Katie Moore / Eyewitness News
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NEW ORLEANS -- The US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development was in New Orleans Monday for a ceremonial groundbreaking of the Iberville housing re-development.

It's the last major public housing complex to be redesigned and rebuilt, in large part because it was so controversial.

Donovan joined state and local political officials to turn ceremonial dirt at the complex near the intersection of Bienville and Marais Streets Monday.

'Today we are breaking ground on the first of two phases. The first is 125 units of mixed-income housing -- low, moderate and market rates,' said Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Donovan said he's been to New Orleans at least a dozen times during his tenure at HUD, some of those visits for ceremonies at what used to be known as the 'big four' housing projects.

While not as large as what used to be known as the St. Bernard, CJ Peete, BW Cooper and Lafitte housing projects, Iberville is the last historic complex in the city to come down.

Building by building, demolition crews are working their way through the Iberville complex. A handful of buildings will be saved, but turned into alternate-use buildings to preserve their historic significance. Piles of rubble sit where crews have begun their work.

Lead and other hazardous materials make it a much more delicate procedure than just bringing in a wrecking ball.

'There over 1,000 apartments that we're gonna see throughout this neighborhood that we're gonna see for affordable housing as a result of this work. That doesn't mean those are all gonna be here on site. But we made a requirement that every unit of affordable housing be rebuilt within this neighborhood,' Donovan said.

Some of the lower-income units will be recouped in the old Texaco building on Canal Street. It's also being re-developed, but will house some of the Iberville's senior residents.

The unit-for-unit rebuild was one of the concerns initially raised by long-time Iberville residents like Rochelle Trotter.

'In New Orleans, as you know, sometimes political people don't keep their word and this time, they really kept their word,' she said.

All along, one of the main concerns has been that Iberville's prime location, next door to the French Quarter, and the CBD would lead the government to get rid of it all together.

'This is much, much better than it has ever been in every way. It's structurally better. It's spiritually better. It feels better and it looks better,' Landrieu said.

Those residents who were on site Monday said they're looking forward to seeing what this new mixed-use site will become. Only a few families are still living at the complex while demolition is ongoing. Most of the former residents have been relocated to other HANO properties.

Some, including Trotter, who worked on the redevelopment project, are now working to become homeowners through the city's soft-seconds mortgage program. Trotter said she hopes to officially become the owner of a Gentilly home on Friday.

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