NEW ORLEANS -- The demolition of the last major public housing development in New Orleans is getting underway. Crews are expected to start tearing down the Iberville development, near the French Quarter, next week.
It's part of a major transformation of what some may call a historically rundown part of downtown.
Another part of that transformation involves the multi-million dollar renovation of the Saenger Theater, less than a block away from the Iberville development. The front of the theater appears to be on Canal Street, where a bright marquee used to light up.
But the building that faces Canal Street only houses the theater's entrance. The rest of that building will soon be affordable apartments at $650 or less a month.
“We want a lot of very high-end units because there's demand. There's folks who can afford to pay for that. We also need some middle of the market units and affordable units downtown as well,” said Kurt Weigle, the CEO of the Downtown Development District.
The Lasalle Apartments are being marketed to artists. The developer, Reliance Affordable Housing, declined an interview with us about it, saying they are preparing for the first tenants to move in Saturday.
It's part of a massive transformation of living space downtown. Weigle said less than a thousand people live on Canal Street itself.
“We see a lot of opportunities for the development of the upper floors along Canal Street,” he said.
Lasalle's 32 units are a drop in the bucket compared to what will ultimately be at the site of the former Iberville housing development.
“I guess you could say demolition is started now,” said David Gilmore, the federal administrative receiver who oversees the Housing Authority of New Orleans because of a court-ordered consent decree.
He said the Iberville is the last of the city's major public housing sites. "The big four" were torn down after Katrina, all in various stages of rebuilding as mixed-income developments.
“It doesn’t seem any longer as a matter of social policy to be building these large-scale public housing communities, which house people only of the lowest income,” Gilmore said.
HANO instead is providing section eight rent vouchers for those needing housing help.
About 850 units at Iberville all have to be rebuilt because of the federal grant the city's using for the re-development. Only a third will be traditional public housing units. The rest of those traditional units will built at other re-developments planned around the city, including the old Texaco building on Canal Street for seniors.
HANO says 15,000 people are still on a waiting list for section 8 vouchers. That's down from 30,000 in years past.
That waiting list has been closed for several years.