By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer
After years of debate and delay, the Housing Authority of New Orleans is poised to contract for the demolition of scattered-site public housing units that were never repaired or reopened after Hurricane Katrina.
At a HANO Board meeting scheduled for Tuesday morning, the agency’s federally appointed director, David Gilmore, is expected to authorize a $494,200 contract for the demolition of 99 buildings spread across the city but concentrated in the 9th Ward and eastern New Orleans.
The buildings contain 233 units, nearly half of the roughly 500 units HANO has marked for demolition and more than a quarter of the 773 scatter-site units in the housing authority’s inventory before Katrina.
Neighbors of the properties say they are relieved HANO is finally moving to clear the neglected, empty buildings.
“Every now and then you see someone coming in and out. God only knows what goes on inside. That’s when you call the police,” Algiers resident Patrick Skinner said today.
Skinner grew up across the street from 1324 Eagle St., one of the HANO apartment buildings now facing the wrecking ball. A HANO sign warning off loiterers is still legible above the fourplex’s entrance but only one of the building’s two doors is closed to intruders. Skinner’s brother lives in the house next door and the family fears that squatters could start a fire that could spread down the block.
“I got a lot of real fond memories of fine families living here, but now all this is dangerous,” Skinner said.
Neighbor Robert Ward was part of one of the fine families remembered by Skinner. He lived in a first-floor one-bedroom in 1324 Eagle St. for 15 years, he said. Nostalgia aside, Ward is ready to say goodbye too.
“My mama still lives down the block,” he said. “Now this place (is) a hazard.”
The sign-off between HANO and Algiers-based Hamp’s Construction LLC comes after a year of legal hold-ups that began in March when HANO chose a different contractor for the job even though the winning contractor bid a higher price than Hamp’s. On Dec. 1, a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal judge ordered HANO to cancel that contract and, in accordance with public bidding law that requires agencies to accept the lowest responsible bid, give the job to Hamp’s. The original winner of the bid, Young’s General Contracting Inc., had offered to do the job for $46,000 more than Hamp’s.
Most of the buildings facing the wrecking ball were built in the early 1970s. All suffered damages in Katrina that were never fixed, leading to deterioration that made renovation impossible or impractical, according to an assessment completed by the agency in 2008. Even before the storm, many of the buildings were in serious disrepair, according to an operational assessment of the authority done in February by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department.
Tuesday’s meeting will begin at 10 a.m. at the housing authority’s headquarters on Touro Street in Gentilly.