The history of public housing in New Orleans is complex, marked by economic and social challenges while providing much-needed housing and a sense of community for this city’s poverty-stricken. With the passage of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, the federal government began funding the construction and operations of housing for low-income households. The first Public Housing development was constructed shortly thereafter, in the 1940’s, in a manner similar to the government-funded communities of that era. Notably, they were built as low-rise red brick structures in superblock configurations. While attractive in its day, by the 1970s, public housing in New Orleans had deteriorated to the point where units were no longer habitable under basic living standards.
In the early 1990s, HUD introduced the HOPE VI grant program that funded the redevelopment of distressed public housing sites into traditionally designed neighborhoods for a variety of income groups. This model encouraged higher quality construction, and the design of street patterns that would integrate the site into the fabric of the surrounding neighborhood. HANO and other housing authorities across the country contracted private developers and property managers to enhance the long-term viability of these new communities. Since the late 1990s, HANO has redeveloped several of its public housing sites under this model.
Much of HANO’s housing stock was destroyed in 2005 as a result of Hurricane Katrina. After assessing the damage, HANO undertook a massive redevelopment program to replace and modernize its housing communities. With cost estimates exceeding $1 billion to merely renovate the 1940’s-era buildings, HUD authorized funding for the total demolition and recreation of the four main public housing sites - Lafitte, St. Bernard, B.W. Cooper and C.J. Peete (known as “the Big Four”)- along with the continuation of previously started redevelopment activities at Desire, Fischer, St. Thomas and Guste. Four companies have signed on to redevelop the Big Four. Columbia Residential is redeveloping the St. Bernard, Providence Enterprise is redeveloping Lafitte, while KBK Enterprises and Central City are the developers for B.W. Cooper and C.J. Peete respectively.
HANO’s overall portfolio is comprised of nine large-scale housing communities as well as scattered site properties dispersed throughout the city. HANO’s communities include Abundance Square and Treasure Village [formerly Desire], Florida, River Garden [formerly St. Thomas], Fischer, Harmony Oaks [formerly C.J. Peete], B.W. Cooper, Guste Homes, Columbia Parc [formerly St. Bernard], Iberville, and Faubourg Lafitte.
The Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP), that provides Section 8 vouchers to eligible families, currently administers more than 17,000 vouchers, and oversees 2,987 tenant-protection vouchers issued to families affected by the demolition of the Big Four.