HANO Groundbreaking at St. Bernard
REMARKS PREPARED FOR
STEVE PRESTON, SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
NEW ORLEANS, LA
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2008
Thank you. I am pleased to join General O'Dell, Mayor Nagin, and all of our public and private partners involved in this historic groundbreaking. Today marks another important milestone in the restoration of New Orleans. Three years ago, after Hurricane Katrina, this country made a commitment to the citizens of New Orleans. We promised new housing, which will result in a stronger community, and a better life. This groundbreaking is another step in the fulfillment of that commitment.
When HUD took over the housing authority in 2002, it began an ambitious plan to redevelop the city's public housing communities. We were committed to create communities that are inclusive, better and safer than before. Residents deserve nothing less. If you look at the new Fischer or the new Abundance Square facilities, the new housing does not isolate or concentrate low-income families like the old building did. They create new, vibrant communities.
And that is the key to a successful restoration: to create an even better, stronger, safer New Orleans. One of the greatest legacies of New Orleans' public housing revitalization will be opportunity for families to escape concentrated poverty and the opportunity to live in a more empowering, positive environment.
This First Phase will make available 466 rental units to this community, including 157 public housing units, 160 tax-credit units that can be rented using rental assistance vouchers, and 149 market rate rental units. When the developer team, headed by Columbia Residential, completes this new community, there will be a total of slightly more than 1,300 housing opportunities in this mixed-income neighborhood.
The groundbreaking at St. Bernard is just the beginning. We look forward to breaking ground on other developments soon so that progress can continue early next year.
We want this process completed properly and in a timely manner. We want to do this right. Six months ago, when I arrived at HUD, I came to New Orleans. It was my first trip as Secretary and I have been to the Gulf Coast after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Even before, when I was administrator of SBA, New Orleans and the Gulf Coast were the focus of much of my work.
During that trip, I met with families at the Abundance Square and River Garden communities. I heard first-hand how proud the families were of their new homes and how happy they were to be back. Now, in one of my last trips as Secretary, I am pleased to come here again.
The redevelopment of public housing in New Orleans has been a departmental priority and a personal mission for me. And it is important that we get this right and complete the redevelopment quickly. I want people who need affordable housing to have it, and to have housing that will be drug-free, crime-free, a good place to live, even an inspiring place to live. We want to create communities, places that people are proud of, good places to raise a family and grow old together. We can do that. We must do all that.
When I came here six months ago, it was clear that market conditions would change the landscape and would have an impact on HUD's goal to bring back these developments. I recognized that breaking ground would not be a small action or easy task. With that in mind, I brought on experienced financial advisors to keep rebuilding on track and address budget shortfalls. Even in a good economic environment, these kinds of complex financing structures are difficult to get done. So given the economic climate we are in now, the fact that we are on track with this development is a credit to all the people who are involved. Many of those people are sitting here with us today.
Make no mistake. This is very difficult work. We worked very hard to bring strong financial investors to the table in this difficult environment.
For example, we have all worked together to secure commitments from FEMA and Congress to ensure the necessary financing was in place to move forward. FEMA provided about $17 million and Congress committed an additional $15 million in funding. Congress has also extended a provision that allows HANO to dedicate $30 million to the redevelopment effort.
Beyond just working with HANO to build better housing, we are working with state and local groups to ensure there is enough affordable housing. Today we are hosting a symposium at Tulane University. This gathering will discuss the progress being made for more affordable rental housing in New Orleans. We will be joined by our partners in the federal, state and local government as well as private sector and non-profit stakeholders. At this symposium, we will be unveiling a report on the availability and growth of housing in New Orleans. The report recognizes that the federal government has provided a substantial amount of resources toward rebuilding. As a result, the number of federally assisted rental units is projected to be 73 percent higher than its pre-Katrina level. Currently 33,184 households are receiving federal housing assistance in some form and it is projected that 66,145 households will be served by 2011.
Again, that is the power of partnership and commitment. Progress does not happen on its own. Real people have invested tremendous energy into making today's ground breaking possible. We have a long way to go, but we see the value of our commitment today. This groundbreaking is a testament to the success of our joint efforts. The reconstruction of the Gulf Coast has been an unprecedented challenge. And the region's future is not in the hands of one person or entity. From the beginning, we have needed partners as never before, strong, capable partnerships. I believe we have that now. Yes, there have been some rough patches over the last three years. But we have learned that we need each other and that we have to work together.
Our commitment to New Orleans remains steadfast. And this groundbreaking is a major step forward to make affordable housing available to those who need it.
I want to thank all of those who made this day possible.