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Will mixed income housing work in N.O.?

06:35 PM CST on Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS, La. - Former residents of the C.J. Peete public housing complex hope the new mixed-income development there will have only one thing in common with its predecessor - the land it sits on.

Video: Watch the Story

The $183 million community will replace the old housing project that was torn down last year, which was done with the backdrop of picketing protestors and a march on City Hall.

The mixed-income plan is an effort to bring together people from different economic backgrounds to live in one community: two-thirds of the resident would be a part of public and affordable housing programs, while the other one-third would pay the full-market rate for a unit.

"It's a beautiful thing," said former C.J. Peete Resident Taneschia Carter, "because it lets us know that we can all become one."

However, federal officials admit getting those full paying residents to move in will be a challenge.

"There is no doubt that we have to acknowledge that public housing has a stigma and that is something that we have to address in the process," said HUD Secretary Steve Preston. "We've seen these types of developments across the country be very successful for the people who live in them."

Yet, New Orleans does not have the high concentration of expensive housing that cities like New York or San Francisco do, meaning residents here have more affordable options and could choose to bypass moving into a mixed income community. Some local officials, though, see the entire City of New Orleans as a large-scale example of a mixed income community.

"We have the wealthiest of the wealthy on St. Charles Avenue and you go away from St. Charles and it's mixed income," said Walter Leger, with the Louisiana Recovery Authority. "I think it's not going to be easy, but you know, that's the route we're going."

"It is a bit more of a hurdle for them to get through at the beginning," Preston said, "but once they see what these have become, we've seen success in many other situations around the country."

Federal officials point to the former St. Thomas Housing Complex as one example of a mixed income community in New Orleans. It's also an example that some former residents at C.J. Peete say they want a chance to emulate.

"You know, with St. Thomas coming up the way it did and it attracted those-- they have doctors and lawyers and entrepreneurs; we want to have the same thing here," Carter said.

Construction on the city's four new mixed-income communities is expected to be finished by the end of 2010.

This time, however, there was all fanfare and no protestors.

“There’s a calmness here at C.J. Peete,” said Jocquelyn Marshall, a former C.J. Peete resident. “There’s no protestors. That’s because our residents have come to accept that change can be a good thing. And that’s what we’re looking forward to, bringing about change here and help residents reach that next level.”

25 former C.J. Peete residents helped to make the peaceful showing happen.

Besides being a part of the planning process, residents are also going to play a part in the construction.

“They have training programs that train residents how to do construction activities. This is a very special development,” Nagin said. “You know, don’t discount the fact that it’s going to be mixed income and there’s going to be schools on site. But the thing that I’m really excited about is that we are training individuals to go to the next level and to become even more self-sufficient.”

The plans include 460 units, an RSD school and YMCA in the first phase. 2/3 of the community will be mixed-use and mixed-income, with the rest being market value apartments and town homes.

Construction at all four sites is expected to be completed Dec. 31, 2010. Residents, however, may be able to move in later this year.

Groundbreakings at DW Cooper and Lafitte are expected to take place over the next couple of months.

HUD Approves Plan

Also today, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, approved a plan that will direct over $2 million to a number of New Orleans neighborhoods.

The program, called the Neighborhood Stablization Program, permits state and local governments to purchase foreclosed homes at a discount. Then, the homes will be redeveloped to respond to rising foreclosures and falling home values.

Governments can also use the grants to acquire land and property, demolish or rehabilitate abandoned properties and offer down payment and closing cost assistance.

The plan will inject $34.2 state-wide to high-need communities.