20101013-news-0101Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Acadiana Outreach tempers plans for its Joie De Vivre housing complex near downtown based on financial constraints and neighborhood concerns. By Nathan Stubbs

Despite the controversy the project has generated among some Mills Addition residents who fear the complex’s impact on their historic neighborhood, Acadiana Outreach Center CEO Rick Newton sees his organization’s Joie De Vivre affordable housing development as a natural extension of the nonprofit’s mission to assist the poor and unemployed. And Newton is confident the development will be a community asset.

“We’ve always asked the question about the root cause of poverty,” Newton says, “helping people to become self sufficient. This is one more step to have an impact on the area itself, the community. To step in and reclaim and help revitalize an area. I think this project is going to be a tremendous example of that.”

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Planners have reorganized the Joie de Vivre development as a six building, $16.5 million project.


In May, Acadiana Outreach announced plans to build a $25 million, 10-building, mixed-use affordable housing development in Mills Addition near downtown. The project was to be funded largely through the sale of $20 million in yet-to-be-awarded tax credits. At the time, Acadiana Outreach and its main consultant, The Cartesian Company, were still awaiting the Louisiana Housing Finance Authority’s annual Qualified Application Plan, which governs all tax credit applications. When the guidelines were published in August, they included a $1.5 million a year cap for tax credit applicants. That limit, along with neighborhood concerns over the density of the development and some failed property acquisitions, has forced Joie De Vivre planners to scale back their plans.

AOC has now re-envisioned Joie De Vivre as a six building, $16.5 million project. The complex went from 118 to 72 rental units, a 39 percent reduction in density. While financing certainly played a role in the changes, planners insist their primary motivation was winning over support from the entire community.

“The biggest reason [for the changes] is what we heard from the public,” says Cartesian Company President Greg Gachassin. “We listened to those concerns and tried to reduce density where we could.” In addition to the lighter footprint, planners added a brick facade on the building’s lower level to tone down an ultra-modern design many Mills Addition residents thought clashed with the surrounding architecture. They also increased the development’s parking space ratio from 1.23 to 1.68 spaces per unit.

With the new design, the would-be developers lost some of their originally proposed retail space, including a large first floor space fronting Congress Street viewed as ideal for a grocery store (the design still includes space for a day care and community center). AOC still hopes to add more retail, and additional residential space, over time. Gachassin notes that splitting the project up in phases was something that was recommended by officials with the Downtown Development Authority, as a way to help soften the immediate impact of the development. Another issue was three pieces of property that AOC was unable to acquire for the development. “I think as we build it, we’ll be successful in picking up others as people grow in confidence in what we’re doing,” Gachassin says.

20101013-news-0103Gachassin also has busily worked to allay concerns over the type of residents who will be moving into Joie De Vivre. Because of its public funding, the development will have to meet strict guidelines aimed at pinning the development to its mission of providing affordable housing. Joie De Vivre will rent one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments exclusively to low-income workers making no more than 60 percent of Lafayette’s annual Area Median Income (a requirement of the federal tax credit program). Lafayette’s current AMI is $57,500 for a four-person household. That means a four-person family wanting to rent at Joie De Vivre can make no more than $34,980. A two-person household can make no more than $28,020 and a single person’s salary is capped at $24,540. Gachassin, however, says tenants whose salaries rise above these levels after they begin living at Joie De Vivre can stay and even renew their leases.

Addressing concerns that the development will admit residents with Section 8 vouchers, Gachassin says this is required by federal law and is no different from most apartment complexes in town, the majority of which are federally insured or financed. To make his point, he says the two big apartment complexes in River Ranch must also accept Section 8 vouchers, because the mortgage insurance on those projects is backed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — an assertion an assistant manager for The Crescent denies; she says neither The Crescent nor its sister apartment complex, Main Street at River Ranch, accepts Section 8 vouchers.

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A day care and community center are planned as part of Joie de Vivre.

Gachassin also is quick to point out that Joie De Vivre, like most apartment complexes, will have a third party property management company that will screen tenants through criminal background checks and have a zero tolerance drug policy. Joie De Vivre is targeting young professionals and artists who work in the downtown area. “It’s about how you market,” Gachassin says. “It’s about who you target. And it’s about how you set yourself up.”

In its tax credit application, AOC also scored points for electing to serve one of three classifications of special needs households: homeless households, disabled households and individuals with children. AOC elected to serve individuals with children, meaning that 20 percent of housing at Joie De Vivre, or 15 units, must be dedicated to low-income families.

AOC’s tax credit application was submitted in September for Joie De Vivre and requests $1.5 million a year in credits over 10 years, a total of $15 million. Developers project they can sell those credits up front for approximately $12 million (see funding breakdown chart). The development has also received $1.25 million in state and federal grants, and plans to secure a $1 million loan from the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority and a $2.2 million mortgage, contingent upon being awarded the tax credits.

The Joie De Vivre development is one of 70 projects competing for some $8 million in tax credits available this year for the entire state. The LHFA will announce tax credit recipients no sooner than December. If successful in its tax credit application, Joie De Vivre could break ground early next year and be open for business sometime in 2012.

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