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Public housing, golf and redevelopment
Elizabeth Cook

What does golf have to do with the redevelopment of public housing in New Orleans? Golf-loving former HUD Director Alphonso Jackson made sure they would be connected, when his agency chose the Bayou District Foundation to spearhead the redevelopment of the St. Bernard Housing Development. Bayou Foundation joined forces with Fore Kids Foundation and the Baton Rouge Foundation to help put the project together. For profit Colombia Residential joined the team as the developer.

Bayou District Foundation is, or was, banking on revenue from the proposed PGA-style golf course to fund a host of social services it plans for the St. Bernard site. In a recent City Business Article ( May 18, 2009), it is revealed that there is no money to complete two thirds of the proposed redevelopment. One third of the redevelopment, 466 "mixed income" units will open by November, according to the
article. One-third of those units will be for former residents of the St. Bernard Housing Development, if they qualify, under a host of new rules.

On Bayou District Foundation's website, the site continues to link to a Times Picayune (Nov. 27th, 2007) article stating the Foundation is counting on revenue from the proposed PGA style golf course for City Park. However, City Park CEO Bob Becker in recent public statements has cast doubt on the use of that revenue outside of the park, if and when the golf course is built.

Gerard Barousse Jr., Bayou District Foundation chairman, touts Atlanta's East Lake Development as the model for the redevelopment of the St. Bernard Housing Development. "Real Estate Mogul" Tom Cousins bought the East Lake Country Club in 1993, and oversaw its transformation into a mixed income community, with 50 percent of the 542 "townhouse apartments" occupied by public housing residents. East Lake Meadows, with redevelopment, went from 650 public housing units to 271 public housing units.

Cousins however, in testimony before the Millennial Housing Commission on March 12th, 2001, recommended that the 50/50 formula change, and public housing units be reduced to just a third of mixed income redevelopment. Why?Cousins, in his testimony, stated that a 30 percent mix of public housing residents "would make our development truly viable and compensate for the risks involved. Notably, as important as the impact on profits, from a social standpoint, a lower mix of public housing units will result in a stronger and more stable community, one that is easier to manage, and one that better achieves HUD's goal of integrating public housing and middle-income families in a seamless and mutually beneficial neighborhood."

Cousins' recommendation for a 30 percent mix of public housing residents has become fact in mixed income communities now. Here we have a glaring example of real estate developors setting housing policy, not based on need, because certainly, the need for low-income housing is greater than ever, but based on manageability, profitability, and the need to reduce the "risks" of developers choosing to participate in a Hope Vl, mixed income community. This is what you get when you privatize public housing: drastically reduced numbers for returning residents, and increased "manageability" and "profitability".

In his testimony, Cousins never mentions the fate of the those public residents who lived in the East Lake Meadows before its redevelopment. He doesn't mention replacement housing for them, their status, how they have fared...not unlike those residents left out of negotiations and plans for the redevelopment of St. Bernard. It is as though they cease to exist once plans are finalized.

Further, HUD appointed Bayou District Foundation to redevelop the St. Bernard Housing Development, even though Bayou District didn't have its ducks in a row when it comes to funding all of its promises. What is HUD thinking? Apparently, HUD is content to leave the enactment of housing policy to private and non-profit interests who may, or may not, come up with private sources of funding to complete redevelopment of public housing. The "Atlanta" model, begun by Tom Cousins (just click on the East Lake Foundation website's "national model" button), relied heavily on raising corporate monies for the redevelopment. HUD seems content, even in the face of this recession, to allow this "model" to go forward.

So Bayou District Foundation will complete 466 units, and of those units, one-third, just 155 units, will be available to the 900 plus residents who once lived in the St. Bernard Housing Development. The rest of the funding for the proposed redevelopment will have to rely on "Olympic fund raising" according to Barousse, in a recent City Business article (May 18th, 2009). Without massive fund raising the rest of the 1325 mixed income units will not get built. Only one-third of the 1325 proposed units, again, will be for public housing residents. But this isn't about re-housing public housing residents. This is about steering public, and private monies to the construction of middle and upper middle income housing in the inner city.

Jonathan Springston, Senior staff writer for the Atlanta Progressive News, lays it out succinctly in an article dated May 13th, 2007, titled "Housing Authority Has Ties to Real Estate, Construction and Banking". He goes on to outline the ties that the Atlanta Housing Authority board members have with real estate and banking interests, and so, possibly, a direct interest in the demolition and redevelopment of public housing:

"Mr. Cecil M. Phillips, Chairman of the AHA Board, is also Chairman of the Board of the Summit Bank Corporation, which was acquired December 29, 2006, by UCBH Holdings, Inc., for $665.7 million.

UCBH Holdings is the holding company for United Commercial Bank, which offers a wide range of lending activities, including commercial real estate and construction loans.

Ms. Carol Jackson, who serves on the AHA Board, has been involved with many other organizations. Jackson is the retired Executive Vice President of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, which provides community building programs throughout the Southeast, according to their website.

After leaving the bank, Jackson was appointed to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), which includes the State's Housing Finance Agency."

Former Corporate Finance Attorney Renee Glover, Director of the Atlanta Housing Authority, is understandably a bit sensitive about the displacement of public housing residents by the massive redevelopment of public housing in Atlanta. Listen to how she completely sidesteps the issue of displacement in this interview with Creative Loafing Magazine in May of 2006:

Question: Have you witnessed or heard of any negative side effects of displacing such a large amount of housing subsidy-dependent people?

"It is a misconception that revitalizations displace people.

Dr. Danny Boston, professor of economics at Georgia Tech, tracked families both affected and unaffected by revitalizations and found those affected were much better off.

