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Garyville project proponents say Housing Authority redevelopment ups quality & reputation

GARYVILLE — Before moving to St. John the Baptist Parish last year, Angela Smith was a single mother working in New Orleans, struggling to make ends meet and provide for her three young sons.

Angela Smith

She never considered public housing until it became the best option for her family’s future.

Smith works in the cafeteria at East St. John High School and hopes to obtain a position in the St. John School Board administrative building. Each day, she returns home to Joe Parquet Circle, the LaPlace site of the Housing Authority of St. John the Baptist Parish.

“Public housing is a very beneficial thing to some families who can’t afford to pay rent that’s usually anywhere from $700 to $1,100 a month,” Smith said, noting her rent is now based on family size and income.

“It’s been quite OK and a pretty positive experience for me. I don’t have anything against it, except the units are old and need to be updated. I think it’s time to remodel or demolish and build new units.”

A complete redevelopment is planned for the St. John Housing Authority, beginning with Phase One currently underway at the Garyville site.

Construction of four new buildings encompassing 22 dwelling units on Historic East Street in Garyville is expected to be complete by mid-June.

According to Housing Authority Executive Director Trina Sanders, the Garyville Redevelopment Project is fully funded through a $5.3 million Community Development Block Grant, without any state tax credit received.

The Housing Authority entered into a contract with master developer Columbia Residential in 2015 and commenced demolition of the former 54-unit site in May.

Four families displaced by the Garyville site’s closure will be given first preference for the new units, according to Sanders.

The remaining units will be leased in accordance to federal Housing Assistance Payment contracts, which involves an enrollment waitlist for low-income families inside and outside of the Parish.

The Housing Authority is not accepting applications at this time, Sanders said, noting tenant eligibility will be decided before the complex’s June completion date.

Upon completion, a certificate of occupancy will be executed for each unit, at which point families will be allowed to move in.

Columbia Residential is completing foundation prep on buildings one and four and beginning framework for new driving and parking areas, according to Sanders.

When Smith moved from New Orleans, she applied online and was put on a waitlist in December 2016. She was approved for a unit in October 2017.

St. John Councilwoman Julia Remondet has heard concerns from the Garyville community that new housing units will not prioritize locals in need of financial assistance, instead opening the door to strangers and increased crime.

Julia Remondet

During the initial 2015 public meeting concerning the project, Remondet and local residents were not aware a Council vote was forthcoming.

“People thought at the time, including myself, that it was just an idea,” Remondet told L’OBSERVATEUR last month. “I think that’s why people are upset, because they don’t feel they were notified.”

Housing Authority Board of Commissioners member Iona Holloway said residents are welcome to attend 5 p.m. meetings the third Monday of each month at 152 Joe Parquet Circle in LaPlace to learn more about construction plans and timelines.

Iona Holloway

According to Holloway, the Housing Authority has suffered from structure dilapidation and poor reputation. She believes new construction is necessary to enhance neighborhood quality.

“We just started breaking ground to rebuild housing in Garyville and hopefully attract more people,” Holloway said.

“It’s been so long since these things were built, and they’ve kind of fallen into disarray over the years. We have a waiting list of people needing public housing, but you say ‘housing authority,’ people don’t want to live there. That’s mostly our problem.”

Holloway is one of five Housing Authority Board of Commissioners members appointed by the St. John Parish Council.

Since joining the board in 2011, Holloway has supported efforts to improve substandard housing development conditions she encountered through work as a school truancy officer.

Smith said she was initially skeptical about moving into a Housing Authority unit but made a decision of necessity over comfort.

“There is great room for improvement, but it is good for families on a fixed income, and it does help with saving up to try to do something else,” Smith said.

“I think it’s good they have a federal grant to update Garyville because the renovation is needed. I just hope they can speed up the process and not be stuck on a single property for years.”

Established in 1968, the St. John Housing Authority forwards the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s mission to create strong, inclusive communities and quality housing for low-to-moderate income families.

According to Sanders, the LaPlace and Reserve sites will see redevelopment similar to Garyville, though funding and timelines have not been set.

For more information about the Garyville Redevelopment or residential opportunities, call 985-652-9036.