I’m still working on this housing article for The Gambit, and they’ve given me 2,000 words, which is the most I’ve ever gotten for a paid gig!
The topic is so interesting — and I’m learning so much — that even 2,000 words isn’t enough space. Good thing I have a blog to share some of the cooler stuff I might not be able to fit in the printed story.
I’m finishing up interviews, and I’ve gotten to chat with so many different people with so many different viewpoints: the developer, the architect, the Housing Authority of New Orleans, a fair housing advocacy group, a displaced resident, and the President of the local neighborhood association. I’ve spoken to neighbors with opinions all over the map; those who are for the plan, as well as those who are against it for reasons as varied as those who wish it was 100% affordable housing, and those who don’t think it should be housing at all.
I recently learned a little bit about another space in the Bywater that’s part of the same narrative. It’s called Clouet Gardens, and by all appearances, it’s a community park. I’ve been in there a couple of times prior, and bike by it often. There are beautiful flowers, some open space, a swing, some giant trees — it’s a gorgeous space and a positive addition to the neighborhood.
Except, it’s not actually meant to be a community garden. It’s owned by the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), and it’s meant to be affordable housing for lower-income New Orleanians.
HANO has more than 35,000 residents on their wait list for affordable housing, and the expectation is that the property they own (with the help of funding from the federally-run Department of Housing and Urban Development) will be used to help residents on this list.
But, when Clouet Gardens created the park, they saw an empty, overgrown lot and no plans for it. So they turned it into something the community loves. They use the space to hold outdoor movie screenings on Halloween, to host weddings, to hold flower sales for Mother’s Day, for strolling neighbors to enjoy, and even for a kid market (which isn’t for parents to sell misbehaved children — its for kids to sell fun things they make).
And, so, when HANO was ready to make use of the lot to satisfy their mission of providing affordable housing, it met resistance from a neighborhood that didn’t want to lose their kind-of-secret garden.
I have an opinion. Personally, I think affordable housing is more important. But, I also don’t think there’s a “bad guy” in this story. One could say this is a case of “Not in My Backyard,” and maybe there are a few people involved here who are just opposed to affordable housing in their neighborhood. But my hunch is people just really love this park they’ve gotten used to. And that’s a reasonable way to feel.
So HANO, who is making strides in developing other parts of the Bywater and city for more units of affordable housing has decided to allow Clouet Gardens to remain, at least for now.
It’s not really the outcome I wanted to see. Markeys Park, after all, is just down the street. Crescent Park is another block or so away.
But Clouet Gardens is a beautiful space and I don’t think my neighbors are bad people for wanting to protect it. It’s a debate worth having.
That debate is one taking place all across the Bywater (and in many parts of the city), and that’s what my Gambit article is going to be about.