Cantrell: Tax money intended for affordable housing spent on code enforcement that pressures the poor out of homes

As the cost of living in New Orleans continue to rise, pressuring low-income families to give up homes they have held for years, the city has a dedicated tax that raises nearly $4 million a year intended to promote affordable housing. But that money, City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell told a standing-room only crowd Wednesday night, is instead being spent by the city on code-enforcement efforts — which can actually increase the pressure on poor families to sell their homes in gentrifying neighborhoods. The city’s Neighborhood Housing Investment Fund was a created in 1991 by a 30-year property tax that at the time generated about $3 million per year, but now amounts to $3.9 million annually because of rising property values. It had three intended uses, according to the city code:

to “provide financing and other assistance for home-ownership opportunities for families and individuals” in their homes,
to “promote neighborhood stability by eliminating blight and unsafe and deteriorating conditions,”
and to “provide financing and other assistance for safe, affordable rental housing” for low-to-moderate-income residents. But instead, Cantrell told the audience at “The Big Issue” panel on gentrification Wednesday night at Tulane Hillel, that money is going to code-enforcement activities that can subtly encourage the poor to sell their homes.

Controversial lot on General Pershing to be used as school green space

The vacant site of a century-old home on General Pershing Street — demolished last year despite sustained outcry from its neighbors — may finally see some use this fall as green space for the nearby Ecole Bilingue de la Nouvelle-Orléans. Neighbors who live around the former house at 820 General Pershing began fighting for its preservation in 2012, concerned that it would become a parking lot for the businesses fronting on Magazine and represent commercial encroachment into the neighborhood. The repeated requests by successive owners to demolish it were initially unsuccessful, though it remained blighted and empty during that time. In 2014, however, the site became an early flashpoint in the debates over preservation and demolition that are now flaring up at the New Orleans City Council with increasing frequency, and it was approved to be torn down in September 2014 in a vote led by City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell. Attorneys for the Metairie-based owner (Triton Holdings Two LLC) were met with skepticism when they told city officials that the lot was to be used for a “private garden.”

New CVS approved as New Orleans City Council questions density of chain stores on Magazine

The New Orleans City Council gave enthusiastic approval to a plan to remodel the former Blockbuster Video building at the edge of the Garden District into a CVS pharmacy, but several members said the city should be looking for a way to restrict the growing density of chain stores on Magazine Street. The discussion of the CVS at Magazine and Louisiana began with a fairly congenial discussion of the plan for the store. The building originally housed an Eckerd’s Drug Store, but the developers needed city permission to reunite all the floor space (currently divided into several units) in the building into a single business of more than 5,000 square feet. Attorney Michael Sherman, representing CVS, said that the building will get a complete redesign, based in large part on input gathered in “countless meetings” with neighbors and city officials. New Orleans “isn’t a city with neighborhoods but a city of neighborhoods,” Sherman said, and added he was particularly grateful for the suggestions of local architects who live near the site.

Parts of two New Orleans streets to be renamed for Central City pastors (live coverage)

Following a heated discussion on Thursday, the New Orleans City Council voted in favor of requests to rename sections of two streets in Central City after prominent local pastors. The council members were mostly united in their desire to honor Bishop Robert C. Blakes of New Home Ministries on Carondelet and the Rev. John Raphael Jr. of New Hope Baptist Church on LaSalle, both of whom passed away in 2013. Likewise, the council members largely agreed that the city lacks a formal system for honoring notable citizens via its street grid. The issue that divided the council so sharply on Thursday, however, was whether to go ahead and rename the two street portions immediately, or whether to wait until that honorary system is created. Members of the two congregations were first to speak Thursday, and they were united in their insistence that the work of Blakes and Raphael in their neighborhoods merited the memorial.

