Search for public housing continues as demolition plans move forward
Published 12:01 am Friday, February 25, 2022
LAPLACE — The St. John Parish Housing Authority is continuing its search for housing for displaced families as plans move forward for the demolition of old complexes throughout the parish.
The impact of Hurricane Ida has exasperated the need for housing. Out of 39 families displaced in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, 19 have been successfully housed, Housing Authority Executive Director Trina Sanders reported this week during a meeting in Edgard.
Sanders said 16 households are continuing to search for housing. One household has opted not to participate in the program, and the Housing Authority has not had success in reaching the remaining two households due to contact information on file being obsolete.
Availability of affordable housing has been an ongoing concern in St. John Parish, and Sanders hopes to incentivize more landlords to partner with the Housing Authority moving forward.
The Housing Authority is requesting a waiver from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that would increase the payment standard from 100% of fair market value to 120% of fair market value through December 31, 2022.
This measure would not increase tenants’ costs, but it would allow landlords to collect more in rent. For example, a landlord currently collecting $1,000 in rent at fair market value would collect $1,200 if the payment standard is increased.
“The Housing Authority absorbs the cost. The landlords are receiving more funds. I see no reason why HUD would not grant that. It’s a win-win for our residents as well as for our landlords partnering with us to provide affordable housing,” Sanders said.
She added, “Due to the calculations, it may even reduce the tenants’ portion of the rent, and that’s what we’re looking to do.”
Due to circumstances surrounding Hurricane Ida, the Housing Authority is also asking HUD for approval to request housing voucher extensions through December 31, 2022.
According to St. John Housing Supervisor Stacy August, vouchers normally last an initial 60 days and can be extended another 60 days by request. The process of requesting extensions has been waived in the aftermath of Ida.
“Because of the storm, we have gone beyond 120 days and are currently at 180,” August said. “The purpose of the vouchers is to give them an opportunity to find housing.”
The Housing Authority will delay reopening the public housing waitlist so more time can be devoted to assisting current participants and getting the office back in order.
The devastation of Hurricane Ida coincides with the demolition of public housing complexes in LaPlace, Edgard and Garyville.
Locals may have heard detonations this week as the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office SWAT Team hosted an advanced breaching course using the vacant public housing complexes.
Sanders said abatement of the LaPlace complex has been in progress since January 17, 2022. Demolition in Garyville was planned to begin the week of January 31 but had to be pushed back due to issues relating to shut-off of utilities. Demolition will proceed after abatement is completed at the LaPlace site.
At this week’s Housing Authority Board of Commissioners meeting, a contractor asked for an opportunity to inspect the plumbing and judge whether repairs are possible in lieu of demolition.
Sanders said the demolition of the complexes is already under a binding contract. According to Sanders, the demolition is the culmination of a process that began in 2014.
While the Housing Authority previously identified 30 units for rehab using federal dollars, only nine of the 30 units passed environmental clearances.
The units that were gutted to the studs still failed to pass environmental clearances. Meanwhile, the nine units that were cleared for renovation had to be shut down two months later due to collapsed plumbing.
“It’s not a matter of putting sheetrock up. These buildings are 60 years old. You’ve got asbestos in the floor. You have to be careful how you treat that. That’s what’s being done right now at the LaPlace site,” Sanders said. “Prior to any approval by the federal government for demolition, there is a tedious process. Based on the studies that we’ve invested in, those units are not suitable for living. That’s why we’ve done everything in our power to encourage residents to take advantage of the Section 8 vouchers that we are offering.”
Moving forward, Sanders has started building a scope of work to direct the revitalization of affordable housing in St. John Parish. She said the process will require input from community stakeholders.
The Housing Authority Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet with the Parish Council to discuss the current challenges and goals of public housing. The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 3 at the Parish Government Complex.