Myths and Facts About Public Housing in New Orleans

MYTH #1:

“Federal officials, in partnership with developers, are pushing a plan that will demolish 4500 units of traditional public housing, replacing them with 3343 units of public housing and 900 market rate rental units.” Statement in Times-Pic 12.16.2007

FACT:
HUD is aggressively working to demolish 4500 units of traditional public housing. HUD and HANO’s own numbers state that less than 800 units of traditional public housing will be built by the developers who demolish those 4500 apartments. In order to get to the 3343 number they trumpet, HUD is actually re-counting over 2000 old public housing apartments (in Iberville, Guste, etc) which they have not yet scheduled to demolish. Thus, they are not telling the truth – they are not replacing the 4500 with 3343 at all, they are replacing the 4500 with less than 800 – a 82% reduction in public housing apartments.

MYTH #2:

HUD is not trying to reduce the amount of public and subsidized housing in New Orleans – it is just working to try to make affordable housing available for all.

FACT:
When Katrina hit, New Orleans had over 9000 families on Section 8 subsidized apartments and 7700 public housing apartments – 5146 were occupied and the others were waiting for modernization – in all serving over 14,000 families.

Now, New Orleans has 1700 families in public housing and 4000 families on DVP vouchers – 2000 of which are being transferred into Section 8 – for a total of 5700 families – around a third of pre-Katrina.

MYTH #3:

If HANO and HUD do not start demolition right away, they will lose their tax credits.

FACT:

The Louisiana Housing Finance Agency (LHFA) is the agency giving tax credits. The following is an exact quote from the LHFA to Tracie Washington: “The LHFA never required demolition by HANO by any specific date. The LHFA did not set the timeline for demolition or construction. As a matter of fact, the only deadline that LHFA mandated was the deadline for HANO to “meet carryover,” a deadline required for all tax credit properties, which was accomplished by the execution of the ground lease.

The date slated for demolition was chosen by HUD/HANO. HANO set up its own schedule/timeline, which was approved by the LHFA Board so that the state’s tax credits would not be at risk. The LHFA Board is requiring that HANO meet its own deadlines since if the housing units that are due to come online do not do so in a timely manner, the tax credits will be lost to the detriment of other housing developers who could have gotten their developments up and running and Louisiana’s citizens waiting to return to safe, affordable homes.”

Tracie also asked the following questions in writing to which the LHFA made the following responses in writing.

Q: If HANO does not commence demolition by December 18th and the LHFA takes back the tax credits, can HANO reapply for the credits next year?

Response of LHFA: “The allocation of the credits to the HANO projects has already occurred. No recapture would occur unless there is a material change in the Project Schedule that would authorize the Board to recapture the credits.”

Q: Has the LHFA granted tax credit extensions since Katrina? If so, how many? Have any of these extensions been premised on a firm deadline for the commencement of demolition?

Response of LHFA: “Yes, the LHFA has granted tax-credit extensions since the hurricanes. I’ll have to check on the number. Other than HANO, no extensions have been premised on a firm deadline for the commencement of demolition.”

Q: Currently, HANO is being sued by its clients, the residents of New Orleans public housing. Is this external lawsuit ground for an extension that is not contingent upon demolition?

Response of LHFA: “There is no statutory requirement under Section 42 of the Internal Revenue Code to preclude flexibility here.”

MYTH #4:

Surveys of residents show they want demolition.

FACT:
The survey asked residents whether they wanted brand new homes or to move back into their old apartments – a false choice. HUD and HANO have consistently refused to guarantee residents one for one replacement of public housing apartments so everyone can move back in. Of the 4500 being demolished, less than 800 will be public housing subsidized apartments – a reduction of 82%.

The survey did not ask the real question – “Are you in favor of returning to your apartment or do you want to wait until they are torn down and new houses are built and take a chance that you will be one of the lucky 18% who gets to move back?

It doesn’t take an expert pollster to figure out the results of that question.

MYTH #5:

There really is no housing problem, it is just outside agitators who are making it seem like New Orleans has a housing problem.

FACT:
In December 2007, the national research group POLICYLINK issued a report “FEWER HOMES FOR KATRINA’S POOREST VICTIMS – An analysis of subsidized homes in post-Katrina New Orleans.” The report concluded that HUD and HANO have only approved resources to restore a third of the pre-Katrina stock of subsidized homes in New Orleans.