First, they had higher employment rates, made more money and enjoyed a higher standard of living.

Second, specifically regarding displacement, Dr. Boston found that people who continued to live in conventional public housing were even more likely to leave the system than those whose neighborhoods were revitalized, and sickness and death were much more likely to be the reasons they left.

Finally, AHA is providing housing subsidies to more people now than it was before HOPE VI revitalizations began."

Her answer says nothing concerning those residents displaced and unable to return to redeveloped apartments. Dr. Ronald Bayor of Georgia Tech though takes up the issue in his Journal of Urban History article, "The Second Ghetto: Then and Now" (2003, v29, p238-242). He says, "The black poor are still the losers in urban policy. Except for the fortunate few who are allowed into the new mixed-income developments, the low income residents are forced to find housing in areas deemed unworthy of government attention. As in Chicago, the poor are slighted through the destruction of their housing with little relocation effort, and housing instead is provided for the middle class, who do not need government help in securing apartments."

He goes on to firmly place the blame of the lack of rehousing concerns on the shoulders of the local and federal creators of mixed income communities:

"In Atlanta, as in many other cities, one after another public housing projects have been redeveloped into mixed-income sites. Centennial Place (formerly the Techwood-Clark Howell Homes) was presented as a renovation during construction, with residents of the former project promised first priority in securing the new apartments. However, then the units were ready for occupancy, very few of the project tenants were allowed to move into the new development: most were pushed into the remaining ghetto. Of the original 1,128 Techwood-Clark Howell residents, only 78 secured apartments in Centennial Place by 1999."

Bayor has this to say about the now storied East Lake Meadows redevelopment:

"...the new housing formed a "country club community of apartments, townhouses, tennis courts and swimming pools, wrapped around a new public golf course." Redevelopment has led to an increase in area home prices and the pricing out of many former neighborhood residents. Plans are already made to do the same for all of the public housing projects in the city."

He states, "The reduction of both public housing units and tenants in these various areas has not only removed low-income blacks from the business district, as in the 1950's, but is reshaping the ghetto."

Gerard Barousse Jr., Director of the non-profit Bayou District Foundation, owns Monarch Real Estate Advisors, Inc., among several other companies. Michael Rodrigue, also listed as Director, is a business owner. Below are their holdings, compiled by City Park Nola.org:

Who's who, and what is their role in the Bayou District plan?

Directors: Michael H. Rodrigue, Gerard W. Barousse, Jr. Both are longtime supporters of the Fore!Kids Foundation and businessmen.
Businesses associated with Gerard W. Barousse, Jr include: Monarch Real Estate Advisors, Inc; Monarch Hospitality, LLC; Monarch Real Estate Holdings, LLC; LJBM, Inc; Tonto Hospitality, LLC; Bronco Hospitality, LLC; Barfam Investments, LLC; 402 Partners, LLC; 335 Julia Partners, LLC; 330 Partners, LLC; 821 Partners, LLC; R.C.B. Builders, Inc; BDF Housing, Inc; and St. Bernard Redevelopment, LLC.
Businesses associated with Michael H. Rodrigue include: Rodco Worldwide, Inc; Ciolino Properties, LLC; Rodrigue Investments, LLC; RawBar, Inc; Boston Oysters; Acme Southshore, Inc; Acme Management Group; Half Shell, LLC; Da Metry Store, LLC; Da Northshore, LLC; and Horace, LLC.

St. Bernard Redevelopment, LLC, 1136 Baronne St, NOLA 70130
Role: Received $9 million from HANO for demolition and up to $19 million for public infrastructure work
Created 9/25/2007; Registered Agent is Gerard W. Barousse, Jr. (of Bayou District Foundation) 335 Julia St., NOLA 70130; Manager is Noel Khalil (of Columbia Residential) 1718 Peachtree St, NW, Suite 684, Atlanta, GA 30309; Members include BDF Housing, Inc, whose directors are Michael H. Rodrigue, Gerard W. Barousse, Jr, and whose mailing address is the same as the Bayou District Foundation; and Affordable Housing Partnership, whose address is the same as Columbia Residential.

Barousse obviously has strong real estate ties and holdings. Tom Cousins, in his testimony before the Millennial Commission, stated the area inhabited by and surrounding the East Lake Meadows redevelopment saw its property values go up. Professor Bayor confirms this. Cousins saw this as a good thing. The Real Estate Industry and its representatives puts a premium on property values. Having a representative of the real estate industry appointed to oversee the redevelopment of the St. Bernard Housing Development, well...at least suggests a conflict of interests. Again, what is HUD thinking?

At the most recent City Park Hearing on the proposed PGA style golf course, Bayou District Foundation representatives did not testify. The President of the Lakeview Neighborhood Association did get up and say he valued the proposed golf course in that property values in the surrounding area will go up. He was the only person, to my recollection, that got up and spoke for rising property values. Obviously though, with real estate interests overseeing the redevelopment of the St. Bernard Housing Development, this is an underlying issue.

Housing activists and those concerned with housing for the working poor must ask: why is HUD allowing the question of property values to play a role in creating housing for low income folks? Property values addresses the needs of the real estate industry, not that of low income folks who in this city, are desperate for housing that is affordable.

A USA Today article in March of 2008 lays bare the failure of HUD policies, the massive demolition of public housing and the corresponding strain on our devastated private housing stock that still is not rebuilt: New Orleans with the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the nation, an estimated 11,000 homeless in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes (by all accounts, underestimated, and most are in Orleans Parish), and no end in sight to this still rising rate of homelessness since Katrina.

Turning over national housing policy to the real estate industry has ultimately, brought us here.

-- Elizabeth Cook