After the manager of the Hidden Lakes apartment complex called his tenants “inmates,” the State Bond Commission rejected an effort by his employer to get low-cost financing for the New Orleans East affordable housing facility.
Homeowners living near the complex said they didn’t oppose selling the 442-unit Hidden Lakes complex on Martin Drive; they just didn’t want it to go to the Rev. Richard Hamlet and his Global Ministries Foundation, a Memphis, Tennessee-based religious organization with a history of problems managing “affordable housing,” or lower-cost apartments, not only in New Orleans but across the nation.
The nonprofit GMF asked the Bond Commission to guarantee a $24.5 million loan to acquire and rehabilitate the 21 buildings, which would house about 1,100 adults and children. The complex would offer discounts on monthly rents depending on how the renter’s annual income compared with the median for New Orleans East.
Underlying the dispute is what homeowners call the impact of sending hundreds of low-income residents from former public housing developments around the city to live at privately owned facilities — located in predominantly middle-income, African-American neighborhoods — without proper financial support, more police and additional sanitation services.
“Those things didn’t happen before,” she said at the Bond Commission meeting Thursday at the State Capitol.
The complex’s manager, Patrick Coffey, of MultiFamily Management Inc., defended GMF, saying New Orleans East already has lots of crime and that the complex’s security cameras helped lead to the arrests of the perpetrators of those two crimes.
It’s unreasonable to think that an apartment complex manager can stop crime, Coffee said, “not unless we want to really wall the place up and control the inmates.”
“I don’t know how he managed to slip in the word ‘inmates’ about people who live and pay rent at that facility,” said Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, a member of the Bond Commission in whose district Hidden Lakes is located. He added that other affordable housing complexes in New Orleans East have aggressive management and none of the problems such as those at GMF properties.
Rep. Wesley Bishop, a Democrat who also represents New Orleans East, demanded an apology from Coffey for using the word “inmates.”
“You don’t have a problem taking those inmates’ money every month,” he said.
Bond Commission staffers recommended approving the deal. But the commission, without comment or objection, rejected the GMF proposal.
After the hearing, Coffey said in an interview, “I shouldn’t have said that word, but I did and I’m sorry if I said it wrong. But that’s their philosophy. They wanted a big concrete wall around all these people. They don’t want affordable housing in New Orleans East.”
The Bond Commission’s decision probably would kill the deal for GMF, he said. It likely will lead to a private buyer — who doesn’t have to be vetted by the Bond Commission — stepping forward to purchase Hidden Lakes, he said.
A private buyer can do pretty much whatever he or she wants with the complex, he said.
Coffey pointed out that GMF has invested well over $1 million renovating the Willows Apartments, also in New Orleans East. This would have happened at Hidden Lakes too, he said.
Joan Heisser, a homeowner, said: “We’re not in opposition of the property being sold to a worthy buyer. This is just not the buyer that we think is best for our community.”
GMF operates apartments in Lafayette, Lake Charles and New Orleans, as well as in Tennessee, Florida and other states.
In April, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department ruled that 40 units at GMF complexes in Memphis were uninhabitable and failed the inspections of three of the organization’s apartment complexes there.
The Jacksonville, Florida, City Council in June passed an ordinance forbidding GMF from receiving the vouchers that low-income renters use to pay their rent until it increased security at two complexes.
Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB.