Plan for affordable housing in Leonidas, Lower Garden District faces neighborhood criticism; mayor, City Council in support | Local Politics

In a vote that could advance or delay plans to build affordable housing in rapidly gentrifying areas, the City Planning Commission will consider on Tuesday a key piece of a $20 million development plan for vacant sites in Leonidas, the Lower Garden District and other areas along the Mississippi River.

The Planning Commission will consider redividing several lots in the Leonidas area so that the Housing Authority of New Orleans can build affordable duplexes on the lots, which are owned by HANO.    

But the duplexes have been dogged by residents who say HANO’s designs are out of step with their neighborhood’s character. They told the City Council last week that HANO needs a more extensive federal review to ensure its buildings hew to historic standards.

Meanwhile, HANO and partner Iris Community Development say the project will help realize a broader effort to ensure the city’s most desirable areas remain accessible to people with lower incomes. And affordable housing advocates say resident criticisms are actually thinly masked objections to having poorer residents of color as neighbors.

Council members were briefed on the plans at the council’s Community Development Committee last week, but did not vote on them. But several members, and Mayor LaToya Cantrell, agreed with HANO’s take. 

“If we get to the point where certain segments of the community can no longer live here, we’re going to lose the magic that is New Orleans,” said Councilmember Jay H. Banks, who chairs the committee. 

Cantrell added in a statement that the project is “beyond needed,” and will bring “new affordable housing to high-opportunity neighborhoods.”

Two large former public housing sites in Algiers and the Upper 9th Ward would become mixed-income developments under proposals the Housing Aut…

HANO’s current effort is part of a plan to break up the concentrated areas of poverty that were standard under its previous public housing model, and to instead place lower-income residents in higher-income communities that are more likely to be near jobs and opportunities. 

The plan is also aligned with an Obama-era housing rule — which the Trump administration rescinded in July — that required local governments to try to make wealthy neighborhoods more diverse and to pump more money into poor ones. 

HANO wants to redevelop vacant “scattered site” properties it owns as two-family and single-family homes for low-income residents. The majority of the 117 units HANO wants to build are located in Leonidas, while several others are located in the Lower Garden District, East Riverside and West Riverside areas. 

Each of those areas has seen rapid appreciation since 2012, according to a market-value analysis the city last commissioned in 2018. Long-time Leonidas residents, in particular, faced an increasingly higher risk of being priced out from 2009 to 2018, the study found. Median home values in that neighborhood rose anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 between 2015 and 2017. 

Roughly 80 of the 117 homes HANO wants to build will be leased or sold to people earning at or below 80% of area median income, which in 2019 was $53,900 for a family of four. The rest will be rented or sold at market rates, Iris officials said. 

But residents of the Leonidas area cast HANO’s designs as misguided. Some said the proposed multi-unit housing would create problems with traffic and put added demand on the city’s utilities, while others said the two-story duplexes in particular lacked back doors and would be unsafe for tenants. 

“Units over units create serious noise problems for first floor tenants,” resident Betty DiMarco said. “The facade of the duplex units are not typical historic designs and diminish the vital street connection between neighborhood and tenant.” 

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development should review HANO’s proposal to ensure it will not have an adverse impact on historic neighborhoods, DiMarco and others said. Many critics stressed that they are not opposed to the concept of affordable housing itself. 

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But a representative from the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center said the kind of federal review that neighbors want has stymied redevelopment of a HANO property in Bywater, a neighborhood often described as a haven for gentrification in the city since Hurricane Katrina.

That group also argued that while critics claimed to be protesting the projects’ design, they in fact were protesting the arrival of low-income neighbors, who are often Black and Brown. 

“The city of New Orleans has a long history of capitulating to neighborhood opposition in downsizing, delaying or killing all together mixed-income or affordable developments in or adjacent to white neighborhoods,” Maxwell Ciardullo said. “Please do not let this development fall to the same fate.”

Kent Montgomery settled in for bad weather last week under a roof in the Lower 9th Ward that’s been gashed since 2005.

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