The Times-Picayune reports that more than three years after Hurricane Katrina, nearly 6,500 privately owned, federally-subsidized apartments sit unrepaired in the state of Louisiana. Most -- about 4,000 -- are in the New Orleans area.
In New Orleans, many of these apartments were built during the 1960s and 1970s, and were subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in a federal effort to create more low-income housing by giving private developers low-interest, federally insured loans. According to The Times-Picayune:
Before the storm, the apartments made up nearly 5 percent of the city's total rental stock and about 40 percent of the subsidized housing affordable to extremely low-income residents, according to PolicyLink, a nonprofit housing research organization.
HUD did not provide detailed data on the number or status of all the subsidized rental properties, but information the agency gave politicians, researchers and housing advocacy groups suggests that about 800 of the apartments have reopened while 4,000 remain closed.
But it's difficult to be exact, because the information coming from HUD is incomplete and hard to get.
"It's like it's the biggest secret in the universe," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, whose office has tried, unsuccessfully, to get detailed data from HUD about these properties.
Housing advocates are demanding that HUD take a more active role in reopening the affordable apartments, half of which were occupied by senior citizens, reports The Times-Picayune. Since HUD has yet to release a definitive plan that outlines which properties will reopen and which will not, and why, and since the properties are owned by a long list of private owners, it's difficult to determine who's doing what, reports the Times-Picayune.
Facing South has reported on the affordable housing crisis facing many New Orleans residents. Hurricane Katrina damaged or destroyed nearly 52,000 rental units in the city and the homeless population has doubled to about 12,000 since the hurricane. The bureaucratic delays and the lack of progress on these private, federally-subsidized properties represent yet another a major barrier to rebuilding and providing housing for thousands of people in need.
Housing advocates underscore that instead of supplying affordable housing, some of the large apartment complexes now present a massive blight issue. Before Katrina, the subsidized apartments were a key strategy for housing the poor -- but without these rentals thousands of working poor, disabled and elderly people still live with relatives or struggle to pay steep post-Katrina rent.
Moreover, thousands of low-income households have been unable to return to HUD-assisted properties in New Orleans as many low-income tenants continue to face bureaucratic nightmares and delays. As The Times-Picayune reports:
Unlike residents of public housing complexes, renters in the HUD-subsidized apartment complexes dealt only with private landlords, and have had trouble figuring out where to get help within the FEMA-HUD bureaucracies, said Laura Tuggle from New Orleans Legal Assistance. As a result, about one-third of the HUD-subsidized renters she sees have no housing aid. And it's now too late for them to seek disaster-related rental help, she said. "Every day that passes is another day that a former HUD-assisted family sits on pins and needles, not knowing when their housing assistance may end," she wrote to HUD in July.