The New Orleans City Council wants what's left of the Road Home program properties to be part of the city's conversation about affordable housing -- an issue Mayor Mitch Landrieu has placed as a priority in his final two years in office.
How many properties that would potentially add to the local housing inventory -- and when they might be added -- isn't certain. But in anticipation of their disposal, the council approved a resolution Thursday (Sept. 22) urging the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority to "collaborate with the community" as it manages and develops the lots.
The state and local agencies tasked with bringing development back to these properties say they are already engaged in efforts to get community feedback. But with possibly thousands of lots re-entering the local market, there's now talk of how they might address the city's housing needs across all incomes.
" ...These properties are how we could shape a more affordable city for years to come," said District D Councilman Jared Brossett, who authored the resolution.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development financed the Road Home program after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures of August 2005. Nearly $10 billion was made available to homeowners who wanted to rebuild or relocate.
The state's Office of Community Development administered the program through the Road Home Corp. which gave homeowners three options for obtaining grants: Option 1 provided limited money to those who wanted to elevate and rebuild their homes; Option 2 and Option 3 bought the properties of those who didn't want to return to New Orleans.
The nonprofit Louisiana Land Trust was created to manage the properties the Road Home program purchased. So far, it has transferred nearly 3,300 parcels to the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, LLT spokeswoman GeGe Roulaine said.
NORA is tasked with using those lots and other vacant sites it owns to address residential and business needs in the city. It has found new owners for hundreds of them through public auctions and the Lot Next Door program. The authority is also working with private and nonprofit developers in areas such as the 9th Ward, where hundreds of Louisiana Land Trust lots sit vacant.
Pat Forbes, executive director of the Office of Community Development, said Thursday there are more than 3,200 unoccupied Option 1 Road Home properties in New Orleans. Some of those properties could eventually be transferred to the Louisiana Land Trust and then to NORA.
In August 2015, the state reached an agreement with HUD that relaxed some of the rules of the reconstruction program. One of the terms allows Option 1 homeowners to apply for more money to finish repairs or elevations, provided they can show their original grant was used for qualify expenses.
The changes also let Option 1 homeowners apply for Option 2 or 3 buyouts, which would place more properties in the Louisiana Land Trust pipeline.
Brossett said the Gentilly area in his district is one that stands to be significantly affected as Louisiana Land Trust lots are redeveloped. He said there are 300 to 400 such properties in the neighborhood already under NORA's control.
Brenda Breaux, NORA's executive director, said 142 of its lots in Gentilly have been designated for developers and stormwater management projects, and another 148 are at the authority's disposal.
Realtor Betty Birdsong, who lists properties in Gentilly, told the council committee Thursday these and other trust lots that become available should be considered not just for affordable housing but also middle-income development. She specifically noted a lack of home inventory in the $190,000 to $250,000 range, for which demand is high in the area.
Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell said limited housing stock is not a problem exclusive to Gentilly. She singled out the Hoffman Triangle neighborhood withinCentral City, where she suggested a soft second mortgage program could help buyers secure the available lots.
The Louisiana Land Trust lots are supposed to "accommodate all, at every level," Cantrell said, adding that Lakeview stands as an example where the private market has priced lots out of reach for most buyers.
"The window of opportunity is closing, and we have to be intentional about these lots," she said.