Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in EBR, The Walls Project has been hosting weekly video calls with leaders of nonprofits, foundations, city government, and local businesses from a
cross the parish. The intention of these weekly community check-ins is to share information and resources to help the Baton Rouge community respond and recover from the pandemic. Weekly topics range from access to basic needs such as food, medical care, and safety to thought-leaders' insights on equitable opportunities for youth enrichment, nonprofit financial solvency, surge in unemployment, and the disproportionate impact on impoverished neighborhoods in regards to accessing fresh food.
'Access to Affordable & Safe Housing - Part IV'
Meeting Notes Prepared by Samantha Morgan (Walls Project)
Jennifer Carwile (Community Leader, Together Baton Rouge)
This effort stemmed out of one rouge conversations. One year ago there was a conversation about housing and people said we need to do something. Pam Wall, myself, Chris feleton, several got together and met once a week to learn about housing. Then we decided there were several things we needed to address: tenants, landlords - first thing we need to do is address landlords, which is the stage we’re in right now. We’ve had two landlord sessions. We had a listening session for the first one. We processed everything and when we came back we consolidated and looked at all the information folks gave us and we broke it down to four areas. There are funding issues. Bridge loans, inspections - we thought inspections would be hard to sell for landlords, but it’s something they want. Abandoned properties is another problem. It creates blight and unhealthy environment for your tenants. Drainage and garbage were two big issues. People coming and dumping items. And a rental assistance office. A buffer between tenants and landlords. When an eviction needs to happen, who can help with that? When negotiations need to occur, who can help. Some of those are long haul, some can be addressed more quickly. When we met in March, we intended people to break into groups. March got hijacked by CARES act money. Some of our landlords had really creative solutions. We’re asking the city to be open to solutions.
Alfredo Cruz - I want to recognize Jennifer’s leadership in this. So much of this is multi-layered and complex. What my role has been in this is to give it some structure so that we can accomplish one bite at a time. This healthy housing forum, which we’ve committed to doing every month to keep it growing. That is to develop relationships so they can be a better part of the collusion to affordable housing. It’s a long runway. Ultimately what we’re trying to build is a healthy housing network so we can understand as a community what that means. Healthy housing also includes affordability. In that sense, making sure that we’re together with property managers and landlords to make sure there’s an accessibility of landlords. We’re going to have to engage investors, who want to increase their portfolios. Together Baton Rouge and the city of Baton Rouge have been partners. Courtney Scott has been terrific to bring her colleagues together. After this is to begin to measure to see if this is making a difference. The idea of a rental registry has come from this group. We want resources to address those properties when they are not meeting the criteria. This is working, we just have to keep it going.
Janelle Brown (SVP & CNI Director, EBRPHA)
It has been in the works for more than 10 years now. It started with a planning grant. Many people from Baton Rouge, many people know it as Mall City, but it’s Ardendale. We applied for Choice Neighborhood Implementation Grant, the EBR Housing Authority applied for it. Most people know the Housing Authority as being able to provide high-quality, mixed-use and income housing for families. Those that are the lowest incomes need the most access to supportive services and be able to access those services. Vision: To develop a holistic, integrated community of opportunity and choice for the people who live in the community. Implementing a neighbor-driven approach that includes a community engagement framework with goals and strategies for the three outcome areas of housing, neighborhood, and people. Capitalizing on the neighborhood’s central location by directing public and private investments to return abandoned properties to productive use, improving connectivity to essential assets, job centers and introducing a mix of housing and retail/commercial uses to restore neighborhood vibrancy.
We want to build communities that have those amenities. 134 units away from mixed use housing. We’re moving away from 100% low income families because we need to create a strong neighborhood. We’re also addressing the digital divide. We’re trying to implement a long term strategy when a crisis hits. Sustainable healthy neighborhoods. Being able to grow and develop your own food. That’s something we’re already doing with Baton Roots. It’s something we want to continue. And enhanced transportation. Having the ability to walk, ride bikes. The move BR initiative to have a connector road from ardendale. Our goal is to create an educational spine where our kids can walk or bike to get to these assets in the community. Early learning opportunities. Working with the YWCA to build an early learning and development center. Highlighting arts, culture and placemaking. The area was designated in 2019 as a state cultural district. Being able to develop that and create arts in the community. The first reason why we’re starting this is for the people.
David Summers (COO, Partners Southeast)
This is the real estate development arm of the development authority. We’re the codeveloper and repositioning assets in the housing authority portfolio. One of the things for me has been assessing the pipeline and building in activities and projects. We’re building hope, promise and safety and what does that look like. From us in a real estate background it’s easy for us to focus on the numbers and the stats. And if you focus on hope, what does the rest of the development look like. A few other things I’m proud to announce is the second phase of the senior housing phase. We were awarded a 9% tax credit last week and we’re proud of what that funding is going to be able to do. We’ve been working with the city parish and LHC on 19 units near the water campus, hoping to break ground this summer. We broke ground on our 99 units on gardere lane and housing. That is almost complete. Preleasing will start soon. 250 million development pipeline. The challenge is that they are such long lived deals. Last year the housing got a large share of the CARES act. This is major. This doesn’t happen very often. The funding that translated was critical in a challenging time. What is going to be helpful for us is increased advocacy to our representatives specifically when it comes to housing. Having more landlords accept those vouchers.
