An effort to breathe new life into the stagnant Lower 9th Ward and boost the city’s stock of affordable housing is inching forward, New Orleans Redevelopment Authority officials said Tuesday.
Two developers tasked with turning vacant 9th Ward lots into affordable housing, long stalled by financing troubles, have received or are close to receiving the commitments needed to get their projects moving.
Four developers were assigned 175 properties in that area overall. So far only a handful of units have been built or are under construction.
However, officials held up the neighborhood initiative at a NORA committee meeting Tuesday as a revitalization project that should be realized within the next few years.
“It’s a long process,” NORA Executive Director Brenda Breaux said of the 9th Ward initiative.
But a delay in one state agency’s issuance of a crucial set of tax credits developers needed to pull their project together was a big culprit, she added.
NORA, the agency responsible for returning blighted properties across New Orleans to commerce, granted parcels of land in the 9th Ward to developers nearly two years ago as a way to jump-start development in a neighborhood that has had fits and starts of recovery since Hurricane Katrina.
The lack of grocery stores and other businesses in the area, due in large part to the lack of residents, in turn gives would-be homebuyers pause. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem that NORA hopes to fix with low-cost rental and for-sale units and other incentives.
The effort ran into trouble, however, when the Louisiana Housing Corp. delayed its release of low-income tax credits, which when sold to investors provide the cash developers need to launch such projects. That tripped up Neville Development, a firm that pledged to build upon 30 parcels of land.
Harmony Neighborhood Development, which had plans to build upon another 61 parcels with Perez APC, also pulled out, Breaux said. Moreover, First NBC Bank, the financier Perez has worked with, folded in April.
However, Providence Community Housing has since become a partner on the Perez project. Perez is working with Capital One Bank to get a waiver from the federal government, so that it can use government financing on multiple sites. That waiver is expected to be approved.
And Neville finally received the tax credits it had been hoping for, Breaux said.
“We anticipate doing the groundbreaking sometime in January and February, at the latest,” Breaux said, referencing Neville’s parcels.
The other developers, New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity and SBP, were awarded 48 and 36 parcels, respectively. SBP is awaiting word on its application for tax credits. If it is denied, the group will give the land back to NORA, Breaux said.