Prepared Remarks for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan at the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the Redevelopment of the Lafitte Community

New Orleans, Louisiana
Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Thanks so much, Ron, for that warm introduction, and thanks to you and all our assistant secretaries-particularly HUD's Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing Sandra Henriquez-for joining me at this historic groundbreaking this morning.

Thanks as well to Mayor Nagin, Paul Rainwater, Diane Johnson, Karen Cato-Turner, and Reverend Michael Jacques.

And Senator Landrieu, it's an honor to come together today for this occasion. Thank you for your leadership in the Senate and your partnership as we at HUD work to revitalize New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region.

And lastly, let me thank our developers, without whom today's groundbreaking would not have been possible: Doris Koo with Enterprise Community Partners, James Kelly with Providence Community Housing, and Ron Moelis from L

Thank you all for investments and the countless hours you've dedicated to making the redevelopment of Lafitte a reality.

I look forward to seeing you all at the ribbon cutting.

With the ground we break today, each of us makes a shared commitment:

To ensuring that all of the resources we've provided are helping people move back into their homes.

To cutting through the bureaucratic red tape that has too often these past four years been a barrier to revitalization and solving the hard problems in New Orleans.

To working together - with our partners from all levels of government, the non-profit community, and the private sector.

And above all, to doing everything we can to ensure New Orleans becomes the sustainable, inclusive and prosperous city we all want it to be - and know it can be.

Indeed, at HUD we've been working toward that goal since Day One. Within days of President Obama's inauguration, we learned that tens of thousands of families would be impacted when the Disaster Housing Assistance Program came to an end.

The lives of these families had already been torn apart once -by Katrina and Rita. And here they were, about to be victimized yet again - this time, by a manmade disaster.

To all of us at HUD, that was completely unacceptable.

And so, together, with our partners in the Administration, we announced a transition plan for DHAP families, providing rental assistance and additional time for families to move from temporary housing into permanent housing, including the Housing Choice Voucher program.

Altogether, nearly 350 public housing agencies from all over the country provided temporary housing to over 30,000 families displaced from their homes by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Public housing agencies reached out to every single family and sat down with some 21,000 DHAP families that expressed interest in housing assistance.

Of the 12,000 families that were income-eligible for Housing Choice Vouchers and received them, more than a third were families in New Orleans.

The remaining families have since either transitioned to self-sufficiency or qualified for Louisiana's CDBG-funded Rapid Re-housing Program.

HUD contracted with community-based social service providers to offer customized case management, ensuring that the housing resources being provided met each family's individual needs.

Our efforts to assist these 30,000 families were part of a broader federal effort that has helped 90,000 families transition to permanent housing - an unprecedented federal effort to prevent families victimized by disaster from falling through the cracks.

Today, we stand at the future site of Lafitte community - the next stage of HUD's commitment to affordable housing and to the transformation of New Orleans' public housing.

Providing one-for-one replacement housing to the more than 800 families who lived here prior to Katrina and other eligible families when completed, Lafitte will host 1,500 affordable and market rate rental and homeownership units - more than a third of the 4,000 mixed-income units included among the "Big Four" sites currently being redeveloped.

The Road Home for these families hasn't always been easy. The downturn in the equity market in the fall meant some of these developments fell behind schedule.

But I'm proud to say that by the end of the next year, families will once again begin to call Lafitte home. Only weeks from now, families will begin to move in to Harmony Oaks and Columbia Parc at the Bayou District.

Collectively, these public housing transformations should send a clear message that HUD is committed to providing affordable housing for every family - that this is a new era, not only for public housing residents, not only for HUD. But for every neighborhood in New Orleans.

Long before Katrina, this great city-which I've been fortunate to visit three times this year-was burdened by many of the same challenges that plague metropolitan America - from a high concentration of poverty to troubled public schools.

Today, we understand that many of the neighborhoods of concentrated poverty across the country resulted not in spite of government policy, but it many ways because of it.

Today, we recognize that for any community to succeed it needs access to good schools, affordable child care and health care, as well as access to public transportation and retail businesses - one reason Lafitte is integrated into the surrounding neighborhood through an open grid street plan.

Today, we know the correlation between successful housing and successful schools isn't just theory - it's practice.

We believe the time has come to build on those synergies by challenging public, private and nonprofit partners to extend neighborhood transformation efforts beyond public housing.

That is what our Choice Neighborhoods initiative is all about. By expanding the range of activities eligible for funding, we can capitalize on the full range of stakeholders we know are needed and want to be involved - from local governments and non-profits to private firms and public housing agencies.

We are incredibly excited to start this work and can think of no better place for it to begin than New Orleans.

So thank you to all of our partners here today for making this groundbreaking a reality and for helping Lafitte residents take their first step from recovery to revitalization. For making this community whole again. Thank you.


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