Access to stable housing can change a child’s life forever for the better and improve the quality of life in a small way for the entire community. Although I recently gave up my seat on the East Baton Rouge Parish Public Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners after two terms, I have observed over the past 10 years how our public housing authority has quietly gone about its business of housing homeless families with little fanfare. As the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s emphasis and its funding move to home ownership programs, the parish Housing Authority doggedly continues to meet the need for both public housing and affordable housing in a period when more Americans need low-cost housing than at any other time since the Depression.

In 2003, the Housing Authority brought the first HOPE VI grant to Baton Rouge, ultimately replacing two older, multifamily housing complexes with 48 new, single-family homes in a revitalized Old South Baton Rouge. When the 2005 hurricanes devastated southeast Louisiana, tens of thousands of families were displaced. The staff of the parish Housing Authority worked long hours for months to provide temporary or permanent housing to more than 2,500 families who had lost their homes. Because HUD funding is linked to the numbers of families housed in approved housing units, the Housing Authority continues today to bring in additional revenue that, spent here, contributes to the economic factors that have saved us from much of the recession ills that plague other capital cities.

During my time as a commissioner, the Housing Authority created a nonprofit community development corporation to maximize tax credits and other incentives to build affordable homes and train residents to care for their new communities. In response to the lingering housing shortage after Katrina and Rita, the new corporation built an additional 25 single-family homes in Howell Park and another 80 in the Cedar Pointe community that do not resemble public housing as most of us know it. In the next few years, more affordable homes are planned for first-time homebuyers as a vehicle to build wealth and stability for working families and for the Baton Rouge community.

Richard Murray and his staff are working hard to meet HUD priorities to move public housing families into home ownership, one family at a time. They continue to do this good work without much recognition, but education, crime, community redevelopment and other issues that receive a lot more attention are addressed in positive ways through the efforts they make every day. And they deserve our appreciation.

Pam Wall

  • onprofit grants director