NEW ORLEANS -- What used to be the St. Bernard Housing Development is a transformed neighborhood, now to be known as Columbia Parc at the Bayou District.
The new complex unveiled Monday will have schools, senior centers and recreational facilities in a place that used to be an eyesore.
It went from a drawing to a dream. Crystal Bourgeois is already living it.
“It's beautiful. It's quiet and spacious they did a real good job,” Bourgeois said.
On Monday city officials cut the ribbon on Columbia Parc.
“I heard someone call this newly built community to a Walt Disney World resort,” said one resident speaking at the ribbon breaking.
This is the same place that a year and half ago the St. Bernard housing projects were located. In December they broke ground, and this former resident was there to see it.
“Today I stand before you again. But this time I stand in the middle of a beautiful neighborhood and realize that you, Secretary Donovan, and Columbia have fulfilled your promise.”
But this didn't come without some passionate protests from residents scared they wouldn't have a place to return, one in the form a second line.
But Monday a parade of officials stood in front of the units so many doubted would happen.
“We've turned this crisis into an opportunity to transform this former St. Bernard site into a revitalized community, linking residents more closely,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.
But not everyone with public housing spots will get to move back. Before Hurricane Katrina, the development was home to 963 public-housing households, which paid monthly HUD rent.
The first phase of Columbia Parc has just under 500 apartments, but only 157 will be subsidized public-housing apartments where rent is based on income. The rest of the units are market-rate apartments and affordable tax-credit units that target moderate-income households, with rent from $775 to almost $1100 a month.
“The look of it, it gives people more pride of where they come from,” Bourgeois said.
But for those who already get to call it home, the Housing Authority of New Orleans and HUD built more than houses. They built credibility.
“Now we don't have to worry about whether you will do what you said you will do. You have earned your credibility with the work that you've done.”
The elderly and disabled and families with an employed head of household will have priority status, but former residents must re-apply. Here is a link where you can apply.