Hardy shining light on public-private housing deals
Lafayette state Rep. Rickey Hardy, who helped blow the whistle on the Lafayette Housing Authority by requesting a state legislative audit of its operations, is now seeking to shine a light on several deals supposedly designed to help low-income and the elderly obtain affordable housing.
In large part, Hardy's frustration stems from the media's inability to access records of these housing deals. In October, attorney Richard Becker — identifying himself as “counsel for the developer on the transactions for St. Antoine Gardens and Villa Gardens” — told The Daily Advertiser that some of the documents related to those two low-income tax-credit developments, both of which involve the LHA, are not subject to Louisiana’s public records laws. Specifically, he said state statute 40:487 exempts affiliates of housing authorities, which he defined as partnerships in which the housing authority has a less than majority interest. In each, an entity that involves LHA has a .01 percent interest in those two developments. One of them, the 3-year-old St. Antoine Gardens, was revealed in an independent audit to have been grossly mismanaged by the LHA (it spent $100,000 on repairs that were not its responsibility) and has also been plagued by substandard construction. The other, Villa Gardens, is under way and involves some of the same parties associated with St. Antoine. Limited partnerships own the remaining 99.99 percent of those two single-family home developments, and the public has no way of knowing the makeup of those partnerships and who is profiting from the deals to ensure conflicts of interest do not exist.
“But if anything has become clear during the political and paper work nightmare that is the Lafayette Housing Authority,” the Advertiser wrote in a Jan. 16 story, “it is that no matter in which direction you look, the same small core of people can be found at every turn, serving in different capacities representing different interests.”
The 1997 act Becker cited reads: “Affiliates of housing authorities shall not, by virtue of their affiliation with such local housing authorities, become subject to the laws of this state applicable to public agencies and their governing bodies, including but not limited to laws pertaining to public disclosure of records, open meetings, minimum wage rates applicable to government contracts and employees, if any, procurement of goods and services, and laws relating to public employees.”
Hardy aims to change that. “We want to make sure their records are open, just like any other public entity,” Hardy says. On Jan. 21, he sent out a notification of his intention to file a bill that “removes the public records exemption that is applicable to affiliates of housing authorities in their interactions with local housing authorities.”
In yet another twist on these obscure deals, former LHA board members are up in arms that they were kept completely in the dark on another development, Cypress Trails, a proposed apartment complex for the elderly that is being spearheaded by the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority (LPTFA also helped with financing for St. Antoine and Villa Gardens). Becker and his group, including Greg Gachassin, whose The Cartesian Company is the consultant on that project (as well as Villa Gardens), have since moved to remove LHA from the apartment development. Hardy’s bill should also shine a light on Cypress Trails. “Even if it is no longer affiliated, it was associated with a public agency at the time," he says. "They can’t escape the fact that they still received public funds. They didn’t return the money.”
With the staggering chaos at the LHA, including a legislative audit that may lead to criminal charges as well as ongoing FBI and HUD probes, the public has every right to a full accounting of its tax dollars — including who in this community is getting rich on programs and developments designed to help the poorest among us.
MAY 17 Here's a column from James Gill, this time in the Advocate. Gill, who has jumped ship from the Picayune, writes about the absurdity of dueling polls in this post. The numbers are so wildly different, it is obvious that both sides are "cooking the books," he writes. In particular, he looks at Sen. Mary Landrieu, and how her recent actions in DC have been received by those polled. Gill's acerbic, amusing prose is a welcome addition to a paper so conservative as to be occasionally lacking in personality.
MAY 17 Blogger Tom Aswell continues delivering bombshells about the state education department and Gov. Jindal's education "reform" efforts. In this post, he reports that students in the Shreveport area have been signed up for a charter school without their knowledge or consent. Most interesting to Aswell is how this Texas-based charter (with ties to GOP types) got the personal student information it has, if the students didn't give it.
MAY 17 This post by JR Ball in the Baton Rouge Business Report is an interesting tongue-in-cheek look at recent Baton Rouge economic development efforts. Among the items he examines is the idea that gaining a Costco makes BR a "world-class city." (Really? All you need is a different brand of Sam's? MK!) This effort, and other recent ones, are all built on the taxpayer's back, with tax zones, tax incentives and tax rebates, Ball writes.
MAY 17 Blogger CB Forgotston is critical of the legislature's reliance on a revenue-estimating committee's decision to include projected tax amnesty income in this year's forecast. That's a problem, CB posts, because the deadline for these people to pay their taxes is June 30, 2014. So when do you think these people who haven't paid taxes in years are going to pay their taxes? Surely not before June 30, and that means the money won't be there for this year's budget, he argues.
MAY 17 Here's an interesting blog out of California by a Hollywood writer, attorney and academic named Brian Alan Lane. He blogs about higher ed, and was a whistle-blower in a scandal over false credentials. In this post, he takes aim at LSU's new top dog, King Alexander. It's convoluted and a little confusing, but it sure makes Alexander a lot more interesting than he was yesterday.
MAY 17 Blogger Robert Mann writes about the LSU Board's refusal to allow Dr. Fred Cerise to testify before the legislature about Gov. Jindal's plan to close down all the state's charity hospitals and dump the poor on the private system. It's hard to imagine anyone more qualified than Cerise to testify about that, so why would anyone try to prevent him doing so? Mann thinks it is because the powers that be aren't interested in hearing any truth about the plan.
MAY 17 This post on the Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle, a blog that notes developments in the Bayou Corne and Jefferson Island salt domes, talks about a proposed expansion of the salt dome storage under Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish. Residents are working against it for several reasons, including two biggies: the sinkhole disaster in Bayou Corne and the continuing, unexplained bubbling on the surface of the Lake.
MAY 17 NOLA police arrested more people Thursday accused of either being involved in the Mother's Day shooting or hiding the suspect afterward, this Gambit story reports. The NOLA police chief said he suspects the whole thing was gang-related and throws out a challenge to the gangs: he's got informants now, he says, and he knows a lot more than the gangs want him to know. The people who live in the neighborhoods terrorized by gangs are ready to talk, he says.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
Episcopal School of Acadiana’s Dr. Joshua Caffery, chair of the school’s English Department, is headed to Washington, D.C., and the Library of Congress as the latest winner of the Alan Lomax Fellowship in Folklife Studies.