HANO boss rejects price increase for Lafitte senior housing building

HANO chief rejects $4 million ‘cushion’ for Lafitte complex

“I don’t imagine the decision I just made is going to help that along any. Or, on the other hand, maybe it will. Maybe if the powers that be realize that there’s no promise of a $4 million bump in this deal until we get the bids, maybe this will help us spur this thing along some.” David Gilmore, Housing Authority of New Orleans federal receiver

Frustrated with his staff for asking for more money for a project they can’t seem to get off the ground, Housing Authority of New Orleans federal receiver David Gilmore said he won’t allot a cent more until there is hard evidence warranting an increase.

At the agency’s monthly meeting Tuesday, Jennifer Adams asked Gilmore to increase the construction budget for a senior housing building to be included in the redevelopment of the Lafitte public housing complex from $24.5 million to $30 million.

But Gilmore, the agency’s one-man board of directors, was unimpressed, largely because the project has only inched forward in the past year and a half. He turned Adams down flat, saying he would not consider raising the budget until the project has been put out to bid and a more solid cost estimate is available.

“At that point, we’ll at least have some objective evidence upon which to base a decision like this,” Gilmore said. “But to write you a blank check for $4 million, that’s not going to happen.”

The budget for the building, which would include 100 apartments for senior citizens, was set in October 2011.

Adams, HANO’s deputy director for real estate planning and development, said her office had determined the project would run slightly over the original estimate to at least $25 million. She did not explain, however, why she was asking Gilmore for $30 million instead.

“You want a $4 million cushion?” Gilmore said. “Or are you saying that the cost of the project is now up to $30 million?”

“I’m saying we want a $4 million cushion,” Adams replied.

Gilmore’s response was blunt.

“No. Ain’t happening,” he said. “Not today, not ever.”

Gilmore said he was disappointed at the project’s slow pace. The senior housing building, part of the $148 million Lafitte redevelopment in the 6th Ward, has had funding approval since June 2012.

“How are you going to fix that?” Gilmore asked. “I don’t imagine the decision I just made is going to help that along any. Or, on the other hand, maybe it will. Maybe if the powers that be realize that there’s no promise of a $4 million bump in this deal until we get the bids, maybe this will help us spur this thing along some.”

He pushed the developer, Providence Enterprise Orleans LLC, to commit to issuing bid documents by Jan. 2 so he can consider a construction contract at HANO’s February board meeting.

Lafitte was one of the city’s so-called Big Four public housing developments, all demolished since Hurricane Katrina. Most of the massive brick buildings have been replaced with smaller single-family and townhome structures that provide a mix of affordable and market-rate apartments.