HANO set to revamp Bywater properties, but debate persists over selecting contractor _lowres

HANO SITES PEGGED FOR DEVELOPMENT: The Housing Authority of New Orleans is considering negotiating a contract for 18 scattered sites in and around Bywater with a developer

The board of the Housing Authority of New Orleans on Tuesday will consider selecting a developer to revamp 18 “scattered site” properties in Bywater.

But the agency has not released details about what the company that’s in line to be chosen plans to do with the mostly vacant properties, citing federal rules against disclosing proposals before a developer has been formally selected.

At the same time, a debate between HANO’s board president and its executive director over whether to divide the work among several firms could delay the selection process.

Board members already put off a decision last month after President Dwayne Bernal urged HANO staff to try to include small, local firms.

A representative of ITEX Group of Houston, the firm recommended by HANO staff for the job, said last week that his company likely won’t do business with HANO again if the board rejects its proposal.

“We doubt seriously that we would make a proposal on something with you if this goes away,” ITEX Executive Vice President Clark Colvin said.

This would be the first major revamp of some of the city’s scattered sites since HANO announced plans in 2014 to rehabilitate about 230 of the properties, which are typically small apartment buildings with fewer than a dozen units.

ITEX and six other firms responded to an August request for proposals to redevelop one or more of the 18 Bywater sites.

Those firms were required to designate two-thirds of all the redeveloped units as “affordable,” or designed for individuals who earn less than 80 percent of the area median income, and at least a quarter of the units as public housing, designated for families with even lower incomes.

The HANO staff gave ITEX 83 of 100 points on a scale that measures whether proposals adhere to HANO requirements concerning disadvantaged business enterprise subcontracting and other mandates.

The other bidders were Perez/Harmony Neighborhood Development, which scored 81; Integrity Development Partnership, 65; the New Orleans Redevelopment Fund, 59; the team of REO LLC, Nationwide Real Estate Corp., Doucette and Associated General Contractors, 35; ETI Inc./Bywater Housing Development LLC, 34; and Chartres Street Station, 20.

It’s not clear exactly what all of those firms want to do with the mostly vacant sites, because HANO will not release their plans before the board makes a final choice.

That’s contrary to the bidding process used at most local agencies. Ordinarily, proposals are openly vetted before a developer is chosen. Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office routinely releases copies of proposals.

But HANO, a federally funded agency with a board that is appointed by the mayor, does not follow that policy, Executive Director Gregg Fortner said. “It’s always been that way,” he said.

A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development attorney pointed to federal rules that allow the agency to shield those plans and said a HUD policy advises local housing agencies to follow that approach. That policy presumes that developers want their plans kept close to the chest.

Nothing may come of this round of bids, however, if HANO’s board and administration can’t agree on who should get the work.

Bernal has called for setting aside some of the work for smaller companies, and he led the push to delay a board vote on the issue in May. .

But Fortner said that if HANO rejects the plans that have been submitted, firms will question the agency’s credibility.

He said the agency must weigh its priorities — providing small firms with work versus providing affordable housing. “It seems that we are putting a lot of weight on one ... objective that benefits far fewer people than the other objective,” he said.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.