HUD No. 08-063
May 7, 2008
HUD APPOINTS NEW HANO BOARD CHAIR AS MAJOR PUBLIC HOUSING REDEVELOPMENT ADVANCES
Outgoing Board Chair Don Babers lauded for effort to improve public housing, lives
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today that Diane Johnson, a public housing and community development expert, will replace C. Donald Babers as the Recovery Advisor and Board Chairperson for the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) effective May 21st.
"The rebirth of New Orleans' public housing is on the horizon because of Don Babers' knack as a 'bridge builder.' He established relationships with everyone from local officials to public housing resident leaders to affordable housing landlords and developers, which helped HANO's resurgence since Hurricane Katrina," said Paula Blunt, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Public and Indian Housing. "Don's leadership set HANO on a path that we believe will make New Orleans a model for mixed-income communities nationwide."
Johnson, a 30-year HUD veteran, will be introduced at the next scheduled HANO board meeting on May 21st and begin her official duties that day. This will be the last board meeting for Babers, who was appointed to the position in April 2006. He will return fulltime to his responsibilities as the Deputy Regional Director of HUD's Regional Office in Fort Worth, Texas.
"We are confident that Diane will continue to lead the way to a better tomorrow for New Orleans' low-income families," added Blunt. "Through the years she has exemplified her care and concern for the people HUD serves and we are convinced she will continue to do so in this assignment."
Johnson, the Director of HUD's Field Office in Newark, N.J.since 1993, will oversee practices and procedures of operations at HANO. Karen Cato-Turner, the HUD-appointed Executive Administrator, will continue managing day-to-day operations.
Johnson has held numerous leadership positions at HUD, including Regional Director of HUD's New York and New Jersey Field Offices and Acting Field Office Director for HUD's Detroit Field Office. During her HUD career, she has been instrumental in turning around troubled housing agencies, including in 1990 at the Passaic (N.J.) Housing Authority where she served as the Executive Receiver and as the HUD Oversight Administrator at the Newark Housing Authority in 2005 after HUD found serious failings at the agency.
Over the past two years, Babers led HANO's recovery through numerous obstacles that threatened to thwart HUD and HANO's efforts to bring better housing and safer neighborhoods to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the city's public housing stock.
Soon after Babers was appointed, he aggressively accelerated the return of public housing residents to the city. The HANO staff repaired units and currently there are nearly 2,000 families living in open public housing units, approximately 5,700 families living in New Orleans utilizing the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, and 885 families remaining on HUD's Disaster Voucher Program.
Babers forged positive relationships with HANO resident leaders, local elected officials, the New Orleans City Council and private partners to gain support for HUD's plan to redevelop four of New Orleans' large public housing communities.. Today, the demolition of three communities slated for redevelopment - C.J. Peete, St. Bernard, and B.W. Cooper - is near completion. HANO expects construction to begin late summer for these developments. The developers for Lafitte, expects to complete demolition late summer.
Babers has also overseen the restart of construction in the Upper Ninth Ward at Abundance Square, formerly Desire. In addition, he welcomed residents to new public housing that was opened at the Fischer and Guste Communities and he congratulated HANO families for becoming first-time homeowners using a HUD homeownership program.
"I will never forget the incredibly strong families I've met on this journey. The people who, with God's grace, endured Hurricane Katrina's wrath and survived," said Babers. "It was my desire to make a positive difference and I hope those families will continue to believe that a new, better day is coming for them and future generations in this great city."
HUD is the nation's housing agency committed to increasing homeownership, particularly among minorities; creating affordable housing opportunities for low-income Americans; and supporting the homeless, elderly, people with disabilities and people living with AIDS. The Department also promotes economic and community development and enforces the nation's fair housing laws. More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet and espanol.hud.gov.