St. John Housing woes are rampant, HUD claims

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 26, 2004

By RANIKA SANCHEZ – Staff Reporter

LAPLACE — As residents and non-residents of St. John the Baptist Housing Authority slowly filled the room on Monday evening, you could feel the one pressing question on everyone’s minds— Why are standard living conditions just not good enough?

Monday’s p.m. special St. John the Baptist Housing Authority meeting at the LaPlace Development Community Center was called to specifically address this question.

New Orleans Housing and Urban Development (HUD) performed an on site assessment of the housing development for low income families, along with a Section 8 Confirmatory Review from February 9 to February 13, 2004. The purpose of the assessment was to evaluate the housing development’s current conditions according to its Physical, Financial, Management, and Resident effectiveness.

Management was highly criticized, receiving a zero out of a possible 30 points— the lowest score in the four categories.

Commissioner Ferel Bering took the issue head on and said, “These scores are unsatisfactory. This is wrong, and it hurts.”

Alice H. Crenshaw, executive director of the organization, explained a few of the disappointing concerns HUD had with the housing development: electrical and plumbing problems, several work orders needing to be completed, residents taking batteries out of smoke detectors or completely turning them off, holes in the walls, and several other repairs need to be made amongst the stacks of papers holding other complaints filed by HUD.

Crenshaw is in agreement with HUD on these issues and said, “Probably about 35 units require a lot of work. It’s important that we work the oldest units first, those are the units that are hurting us. It affects the scoring.”

However, she is totally opposed to some issues HUD believes are problems. She insists that her organization has turned around or repaired 59 units instead of only the nine units HUD suggests. She denies HUD’s comments suggesting her residents live in poverty. In an extensive letter to HUD officials, denying several of their findings, she wrote, “Even though there is no policy in place, our participants do not reside only in poverty and minority concentration.” She also insists that she has completed some paperwork that HUD claims she has not, amongst several other issues of disagreement.”

Housing Authority Chairman Donald Brown reemphasized, “I agree that those are some areas of target, and they are very pertinent areas.” But besides maintenance and repairs, he admits there is another issue at hand — a problem with “turning units around to house more people that need housing. We have a waiting list of 400, and 92 that need to be turned around,” said Brown.

The four housing developments criticized by HUD are located in LaPlace, Reserve, Garyville, and Edgard, and all have the same repair problems.

Crenshaw stated, “They are consistent in all my developments. What’s true for one is true for all.” HUDs review of the housing physical assessment are as follows: LaPlace received 43/100; Reserve Oaks received 20/100; Reserve received 30/100; Edgar received 44/100; and Garyville received 29/100.

According to the assessment, Reserve needed the most work. But the board may not be able to tackle all of these issues as quickly as they want, for money is a large problem.

“We need an estimated $4.5 million to bring the units to a standard of living, according to the physical assessment,” said Crenshaw with great concern. The board’s next step in making changes in the four housing developments is contacting HUD to ask them for funds, which is pertinent for the housing authority to make repairs. Crenshaw said, “If HUD wants us to be high performance, they are going to have to give money to the agency to see that we get there.” It is not certain as to how long it will take for them to get money from HUD, that is to say if they get any money at all.

But the entire board agrees that something must be done now.

Bering said, “My agreement is that something is broken, and it needs to be fixed. This whole car needs repairing. I don’t think there is one particular item, but it needs to be repaired. It needs restoration— period.”