On his second visit to New Orleans since taking the top job at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD Secretary Julian Castro thanked New Orleans public housing residents Friday for their resolve, character, grit and patience in managing the long, slow road to rebuilding the city’s subsidized housing after Hurricane Katrina.
“You have shown us what it takes to build a strong community,” the former San Antonio mayor said. “This city is one of America’s crown jewels, one of the most unique places in our entire country and, really, the world. And the last 10 years have been about ensuring that this community is there for future generations to enjoy just as everybody else has.”
Castro, who became HUD secretary last summer, toured the Faubourg Lafitte community Friday, a day after President Barack Obama visited the same neighborhood.
He met briefly with a resident on her porch and then watched a 20-minute documentary about the Lafitte housing development before meeting with children attending an after-school program at the neighborhood’s community center.
Castro also joined local, state and federal officials, including Mayor Mitch Landrieu and former HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, at a ceremony celebrating the opening of the first two phases of Bienville Basin, the mixed-income, mixed-use community rising in the footprint of the former Iberville housing development.
The development includes 227 rental apartments and is part of HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, a program aimed at transforming distressed urban areas and traditional public housing into mixed-income neighborhoods with links to schools, transportation and jobs.
“It is, at the end of the day, a wonderful place that people can call home,” Castro said of the development. “A place that will be a springboard to the American dream.”
A small group of protesters shouted as Donovan, Landrieu and other officials addressed a crowd gathered at Iberville and Treme streets. Their complaints centered on the Housing Authority of New Orleans’ failure, so far, to provide a one-for-one replacement of the 821 public housing apartments that once made up the Iberville development.
As part of the Choice Neighborhoods plan, HANO must replace the 821 units with new or renovated multiple-family buildings and townhouses, either on the Iberville footprint or in the surrounding neighborhood.
The newly opened Bienville Basin community includes 81 public housing units, 97 market-rate apartments and 49 “workforce” units for households making less than 60 percent of the area’s median family income.
None of the speakers addressed the protesters directly, but Landrieu referenced the work still needed to meet the goals of the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative.
“Although we have a long way to go, this is a down payment on what we said was going to happen,” he said.
HANO and the city received a $30.5 million grant from HUD in 2011 to help fund the redevelopment project. The grant covers only a portion of the full cost of the plan, but it has helped to encourage $170 million in other investment.
The full development plan is expected to cost $600 million and cover 300 blocks bounded by Rampart Street, Tulane Avenue, Broad Street and St. Bernard Avenue.
The completed project will include 706 residences, including 117 public housing apartments and 260 units for low- and moderate-income families, Castro said.