For years, public-private developments for affordable housing in New Orleans were resisted as "privatization" of the old housing complexes, many of them devastated after the levees broke during the onset of Hurricane Katrina.
Even those that had survived largely undamaged, though, needed to go.
Concentrating poverty is a way to exacerbate the ills that it brings. The old projects were romanticized during the debates over the new model, but the reality today is that the public-private developments are working.
We agree with the head of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department that the new model is the right plan. We also agree that the need for affordable housing has to be the overriding priority in mixed-income developments.
Ben Carson, a physician by training, said during a visit that "lessons have been learned" about redevelopment, and that there are not enough affordable units for the city's low-income residents most in need of shelter.
Standing in Columbia Parc, a mixed-income housing development built through a public-private partnership to replace the former St. Bernard public housing complex, Carson praised the 12-acre site that boasts 685 units, a new $9 million early education facility, a fitness center, an outdoor pool and a 46-seat movie theater.
"One of the reasons I wanted to come to New Orleans is just that I’ve heard about this development, which is a perfect example of public-private partnerships and what can be done," Carson told reporters.
"It's not just putting people under a roof but looking at ways to develop healthy communities that are walkable, that are looking out for education, for health care, that ensure that they’re not food deserts. ... I believe this is a very excellent example of how it can be done."
One of the new developments is Bienville Basin, where innovative use of tax credits by developer HRI Properties has preserved historic structures in the former Iberville housing development.
The nation shifted course on public housing with a 1992 law that encouraged mixed-income developments instead of the traditional, and often troubled, near-slums created by the old model.
We agree with Carson that not all is perfect with the new model but the reality is that the old projects were often unsafe. But the old statement about public housing is still true: It's expensive, and poor people are poor.
There are thus good reasons to look at the lessons learned in New Orleans and across the country with the new model. We encourage Carson to lobby his boss, the president, for funding levels that will keep people off the streets, either through rent subsidies or larger housing developments like those that have been successful in the Crescent City.
When imagining how to fix the nation's public housing problems, the head of the U.S. Housing…