This past week, I saw for the first time the renovations to the five surviving buildings of the St. Thomas housing development in the Lower Garden District. These five had been set aside as a mitigation measure when the rest of the development was demolished and redeveloped beginning, I believe, about seven years ago. The buildings were mothballed, and talk was that they might be used for offices or some other community function -- but certainly not housing. Today, the five buildings are almost ready to go -- as housing units. It appears that there might be anywhere from 40 to 50 units of housing available in these late-1930s buildings.
This is all so remarkable because the Housing Authority of New Orleans and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have insisted that none of the big four public housing developments remaining in New Orleans can be renovated for housing due to the high cost and the obsolete interior configurations of the units. If nothing changes, we are about to witness the demolition of hundreds of buildings like these in New Orleans, and will await their replacement with buildings fashioned from materials not nearly as resilient as these brick structures.
Walter Gallas is director of the New Orleans Field Office.