New Orleans has all but eliminated prosecuted crime in its largest public housing complex by rebuilding it after Hurricane Katrina as a mixed-income community partially funded by a golf course. Once plagued by crime, failing schools and overcrowding, Columbia Parc residents now enjoy a safe neighbourhood with tuition-free schools, a mobile health clinic and recreation facilities.
Results & Impact
From 2001 to 2005, there were 44 homicides and 680 serious crimes committed on the St. Bernard's Housing Community estate. After Columbia Parc was constructed, beginning in 2005, felonies fell by 99.7% over four years. The Columbia Parc housing complex is now home to 685 mixed-income housing units with a 100% occupancy rate
Bayou District Foundation, Housing Authority of New Orleans, City Planning and City Council, Louisiana Department of Education, Orleans Parish School Board, Columbia Residential, Capital One Bank, Acme Oyster House, Chevron, IBM, First Tee of Greater New Orleans, PGA Gulf States, City Park of New Orleans, Fore!Kids Foundation, Purpose Built Communities, Greater New Orleans Foundation, US federal government, Aegon, Kingsley House, YMCA of Greater New Or- leans, St. Bernard Project, Neighborhood Development Foundation, Educare, LSU Health Sciences Center, Tulane University among others
After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the Bayou District Foundation was formed to replicate a community redevelopment in Atlanta called East Lake, a mixed-income housing model with education and services partially funded by an on-site golf course. The Foundation worked with federal and state governments to take advantage of a tax incentive for the use of private equity in affordable housing development.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Low-income people, city dwellers
Cost & Value
Reconstruction cost $106 million from 2005 to 2017
Running since 2006
The Housing Authority of New Orleans and some community members were initially skeptical about the Bayou District Foundation's plan to replicate the East Lake revitalisation project. The Foundation organised multiple bus trips to East Lake to demonstrate the value of the mixed-income housing model, which focuses on augmenting education and public services to reduce crime
90 US cities have visited Columbia Parc to learn about replicating the East Lake model, which 16 cities have now adopted
When Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans’ largest public housing development in 2005, civic leaders reinvented St. Bernard’s Housing Community as Columbia Parc – and cut serious crime by 99.7% in the process.
The Columbia Parc revitalisation is one of the largest urban transformation projects ever untaken in the US. The development – once plagued by violent crime, failing schools and overcrowding – successfully replicated a mixed-income housing model pioneered by a community in Atlanta, Georgia.
Crime plummeted in the community as tuition-free schools, a mobile health clinic, recreation facilities and retail services moved in beginning in February 2010. Columbia Parc now has 100% occupancy. “We’ve got very little churn. Not many people leave Columbia Parc because they like the environment we’ve created. There’s a waiting list at each income level,” said J.T. Hannan, Director of Public & Governmental Affairs of the Bayou District Foundation (BDF), a board formed to rebuild St. Bernard’s Housing Community (SBHC).
Constructed in the 1940s, SBHC is New Orleans’ longest running public housing community. At its peak, the complex had 13,333 apartment units. By 2005, the buildings’ infrastructure had deteriorated to the point that only 960 units were liveable. Their residents were living in “tremendous poverty, with very low educational achievement,” according to Hannan. The only two schools in the communities were ranked in the lowest percentile of the public school system in New Orleans.
“There was really no opportunity for children to escape that area through education. It all became a massive problem in terms of violence. In the four years prior to Hurricane Katrina there were 44 homicides and 680 felonies in the 53 acres of the former SBHC footprint. It was a very, very dangerous community to live in,” said Hannan.
When Katrina destroyed the SBHC facilities, community leaders were invited to visit East Lake, a housing redevelopment that cut crime, fast-tracked development and augmented education. In the East Lake model, revenue from a corporate golf supports a mixed-income housing model with high quality education and public services. After witnessing the success of the East Lake development project firsthand, SBHC community leaders formed the BDF to replicate the model.
The BDF consists of five members with different areas of expertise: mixed income real estate development, education, recreation, community support programming and private business. While the BDF held regular meetings with partners and community members to get input on their plans, the small size of the board allowed it to make decisions quickly.
The board worked with the federal and Louisiana governments to take advantage of a program called Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), an initiative that gives incentives for the use of private equity in affordable housing development. LIHTC is used for approximately 90% of all affordable rental housing the US. Aegon, a financial planning multinational, bought the public tax credits, which financed $120 million worth of apartments.
The board raised another $14 million in private equity philanthropic dollars, and partnered with the City Park of New Orleans to renovate a golf park. A portion of golf revenue funds the development’s $9 million Educare early education school. Columbia Parc also has an on-site K-8 charter school and a YMCA, as well as links to a college prep public high school and several colleges nearby. The Louisiana Department of Education and the Orleans Parish School Board helped build and fund the tuition-free education facilities.
One of the board’s primary priorities was redesigning the community to make it safer for residents. In the old SBHC configuration, every street was a cul-de-sac – which made it difficult for police, ambulances and the fire department to respond to crises. The BDF brought back the grid street layout from the original 1940s development. The housing units were also made more secure with front-view windows and secure rear entrances. Eighteen police officers are now permanently stationed at Columbia Parc.
The Housing Authority provided initial funding and oversaw the development of 685 mixed income housing units, which they now manage. All residents have to pass a credit check and a criminal background check, and must work at least 20 hours a week, unless the tenant is studying, retired or disabled. “The thought there is that it would encourage economic development on a family basis as well as in the community. All these requirements exist for tenants who make $100,000 a year in addition to tenants living on a fixed income,” said Hannan.
Thus far, reconstruction has cost $106 million. Hannan expects the entire remodel to cost $380 million. About 100 permanent and 700 temporary jobs were created through the redevelopment process.
The Housing Authority and some community members were initially skeptical about BDF’s plan due to unfamiliarity with the model. The Foundation tackled the problem by organising multiple bus trips to East Lake to show the Housing Authority and Community members how the model worked. Direct contact with East Lake stakeholders won over the hesitant partners.
Columbia Parc’s success in implementing the East Lake model was instrumental in the development of Purpose Built Communities, a non-profit that helps other communities undergo the same revitalisation. There are now 16 US cities using the same urban redevelopment model, and 90 cities have visited Columbia Parc to learn about the process in the last year.
(Picture credit: Phillippe L Photography)