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HUD secretary signs transition agreement for HANO transfer

Published: May. 28, 2014 at 11:29 PM CDT
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Mayor Mitch Landrieu and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan sign the HANO transition agreement on...
Mayor Mitch Landrieu and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan sign the HANO transition agreement on Thursday.

Jerome Walker has lived in public housing for over 50 years. He started out in the older units that many locals referred to as the "bricks."

Walker vividly recalls the cramped conditions that families endured over the years.

"One bedroom with 10 to 12 people," he said as he sat on the porch of his neat and modern house that is part of the redeveloped Guste Homes.

Walker is excited about the modern housing he now enjoys.

"It feels like kind of to me like you own your own house," he said.

He and others spoke of having three and four bedrooms and two bathrooms.

"It's sweet, much sweeter ma'am, a different attitude, everybody got a different attitude," said Walker.

The remaking of public housing in New Orleans into aesthetically pleasing mixed-income communities happened with the federal government clearly at the helm. But come July 1, the Housing Authority of New Orleans officially returns to local control.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Chief Shaun Donovan signed the transition agreement at City Hall Thursday morning.

"I am proud to announce today that HUD is returning the Housing Authority of New Orleans back to local control, and I do this because I truly believe that New Orleans is as strong as it's ever been and now is the right time for the agency to come home," said Donovan.

HANO was placed into receivership because of gross mismanagement over many years, according to the federal government.

Donovan said HUD will not abandon the city, and he promised completion of the redevelopment of the Iberville Housing Development, the last public housing development to be razed.

"That's a result of a $30.5 million HUD grant that was given to us through Choice Neighborhoods," said Landrieu.

"This is not us stepping back, this is us recommitting to a strong partnership in a new form," stated Donovan.

Donovan said when HUD took the reins from HANO, it was taking an unacceptable amount of time to get people into public housing units.

"When HUD took control of the agency in 2002, it took 200 days for the Housing Authority to turn an apartment over. What does that mean? When one resident moves out for the next resident to move in, 200 days. Think about the human cost of leaving apartments vacant for 200 days in a city that desperately needs affordable housing," he said.

Now Donovan said on average it is 31 days.

"The standard we see around the country is around 50 days, that's the standard that we set, so what we're talking about here is not just average performance now, but better than average performance," he said.

And public housing long-timers like Waker have high expectations for those who will run HANO moving forward.

"Act right, do right - that's all, that's all we got to do," said Walker.

HANO spokeswoman Lesley Eugene said there are currently about 1,800 public housing residents in the mixed-income sites, and that the agency services about 17,700 families through the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

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