The full report is available online at:
http://www.policylink.org/documents/nola_fewerhomes.pdf

Laura Tuggle points out that it there are some statistics regarding additional affordable housing need in our community. Currently, there about 6,300 families transitioning from the old FEMA/CLC rental assistance program to the new DHAP (Disaster Housing Assistance Program) in Orleans Parish. Over the next 6 months, another approximate 6,400 families will be forced to transition out of FEMA trailers according to Times Pic article from about 10 days ago just from the metro area. All those folks have to have affordable housing. Of course, Unity estimates we have about double number of homeless now than pre-K from 6,000 to 12,000. If we don't have housing ready by the time the temporary Disaster Program ends and the temporary Rapid Rehousing Program, we are going to have a homeless crisis out of this world come March 1, 2009.

Those supporting demolition also fail to acknowledge opposition among the faith community to demolition: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/81803_92874_ENG_HTM.htm

Public housing residents have received threatening phone calls promising that if they show up at protests, their housing assistance will be revoked. Many others are still in Houston, Atlanta and other places and cannot join the protests.

MYTH #6:

People do not want to come back to New Orleans. There are hundreds of vacant empty subsidized apartments just waiting for people to move in – no one wants to take them.

FACT:
At various times over the past 2 years, HUD and HANO have proclaimed that they had hundreds of vacant traditional public housing units ready to be occupied but people just did not want to come home.

Each time, these numbers were revealed to be false numbers and gross overstatements. For apartments which actually are made available, the delays in filling those much fewer apartments were because of bureaucratic guidelines and dysfunction at HANO. HANO first offers the available apartment to its previous occupant (who is also told that they can wait for the mythical promised new apartments) – a process that usually takes 60 days; then the apartments are offered for a period of time to a select list held by HANO; only after that entire process are they offered to the displaced people from other developments.

Example #1:
HANO is recognized as perhaps the most dysfunctional public housing program in the US – & HUD has been running it for years. Most of the already overworked and underpaid pre-Katrina HANO staff were let go and the few current employees are terribly overworked.

The phones do not get answered, messages are not returned, mail goes nowhere. Public housing residents, particularly those displaced outside of New Orleans, have extremely difficult time communicating with HANO. It is very difficult to get in touch with HANO and to cut through the bureaucratic mazes to get back – but people continue to try.

Don’t just take the residents’ word about these problems - consider the statement by a private landlord in a December 9, 2007 letter to the editor of the TP:
“Dealing with the Housing Authority of New Orleans' Section 8 Department is an unprofitable prospect. They rarely answer the telephone, return messages, answer emails or even read their postal mail. When you do speak to someone, the staff and case workers are rude and obviously overworked.

“HANO's accounting department is a mess. Staffers deposit funds to the wrong accounts, in incorrect amounts and fail to provide a basic level of documentation and accountability.

“The HANO inspection process is a joke. The standards vary from inspector to inspector, and many criteria for immediate failure are petty and unsupported by national building codes… Nathaniel Phillips - New Orleans

Example #2:
On December 11, 2007, HUD released a fact sheet stating that there were 300 public housing units that remain unoccupied. HUD Fact Sheet available at: http://www.hud.gov/news/neworleansfact.cfm

Four days later, in the Times-Picayune, December 16, 2007, HUD stated they had 162 move-in ready apartments.

Example #3:
In December 2006, HANO announced that it had a list of hundreds of “key-ready” apartments for people to move into but no one wanted to come back.

In January 2007, HUD investigators determined that there was no such list and that the key ready apartments did not exist.

MYTH #7:

HUD and HANO have given full and fair consideration to all points of view and have consistently told the truth.

FACT:
Example #1:
On the one year anniversary of Katrina, HUD promised in writing “After the Hurricane, HANO reoccupied approximately 1,000 units at Iberville, Guste, Fischer, and River Garden (formerly St. Thomas) where damage was limited. HANO and HUD have identified another 1,000 units that were not materially affected by the hurricane and are working to temporarily reoccupy the vast majority of these units by the end of September 2006.” See http://www.hud.gov/news/katrina05response.cfm

As of today, it appears that HUD and HANO have brought about 1700 units online – 16 months past their September 2006 promise.

Example #2:
HUD promised that once HANO submitted its application for demolition, HUD would take 100 work days to carefully consider the application and make an independent determination of whether demolition of 4500 HANO apartments was legal.

HANO submitted their completed application for demolition on September 20, 2007. HUD approved it September 21, 2007.

MYTH #8:

It would cost much more to repair these apartments than tear them down and start over.

FACT:
HANO’s own insurance company documents prove that, right after Katrina, cleaning and repairing CJ Peete apartments could be done for less than $5000 per apartment. HANO’s own documents right after Katrina also do