Manny Patole (Fellow & Project Manager, LabGov/Co-City Baton Rouge)
Working with Build Baton Rouge. Being solutions based, I’ve been working in baton rouge: Community land bank - the idea is an innovative hybrid institution. Provides the ability for other folks to enter this. The ability to acquire abandoned properties and put them into active commerce. When we’re looking at it from Community land trust, their problem is about acquisition. What we’re trying to do is put these into one institution. We’re at the point of filing our articles of incorporation. Three of our board members are on this call. We’re going to shepherd these vacant properties through the city back into commerce. Louisiana law, you have 10 years before it can be activated and sold. Most other cities have 3 years runtime. In terms of actions, as we’re starting to set this up, one is the internal operations. Parallel to this, we’re working a decision support tool. It’s going to be an open source way of evaluating these properties. This will be one of the first of its kind in the world. It’s hard to be the first. It’s hard to understand what it means, but hopefully we can have future discussions on that. Affordable and public don’t always mean the same thing, but the options are what make a city a great place.
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS
What are the qualifications around getting a home loan? What are the possibilities of changing the criteria for those who can’t qualify for a home loan but can pay the high price of rent.
David Summers - Finding ways of removing barriers for home loans. Certainly there’s opportunity to create movement in that. Partners in the housing authority are sitting in the seat of rental and rental development. There needs to be additional advocacy for homeownership. Last year, prior to the 9%, there were two different rounds to give feedback to that document and there was incredible organized advocacy regarding removing the box, so they don’t have to check whether or not they have a conviction and whether that would preempt them from living in affordable housing. We are also in removing barriers to homeownership.
Alfredo Cruz - We’ve been having this conversation with the national low income housing coalition. The gap report shows we have in Louisiana, for every 100 extremely low income households, we only have 45 units of affordable housing for that population. These are the most poor folks. What’s interesting to me, this low income population that lacks affordable housing across the country, but in Louisiana it’s about 68%, that’s who we refer to as the ALICE population. They’re asset limited, income constraint and employed. It’s the same population that lacks housing. The national level is about increasing subsidy. We have to begin to create housing that people can afford. That’s not going to be the private market. The money is just not there. We do have a lot of dunging on the state and local levels through the American rescue plan dollars to choose to invest more in housing. We have a housing trust fund that hasn’t gotten any funding since Katrina. We have to invest in that fund because it’s the way to subsidize affordable housing.
Manny Potel - There’s always going to be a lag between when you get the housing and when it’s available. There are units available to be used that aren’t being utilized. Rather than creating more supply, it creates a problem in the market.
Jennifer Carwile - When I was employed, I made $33,000 and I had a $400 rent. My little buddy’s mom makes $34,000 and the lowest rent they can find is $800. We need to change our concept of what affordable is.
Ebony Starks - I’m the newest member of the Wilson Foundation. Still getting to know the local landscape but excited for this conversation. I think the phrase of affordable housing and changing that language is important. We need to work on it being equitable and diverse. Affordable is so stigmatized - how do we create equitable opportunities for everyone. I really feel like flat rents are obsolete. Affordability has really become obsolete.
Lynn - I am with Habitat for Humanity. As of today, the 5 community partners have processed about 9,500 cases and have been approved assistance disperse, so there has been a dramatic impact of the money on renters that have been impacted. Traditionally we work on homeownership in the same way that David does. We primarily focus our efforts in existing neighborhoods. Lower income, higher poverty areas. We’ve been focusing on areas adjacent to mid city. Our greatest need is getting land. We’re excited to work with Manny to free up that land. We’re working on a property that is worth about $7,000, but has 55 heirs. While we’re in an area, we work on repairs for the houses that are there. We want to uplift the whole area.
Verna Bradley-Johnson - I think affordable housing should be more on a scale, based on the pay rate. For people coming back into the community, it’s a war zone.
Rinaldi Jacobs Sr. - I understand affordable housing. There’s something legislatively that we need to talk about. It is difficult to get properties that are blighted and abandoned in Louisiana into the adjudicated situation. We saw the real effects of this after Katrina. There are still areas that haven’t been brought back.
Alfredo Cruz - One of the first pieces of legislation that reduced the adjudication period for 36 months to 18 months. So many municipalities in the state have not changed their ordinances, so there are a lot of communities that still have a 36 month adjudication period. A lot of it is people holding on to their property and they are the ones that have blighted property and they are holding on to them and they are lobbying people to not change the laws.
Rev. Anderson - There’s a bill, HB812, which is a data bill. We need to look at who we are housing in jails. Who we are housing in shelter situations. Who we are running through food banks. Once we get that data, we build policy to build poverty on top of poverty. We have got to be willing to bust that door open and take away tax incentives to people who are not willing affordable housing options. I think there needs to be a tie to that. There are parts of the country where there is some amazing technology that is not being used here. There are options that is not home ownership. Whether it is single room occupancy with wrap around services, or options that are more sustainable. I believe in Louisiana is that we think that’s for everyone else. If they can do it, we can do it.
David Summers - The Louisiana Housing Corporation creates the documents. Those commitments we make are iron clad. In addition to that, Hud reporting keeps us tied to those things. There’s multiple layers adhering to everything. The period can be different. Some of the benefits are creating mixed income. At the city and at the parish level there needs to be more incentives. If you are a baton rouge developer, you are automatically limited to the points you can score, which makes it difficult compared to other areas in the state. IT’s a challenge locally to get the funding we need that put us in the best position to get as many units as possible.
Jennifer Carwile - next landlord forum is Thursday. What about tenants? We have five people on our team meeting weekly about this. That’s not very many. We need people to join in. Get with me, because we know we need tenants in our next part of the conversation.
Jennifer Carwile -For housing firstname.lastname@example.org
Manny Potel - We should be collaborating and coordinating. The siloed approach vs the thinking and abundance. As we’re thinking, the idea of coordinated collaborated and contested efforts. Bringing the arguments to the streets.