In The News › N.O. woman blasts “code word” for poor

Sep 15, 2006

Source: Baton Rouge Advocate

N.O. woman blasts “code word” for poor

N.O. woman blasts ‘code word’ for poor
By JOE GYAN JR.
New Orleans bureau
Published: Sep 15, 2006

BELLE CHASSE — A discussion about not duplicating pre-Katrina “concentrations of poverty” when New Orleans’
ravaged rental stock is rebuilt raised the temperature Thursday during a Louisiana Recovery Authority meeting.
While authority members and authority Executive Director Andy Kopplin were discussing two “Road Home” rental
housing programs and an accompanying objective of not replicating what a Road Home handout called “pre-storm
excessive concentrations of poverty,” New Orleanian Elizabeth Cook sprang to her feet and gave the board an earful.
Cook, who lives in the city’s Bywater area, yelled out from the audience at the Belle Chasse Auditorium. She said not
repeating concentrations of poverty is a “code word” for keeping New Orleans’ displaced poor from returning to the
city.

Norman Francis, authority chairman and president of Xavier University of New Orleans, cut Cook off but said she
would be allowed to speak to the board once it wrapped up its discussion. When that time came, Cook sat at a table in
front of the board and described the rental housing program as “so unfair.”

“What you’re saying is certain people can’t come home. Let’s be honest here. It’s shameful,” she said. “What you’re
saying is concentration of poverty is a crime. It’s OK for the rich to live in concentrations. The working poor need
somewhere to live, too. People need somewhere to come home. You’re not fighting for the people.”
Francis took exception to her remarks.

“We’re trying to get everybody home under quality conditions and under conditions that everyone can afford,” he
said.

Authority member and state Sen. Diana Bajoie, D-New Orleans, said during the meeting that the authority program is
a “good one” but added, “We can’t close all the housing developments and expect everyone to come home.”
In a report issued last week, the New Orleans-based Bureau of Governmental Research — a nonprofit, independent
research group — raised concerns about the Road Home rental housing program, warning it would “create new
problems and exacerbate existing weaknesses in the city.”

The bureau said the rental program harnesses $1.7 billion of Gulf Opportunity Zone low income housing tax credits
and $1.6 billion of Community Development Block Grants for the construction or rehabilitation of rental housing. It
earmarks $869 million of block grant funds for repair of small rental properties willing to accept rent restrictions for
periods of three to 20 years. It layers the balance of block grant funds on the tax credits to produce rental housing for
work force and low-income households.

The program, as conceived, would have provided housing for low-income households in the context of classic mixed
income development, which combine low income subsidized housing with market rate housing, the bureau said.

But under a revised plan, the group said, the bulk of the units for low-income households would be incorporated
instead into 100 percent low-income housing tax credit developments.

As proposed, the Bureau of Governmental Research alleged, the program would:
l On a regional level, continue to concentrate low-income housing “disproportionately” in Orleans Parish.
l Impede the growth of the tax base for a number of reasons, including “significant ownership of housing by
government and nonprofit entities.”

l Run the risk of leaving large storm-ravaged areas of the city “blighted” because it concentrates on large-scale
development rather than the small properties that dominate New Orleans’ rental stock.

In an interview before the start of Thursday’s meeting, authority housing task force chairman Walter Leger said BGR
is “just wrong” but added, “Their goals are the same as ours — a deconcentration of poverty.”

Leger said much of the focus is on Orleans Parish because 70 percent of the state’s hurricane-related rental housing
destruction occurred in New Orleans.

“So it’s not an attempt to concentrate poverty in New Orleans,” he said.

As for BGR’s claim that the program will lead to significant ownership of rental housing by government and
nonprofit groups and thereby threaten the city’s tax base, Leger said, “Private developers are interested in the
project.”

He also rebutted BGR’s contention that the program focuses more on larger developments than small ones, saying
nearly $900 million will go toward small rental properties while nearly $600 million is going to larger developments.

The BGR report said 80 percent of New Orleans’ rental housing stock with major or severe damage — 40,700 units
— consisted of small rental properties. But BGR President and Chief Executive Officer Janet Howard told the
authority board Thursday that the Road Home program provides funding to restore only 12,000 of those properties
over a 10-year period.

“There’s not enough money in the program,” she said.

Between the Road Home’s small rental property repair program and the CDGB-LIHTC (low income housing tax
credit) “piggyback” program, Kopplin said, an estimated 36,000 to 51,000 apartment units will be rehabilitated or
rebuilt.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco also spoke at the authority meeting and said the Road Home program, which includes a larger
$7.5 billion rebuilding, relocation and buyout plan for owner-occupied housing, will help “stabilize” families who lost
their homes and are living in FEMA trailers.

“A lot of people are not trusting government at all right now,” she said, adding that the program should restore some
of that trust.

Plaquemines Parish President Benny Rousselle gave the board an update on the parish’s recovery, saying its prestorm
population of 28,000 has returned to between 20,000 and 22,000. There are 4,000 FEMA trailers in the parish,
he added.

Blanco cited Plaquemines’ importance in terms of its oil and seafood industries and said the parish will not be “left
out” of the recovery and rebuilding equation.

Sep 15, 2006

Source: Baton Rouge Advocate

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