what this is really about.”
The Housing Authority of New Orleans and the city received a $30.5 million grant from HUD in 2011 to help fund the massive redevelopment project. The grant will cover only a portion of the full plan, but it helped to encourage other investments.
The total redevelopment also includes investment in initiatives like apartments, schools and food stores in a 300-square-block area bounded by Rampart Street, Tulane Avenue, Broad Street and St. Bernard Avenue. The complete project has a $600 million price tag and will be paid for with a mixture of funds from HANO, HUD, FEMA, the city and the state.
“As we’ve seen too often with public housing, if you just focus on the bricks and mortar, you’re going to fail,” U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said Monday.
“Kids don’t wake up in the morning and think, ‘Oh, I just need decent housing.’ They need to find a way to get to school. They need a decent school once they get there. All of those things are critical parts of the neighborhood, so we built that in from the beginning.”
Demolition of the Iberville development, which opened in 1941, began in September. Fifty-nine of its 75 buildings will be demolished. HANO plans to preserve and renovate the remaining historic buildings.
Monday’s event had the feel of a celebration. The Rebirth Brass Band opened and closed the ceremony.
Current and former Iberville residents turned out to thank Landrieu, Donovan and HANO’s federal receiver, David Gilmore, for delivering on their promise of including residents in the design and planning of the new complex.
“We were living in 1940 and now we’re coming up to 2013, 2014,” said Rochelle Trotter, who lived in the Iberville development for 15 years but will become a first-time homeowner on Friday. Trotter was part of a group of public housing residents who met with local, state and federal officials to create a plan for the site. “I can honestly say that it’s going to be beautiful,” she said, although she added, “I got some gray hairs doing this.”
The groundbreaking seemed a lifetime away from the chaotic protest nearly six years ago that marked the start of a period of public housing demolition in New Orleans.
Fights broke out inside and outside the City Council chamber in December 2007 as the council voted to tear down the city’s so-called Big Four complexes: B.W. Cooper, C.J. Peete, St. Bernard and Lafitte.
“I know for some people it’s bittersweet,” Landrieu said. “But for the most part, the residents have worked with us through this entire thing, and this is the way that they designed it.”
About 350 families have been relocated so far from the Iberville complex, HANO officials said. The remaining families will be moved by Thanksgiving. They will continue to receive case management and support services, such as mental health care and adult education.