New Orleans City Council to study new architectural oversight of Uptown historic districts

New construction across much of Uptown, Carrollton and Broadmoor could be regulated as closely as it is in the Irish Channel or Garden District, based on the results of a study authorized by unanimous vote of the New Orleans City Council on Thursday morning. City Councilwoman Stacy Head introduced her proposal by noting the city’s growing debate over how to handle demolitions of historic properties, which has sharply split otherwise-allied Council members several times over the last year. A related issue, Head said, is how the city regulates what is built following the demolitions. The Historic District Landmarks Commission already regulates construction and renovation in certain areas of the city — most closely in the Irish Channel and the Lower Garden District, but also to a lesser degree in the Garden District, Head said. But outside those areas, developers who disrespect the city’s history are contributing to “death by a thousand nicks” of its architectural landscape.

Demolition approval on Lowerline reopens preservation debate on New Orleans City Council

A demolition request on Lowerline Street by St. Mary’s Dominican High School received approval from a split New Orleans City Council last week, reopening the debate about the role of historic preservation that has simmered between prominent members over the past year. The request to tear down 3008 Lowerline Street had previously split the Neighborhood Conservation District Advisory Committee in a Jan. 5 meeting, records show, with a 5-4 vote that is technically a denial according to the committee’s rules. Last Thursday, City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell introduced the issue with a motion in favor of the demolition, however, before allowing Councilwoman Stacy Head to speak on the issue.

Controversial restaurant proposal for Magnolia Mansion wins City Council approval

The restaurant proposed for the Magnolia Mansion at Prytania and Jackson that had proven controversial with neighbors won City Council approval in a split vote Thursday afternoon. The Magnolia Mansion, a bed-and breakfast and apartment hotel in the historic Harris-McGinnis House (built in 1858), needed a zoning change to commercial zoning in order to add the restaurant. District B City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell began the hearing by noting the controversy around the request, but said the commercial use fits with the development of Jackson Avenue, and that the restaurant fits with the use of the building as a hotel. “This business is a hotel,” Cantrell said. “Hotels have and operate restaurants.

City Planning endorses renaming part of two Central City streets for pastors

A portion of two Central City streets could be renamed in honor of two prominent pastors who recently died, after positive votes Tuesday by the City Planning Commission in spite of some members’ concerns about the process for changing street names in New Orleans. Under the proposals, requested by City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, LaSalle Street between Earhart and Simon Bolivar Boulevard would become Rev. John Raphael Jr. Way in honor of the police-officer-turned pastor of New Hope Baptist Church. Carondelet Street between Felicity and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard would become Robert C. Blakes Sr. Drive, honoring the founding pastor of New Home Ministries. Both men were known for their crusades against violence in Central City, and both died in 2013. The city planning staff recommended against the name changes, however, because they violate two of the commission’s criteria for evaluating new street names — streets are not to be renamed for people who have been dead for less than five years, and new street names should not break up the names of existing streets, their reports state.

Parents seethe over loss of charter at Wilson school in Broadmoor

The impending loss of the charter at Andrew H. Wilson charter school in Broadmoor — one of New Orleans’ most deeply established and celebrated charter schools, but also one of the city’s lowest ranked campuses in state scores — has parents in the community deeply upset. The school’s strengths, they said at a heated public meeting Tuesday night, run far deeper than superficial and unfairly-calculated test scores show, and they fear that the individualized care they are used to their children receiving will give way to a cookie-cutter approach if a larger operator takes over. The school was one of the first to reopen after Hurricane Katrina, but its future has been in question since state performance scores were released in October that showed Wilson tumbling from a ‘D’ rank and 63.3 grade in 2012-13 to a ‘F’ rank at 49.1 in 2013-14. Earlier this month, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education announced that Wilson’s charter would not be renewed, effectively dissolving the board and turning the campus over to a new operator. The school board had initially considered a lawsuit challenging the calculation of the 49.1 grade, but then changed course, deciding instead to concede the charter in exchange for some control over the transition.

Cantrell to hold public hearing on proposed new smoking laws

City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell will hold a public hearing Wednesday morning (Jan. 7) to discuss the new laws banning indoor smoking in New Orleans and other measures, she announced. Cantrell has been promoting a ban on smoking since the summer, when her office hosted a town-hall style discussion on the issue at Carrollton Station, which was already smoke free. She introduced the details of the ordinance in November to split opinion, and Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey has sought to amend it to allow some exemptions. The meeting of the Community Development Committee will meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the City Council chamber at City Hall, 1300 Perdido Street.