Public housing availability a concern in St. John Parish
Published 6:30 pm Tuesday, February 15, 2022
LAPLACE — Affordable housing in St. John the Baptist Parish is becoming increasingly difficult to find, a challenge exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida’s widespread devastation.
Adding to those complexities is the pending demolition of public housing developments in St. John Parish.
Councilwoman Tammy Houston is concerned residents are not being given the help they need to stay in the parish. Councilman Tom Malik echoed those concerns, stating, “There is a horrible, critical need for affordable housing.”
During a 90-minute discussion at last week’s St. John Parish Council meeting, Housing Authority Executive Director Trina Sanders emphasized her staff is “working around the clock to find housing.”
Houston said she had requested Sanders to appear before the council to discuss the housing shortage and what remedies were being pursued. Houston also asked Sanders to address comments she had heard from some of her constituents, including reports that housing vouchers were being canceled, deposits were not being paid and that residents are being encouraged to move out of the parish.
Sanders explained that the process of identifying housing was slowed when a relocation company the agency had hired was not meeting the needs of the residents. The contract was ultimately canceled.
Addressing vouchers, Sanders said that, according to HUD regulations, when residents are issued housing vouchers allowing them to live in Section 8 housing anywhere in the country, they are valid for 60 days. However, the current scarcity of public housing has allowed for extensions.
Sanders said she has applied for additional vouchers to provide more help for families with disabilities. She is continuing to search for opportunities to keep families from relocating but warned not everyone might be able to stay – at least temporarily.
“Let’s be real about what has transpired in this parish,” Sanders said. “Many of you are still rebuilding. My charge is to make sure these families, those kids, have housing, wherever that might be.”
Sanders continued, “Do residents have to make some hard choices about the future of their housing? Yes, they do but I want (council members) to know we are doing the best we can with what we have under special circumstances.”
“It seems like for those who want to stay, we don’t have affordable places,” Councilman Lennix Madere said. “It’s very hard to leave someplace that you know.”
Sanders told the Council she was able to secure additional vouchers because of the demolition of the housing developments, which she pointed out a previous council unanimously approved, and explained parish leaders now have an opportunity to create their own vision for housing.
“What is the future of public housing? I don’t know,” she told council members. “You tell us what you want. This is your charge. It’s not for the housing authority to decide. Collectively, we have to work together.”
On several occasions, Sanders emphasized that traditional public housing developments are obsolete. She said that in recent years the housing authority had targeted 30 public housing units to be renovated, but only nine passed updated safety clearances.
“It’s more feasible to demolish public housing than put a Band-Aid on something that is unsafe,” Sanders said. She noted that her staff is in frequent contact with many of the parish’s major Section 8 landlords who are still rebuilding damaged units.
According to Sanders, 39 families were displaced by Ida, and housing has been located for 20 of those families. The agency is still trying to locate housing for many of the other 19 families.
Moving forward, Sanders said HUD is encouraging housing authorities nationwide to use vouchers as well as partner with other entities, including private partnerships, to provide affordable housing. She said her agency is also applying for bond money and tax credits to encourage those partnerships.