After weeks of debate, the board that governs the Housing Authority of New Orleans chose a developer Tuesday to revamp up to 18 “scattered site” properties in Bywater, the first of more than 200 such sites the agency plans to restore citywide.
The vote was 6-1, with board President Dwayne Bernal voting no.
Bernal and others have said HANO should have done more to encourage small local developers to bid on the work. The HANO staff’s chosen firm, ITEX Group of Houston, also did not do enough to include smaller companies in its plans, Bernal has said.
But board members’ desire to provide more affordable housing in Bywater, a neighborhood that has undergone rapid gentrification in recent years, eventually outweighed the desire to cut some little guys a check.
And even though some board members said they felt more could have been done to accomplish the latter goal, Executive Director Gregg Fortner said his staff did its job.
“We received what we received,” he said. “We evaluated it in good faith. No one did anything wrong.”
The Bywater effort is HANO’s first major attempt to redevelop some of the scattered sites since it announced plans in 2014 to rehabilitate about 230 of the properties, which are typically small apartment buildings with fewer than a dozen units.
That plan was a controversial reversal of former federal receiver David Gilmore’s plan to sell the lots to the highest bidder.
HANO identified a list of 20 firms that could potentially redevelop one or more of the Bywater sites, then released an August request for proposals. ITEX and six other firms responded.
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 what each firm planned to do with the sites because HANO, citing federal rules, has not released the firms’ proposals. During Tuesday’s discussion, however, it was revealed that ITEX does not plan to revamp all the Bywater sites, which raised the question of whether a smaller firm could be allowed to develop the rest.
Instead of giving smaller firms a percentage of the overall work, Bernal, board member Toni Hackett Antrum and others wanted HANO to carve out some of the 18 properties for those firms.
Fortner questioned whether that would violate federal contracting rules, which ban some local hiring preferences, among other restrictions.
Bernal and Antrum said they weren’t seeking set-asides for local developers. But they said they did want the staff to think deeply about economic opportunity when seeking proposals for scattered sites in the Lower 9th Ward and Uptown, which Fortner said the agency plans to do soon.
“I respect the opinions of others that there is a crisis (in affordable housing) and we need to address it. I just think we need to look holistically,” Bernal said.