ZURIK: City Council to outline uses for Upper Pontalba Apartment unit

Published: Mar. 28, 2023 at 5:01 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 28, 2023 at 5:19 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A New Orleans City Council member says the Council will take action to lay out exactly how an apartment on the edge of Jackson Square, that has traditionally been reserved for the mayor’s office, can be used. Councilman Eugene Green says putting regulations in place for the Upper Pontalba Apartment unit is long overdue.

The New Orleans Inspector General recently investigated Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s use of the apartment and concluded that the unit should be put back into commerce.

“The city council will certainly take up the matter with a committee that is going to investigate all possible uses. But we want it to be to the highest and best use for the taxpayers of the city of New Orleans,” Green said.

Inspector General Ed Michel believes Mayor Cantrell’s use of the apartment falls outside its traditional use by past mayors.

“One of our findings with this letter is because of an undocumented agreement between the French Market Corporation and the city, this apartment remains vacant at all times for events sponsored by the mayor. Personal use of this apartment by the mayor gives the appearance of a donation of public property, which is in violation of the Louisiana constitution,” Michel said.

The Inspector General launched an investigation into Cantrell’s use of the apartment following a series of FOX 8 investigations that showed Cantrell spending long hours inside the apartment both during the workday and outside of work hours.


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At the conclusion of that investigation, Michel sent a letter to the French Market Corporation, which manages the apartments for the city, urging the corporation to stop allowing Cantrell and any future mayors to use the apartment. Investigators concluded the city asset would be of greater value to taxpayers if it was returned to commerce, and rented out to one of the hundreds of people on a waiting list for a unit at the Upper Pontalba Apartment Complex.

“As you know, we’re responsible for ensuring that the government uses the very limited resources the city has in a very efficient and effective manner,” Michel said. “This apartment can be rented for $2,900 a month, which could generate about $36,000 a year for the city. The city also pays an additional $5,000 a year in utilities, which brings the total of about $41,000 that the city is not collecting every year while this apartment remains open and vacant and available to the mayor for her use.”

French Market Corporation Executive Director Leslie Alley says the FMC is only responsible for managing the apartment and is not authorized to make rules regarding its use.

“Unfortunately, both the FMC staff and the OIG in research of the historical records, including those in the city archives from mayors as far back as 1930 found no written agreements or policies regarding the use of the mayor’s apartment,” Alley said. “The city, as the property owner, retained control of the mayor’s apartment as early as 1988, and removed the unit from possession and control of the managing entity at that time. That managing entity predated the French Market Corporation. Thus, the French Market Corporation has never had possession or control of that unit. Further, it’s not for the manager of the remaining property to set the terms of use of the unit by the owner.”

The Inspector General has now sent a letter to the New Orleans City Council, urging the city to relinquish the apartment to the French Market Corporation, so it can be rented to the public.

Green says the council will look at potential uses of the apartment and will put something in writing to lay out exactly how it should be utilized, but he stopped short of saying the council would follow the IG’s recommendation to return it to commerce.

“I think that the word that you use that’s most important is ‘recommendation’ and we will take the recommendation into account. We recognize that the city needs to take advantage of every resource that we can. There could be potential uses that could be of benefit to the taxpayers. And we will look into that possibility too,” Green said.

The IG’s letter also points out that in 2011, the city justified raising rent for other Upper Pontalba residents by stating that the city and FMC were “committed to getting a good, fair-market value for the taxpayer-owned property.”

Michel suggested a way to make good on that commitment is to rent the unit that has traditionally been reserved for the mayor’s office to the public.

“The most important thing here that we want to stress is that the city is committed to earning fair market value for all publicly owned property and leasing this apartment would go a long way towards honoring the commitment the city has to the taxpayers of New Orleans,” Michel said.

The IG also sent its recommendations to Mayor Cantrell’s office in mid-March. FOX 8 reached out to the mayor’s office for comment at that time, but no one responded.

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