Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cleaning up the LHA should be priority No. 1, but the organization’s troubles should never overshadow the urgent need for safe, affordable housing in this community. By Greg Gachassin

The Lafayette Housing Authority has had no shortage of bad press in recent weeks. Amidst a plethora of allegations, the doubt and distrust among the citizens is both deep and warranted. As an affordable housing developer, consultant and former chairman of the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency, I am certain that — at the very least — the recent allegations and suspect audit findings will provide the LHA an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to this community through improved management and operations on an on-going and transparent basis. With great certainty I would expect procedural changes, operational changes, staff changes — at the very least. One thing that won’t change is the housing authority’s responsibility to provide safe, decent and affordable housing to the residents of this parish.

In the many conversations I have had with housing authority staff, board members, government officials and local citizens, it is clear that action needs to be taken, and it needs to be swift. Such action provides a sense of accountability. But beyond holding individuals accountable, there is still, obviously, much work to be done. So where do you start?

In considering all that I have heard and read, there are three key ways to aid in the restoration of the Lafayette Housing Authority, including:

Patience —No one would deny that there is much work to be done within the LHA. But, in order for these changes to make a difference and endure, they need to be well planned, and well executed. It will take time to sort through the various findings to determine those programs and systems that are working and those that are in need of improvement. It will not happen overnight. Patience is critical, since it will take time for the LHA to reestablish itself and regain public trust through demonstrated performance.

Willingness to deal with complexities — From staff members to board members to local government, all parties involved must show a true willingness to deal with the complexities before them. This is business — business management and business operations; and, people are people. There will always be personal disputes, disagreements and complexities. The LHA as an organization, and the individual persons involved, will need to commit to rectifying all of the issues at hand, and quickly identify the resources needed to deal with the matters before them.

Impartiality — The LHA is a vast organization that runs numerous programs throughout this community. The programs and services provided extend beyond financial assistance and positively affect numerous families and individuals. To think that anyone outside of the organization would be in a position to say “how it should be done” is clearly misguided. The public should try to listen and be open-minded. To cast judgment and advice without a true understanding of the organization is a disservice to the community and the organization. Allow the LHA the opportunity to amend.

Through my own involvement with the LHA — including current work managing the new Villa Gardens development near Alice Boucher Elementary, which is federally funded through tax credits — I know it is committed to getting things back on track. Case in point: St. Antoine Gardens, which has had numerous problems since its inception. With construction and management issues, this tax credit development was not properly set up for success, but the LHA is now taking the necessary steps to ensure those ills are remedied — and that the development will be managed and operated as originally intended.

Despite the many problems the housing authority is dealing with it would be unfair and short-sighted to not acknowledge the many accomplishments it has achieved to-date. The organization is committed to helping those individuals and families who need assistance and has produced safe and affordable housing. It is working to help people realize home ownership through education, planning and hard work.

It would be obtuse to think that we could change the system or deny the need for public housing. It would be astute to realize that in building an effective and efficient public housing authority we not only aid those persons directly affected, but the community as a whole.  

Greg Gachassin is president of Lafayette-based The Cartesian Company, a real estate development and finance solutions company. He has 17 years of finance and real estate management experience, specializing in development, project management, capital solutions and public-private partnerships.

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