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Housing Authority shifts focus to High School Park

Last Modified: Wednesday, August 06, 2014 11:51 AM

By Justin Phillips / American Press

Ben Taylor, executive director of the Lake Charles Housing Authority, hasn’t really taken time to celebrate the progress made with the newly constructed Mayfield Homes. Taylor is instead focusing on his next project, the redevelopment of High School Park. Located in the Second Street area, the project will be another step in the housing authority’s plan to continue rejuvenating the city’s aging affordable housing.

“The big project we have going on right now is High School Park. We received tax credits to do the rebuild,” Taylor said. “Right now, we’re going through the zoning process and all those types of things.”

The housing authority has an application for demolition in with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The time frame for that paperwork to push through is up in the air, but Taylor said progress is still being made.

“Once that happens, then we’ll start the relocation of the residents that are there,” Taylor said. “We’ll do that by either putting them in other public housing that we have or issuing them a relocation voucher and help them find housing that way through the Section 8 program.”

Taylor said that most of the older housing in the city hits a breaking point after about 70 years. Even with topical enhancements like upgrades to the electrical systems, the housing eventually needs to be replaced. Taylor said one of the keys to creating the next wave of sustainable affordable housing is spacing.

“Those places were built when poor people didn’t have cars and before drugs proliferated all over the place,” Taylor said. “What we’re doing is we’re decreasing density because with density comes crime. When I go to the zoning meetings and things, people laugh because while everybody else is trying to get more units per acre, I’m trying to get less.”

Another focus of the city’s housing authority is the Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD. The program allows proven financing tools to be applied to at-risk public and assisted housing. Taylor said the housing authority has an application in for participation.

“What that would do is it would allow us to end a lot of the regulatory burden we have and function more like a Section 8 property,” Taylor said. “As budgets shrink, they’re trying to let housing authorities that are capable, go access private dollars so the government doesn’t have to pay.”

As Taylor continues to maneuver through financial pitfalls, he said he’s keeping a watchful eye out for what’s on the city’s horizon — the proposed economic expansion. He used the drilling boom in west Texas as an example. Specifically, he talked about a situation in Midland.

“With all of the industrial expansion we’re going to have here, it’s really going to impact our clients,” Taylor said. “The Midland area lost about a quarter of their Section 8 units because rental prices went beyond what the housing authorities are willing to pay.”

In a local affordable housing market that is still recovering from Hurricanes Rita and Ike, Taylor remains hopeful for future progress. The redevelopment of High School Park is just another step in that direction.

“It’s tougher, but we’re still succeeding in getting people placed,” Taylor said. “It’s just a lot tougher.”

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