American Press

Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Southwest Louisiana ,
Residents are expected to begin moving into the new High School Park community by the end of the year. (Rick Hickman/American Press)

Residents are expected to begin moving into the new High School Park community by the end of the year. (Rick Hickman/American Press)

Rebirth of High School Park

Last Modified: Sunday, May 29, 2016 8:40 AM

By Justin Phillips / American Press

The revitalization of High School Park underway in the 1700 block of Second Street between Second and Third avenues has a familiar feel to it. Not long ago, similar work occurred just up the road at 1901 Mill St. In an effort led by the Lake Charles Housing Authority in 2013, the city’s oldest public housing units were torn down and replaced with the more modern Mayfield Homes.

At High School Park, the authority is decreasing the units from 72 to 50 and increasing security measures, just like what was done at the Mill Street site.

High School Park is considered mixed-finance housing through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, meaning it is backed by public, private and nonprofit funds. The project has an overall price tag of $10 million.

Earlier this year HUD announced the authority would receive more than $1.1 million as part of the nearly $37 million it is awarding the state to preserve public housing. Housing authority officials said residents will be moving into the new community by the end of the year.

Ben Taylor, director of the authority, believes the mission never changes when it comes to redeveloping public housing, because each project has the potential to improve a neighborhood.

“Attitudes change. Pride changes. And housing is just a component of that,” Taylor said. “Probably the most important component of any kind of revitalization is the character of the people involved and the strength of the families there.”

The Mayfield Homes are the authority’s most recent example of how physical improvements can lift the spirits of a community. Taylor said he is hoping to see a similar occurrence near High School Park.

The change would come at a good time for the neighborhood. Earlier this month, the Lake Charles Police Department released its latest crime report, which showed the High School Park area as having the most crimes against people, crimes against property and other criminal offenses than any other section of the city.

Taylor said the new development will have a police substation to help deal with any criminal activity on the property. Access to the homes will be limited by a metal fence, and gate openings will be monitored by security cameras.

“A lot of the problems that older places have are something called ‘crimes of opportunity.’ If somebody can just walk past the back of a house, and they see something they want, they can just grab it. Hopefully this will end a lot of that,” Taylor said.

According police, there were 226 burglaries in the High School Park area in 2015. There were 317 larceny incidents and 33 motor vehicle thefts.

While Taylor is focusing his efforts on improving neighborhoods, the authority is also facing a handful of new challenges because of a shifting housing market.

Southwest Louisiana is in the midst of an industrial expansion, and Lake Charles is beginning to see its population increase. City and parish officials have said many of the new residents are coming for the jobs associated with the industrial progress. A recent housing study by Baton Rouge firm CSRS said 22,000 new residents are expected to be living in the area by 2019.

Taylor said the growth is making rental prices skyrocket. As an example of how it can affect Lake Area residents, he described temporary workers using their per diems to purchase a place a to stay. He said the groups could ultimately drive up the cost of living and force families unable to afford the increases out of their properties.

“There’s nothing that can be done about that. It’s just economics. But the people that it really hits are folks that are busting their butt, working and trying to get ahead,” he said.

The changes are only evident in the authority’s public housing numbers. Taylor said that at one point this month, there were only 14 vacancies out of 756 units. He said it was the lowest vacancy rate he has ever had.

Despite the difficulties, High School Park is well on its way to completion. Taylor acknowledged that the market and population changes could have a much larger effect on the authority’s next project ?— revitalizing the housing at St. Mary Drive.

For now, Taylor said the authority is just rolling with the times and he fully expects the market to eventually balance out, making it possible to develop more housing for people in need.

“We’re focusing on improving the neighborhoods and finishing up High School Park,” Taylor said. “Whatever happens down the road, we’ll deal with it and keep going. Our goal is to provide for those families that need it most.”


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Posted By: Adley Cormier On: 9/26/2016

Title: Tree Loss explained

Due to required elevation changes at this site, I understand that the live oaks had to be removed. I understand that the new height elevations were required by the engineers to assure that the site would not flood. I hope that live oaks will be replanted at the new elevations--within ten years, you can have the benefits of beautiful trees, the air cleaning, the mitigation of water, habitat for birds, and the wonderful shade under which outdoor life is possible in Coastal Louiaiana.

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