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Week in Review: Affordable housing to $500 per night Airbnb; fake subpoenas in Jefferson Parish

Welcome once again to the Week in Review. And it certainly has been a week. Let’s review it.

We’ve got the story of a house built with affordable housing money that is now an Airbnb, a look at how Jefferson Parish used fake subpoenas and a column from former City Councilwoman Stacy Head.

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In a few short years, this house went from affordable to $500-a-night

Lens founder and staff writer Karen Gadbois has been reporting on the house at 1601 Dumaine St. for years, beginning when it wasn’t even located there.

I’ll explain. The house that’s there now is the result of a city effort to save about 80 homes from being demolished to make way for the new VA hospital. One of them was moved to 1601 Dumaine and donated to a nonprofit. For more than two years, it languished there, empty and damaged. Then its new owners tore it down and used federal affordable housing funds to build a new house there. A low-income buyer purchased it in 2015.

Fast-forward to 2018. Treme, where the house is located, is one of the most popular neighborhoods for Airbnbs in the city. Whole blocks have been taken over by short-term rentals. And now 1601 Dumaine has joined them. In May, the owner who bought it in 2015 sold it for $290,000. The new owner has converted it to an Airbnb, one of more than a dozen he owns in the neighborhood.

What we found in 92 fake subpoenas from Jefferson Parish

The Lens has been digging deep into Orleans Parish prosecutors’ use of fake subpoenas for more than a year now. It has been difficult, especially since DA Leon Cannizzaro has consistently denied us access to his records on the practice.

This week, we took a look at our neighbors in Jefferson Parish. Shortly after we first reported that New Orleans prosecutors were using the phony documents, Jefferson Parish DA Paul Connick admitted that his office had also used them. He promptly put an end to it. We sent in a public records request for all fake subpoenas they used in 2016 and 2017.

Several months later, the office got back to us with 92 fake subpoenas. Among them, we found one issued to an 11-year-old girl, a witness in a child desertion case. Another was issued to an assault victim even though, he told us, he was cooperating with the prosecution in his case. And a number that appear to have been issued right before prosecutors were facing charging deadlines in their cases.

I say “appear to have been issued” because we got very limited answers from Connick’s office, and only by email. Connick declined an interview, and his spokesman said that the office could not even tell us how many of the 92 subpoenas had actually been issued to witnesses. We tried to contact the witnesses directly, knocking on doors, calling numbers that often turned out to be disconnected, reaching out to lawyers, but we could only track down one who went on the record and confirmed that he got a fake subpoena.

Cannizzaro’s office still not giving up its fake subpoenas

But at least Connick’s office responded to our public records request. The same can’t be said of New Orleans DA Leon Cannizzaro. He hasn’t even gotten back to the New Orleans City Council yet.

Back in October, the council asked the DA for information about how often his prosecutors used fake subpoenas. The council asked for the same information about their use of material witness warrants, which are used to arrest allegedly uncooperative witnesses and crime victims to get them to testify.

In November, Cannizzaro said it would take “as long as six months” to compile what the council wanted.

Who was responsible for what happened at Cypress Academy? The school or the district?

If you haven’t been following what’s been going on at Cypress Academy, here’s a quick summary: Three days before the school got out for summer break, parents learned that it would not reopen in the fall. That sent them scrambling to find new schools for their kids, even though it was very late in the application process. Then, a few days later, the Orleans Parish school district swooped in, announcing it would take over the charter school to keep it open.

District officials said that May was too late in the year to announce a school closure. But the school district knew for months that Cypress was facing financial collapse in the 2018-2019 school year. Why didn’t they take any action to warn parents, or at least push the school’s leaders to warn the parents?

Though the district was aware of Cypress’ deepening concerns about its financial viability, its failure to respond pre-emptively was portrayed by some as a result of deference to the cherished autonomy that comes with charter status.

“I do think we have to examine the relationship between charter school and authorizer,” Caroline Roemer, who heads the Louisiana Association for Public Charter Schools, said. “What policies are they going to put in place that maybe could have been earlier detectors?”

Stacy Head: Magazine Street does not want to Eat Fresh

Former City Councilwoman Stacy Head wonders why the new city council was so quick to approve a fast-food restaurant on Magazine.

“Magazine Street is one of the glories of retail commerce in New Orleans: a wonderfully vibrant and eclectic mix of mostly independent boutiques, eateries, bistros, hardware stores, yoga studios — you name it.

“New Orleanians shop there and tourists flock there precisely because a lot of what’s offered you can’t find anywhere else.

“So it was disappointing to see the new City Council at its inaugural meeting on May 24 cave in so quickly and agree to consider sliding a Subway fast-food joint into a poorly run strip mall in the 4600 block of Magazine.”

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About Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado covers the city of New Orleans and other local government bodies. He previously worked for Gambit, New Orleans’ alternative newsweekly, where he covered city hall, criminal justice and public health. Before moving to New Orleans, he covered state and local government for weekly papers in Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn.