More than housing to come at Lloyd Oaks-Dixy Drive

Lloyd Oaks-Dixy Drive public housing is marked for demolition. The plan is to replace the 240 storm-damaged units with a project that goes beyond housing, according to Candace Valenauela, Housing and Urban Development Southwest Regional Administrator.

She was in Lake Charles Thursday to make it official: Lake Charles Housing Authority is the recipient of the Choice Neighborhood Improvement (CNI) grant of $40 million from HUD.

Only 43 cities in the country have received CNI funding since 2010, the senior HUD official said.

These funds will help leverage public and private sources for an estimated $278 million for the Mid-City Neighborhood Transformation.

The plan is to build climate resilient housing on a 37-acre tract where 562 individuals and families from different income levels and different walks of life are going to live in apartment homes with amenities that you’d expect from a premier facility.

“It’s disaster recovery, wrap-around services for those in need, and it is robust economic development. It’s also the care that you have for your neighbors and the pride in place that you call home,” Valenauela said.

Wrap-around services can include services that help individuals living in public housing acquire skills needed to improve income.

Mayor Nic Hunter called the announcement a “concrete, tangible example of progress,” achieved from not one individual or agency but a team of people passionate about housing.

I remember, very specifically, a couple of years ago when Sara Judson approached me about this idea of a master plan for the city,” he said.

He didn’t know what a Choice Neighborhood Improvement grant was at the time. He told her he would support it as long as it wasn’t just another plan that sounds nice.”

He has seen too many plans and studies  that never come to fruition.

Judson is the Chief Executive Officer at Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana. The redevelopment of Lloyd Oaks-Dixy Drive is a piece of the Mid-City Transformation Project, one of the 11 catalytic projects that are part of the Just Imagine 50-year resilience master plan for Calcasieu and Cameron Parishes. This endeavor was made possible by a $2.5 million gift from Angela and David Filo to the Community Foundation of SWLA.

“In the year-long process of community engagement, we asked people what they loved about living here, what their challenges were and most importantly about their dreams for the future,” Judson said.

At the top of the list was available, affordable and resilient housing.

Jim Rock, executive director of the Lake Area Industry Alliance, has been working with the Community Foundation. He said the Mid-City Transformation is based on what people who lived in the neighborhood want, down to seniors who said they’d rather be segregated from younger members of the community. Another senior told Housing Authority Director Ben Taylor that she was too old to negotiate stairs. He told her she would be placed in a downstairs unit.

Rock is confident this project will be a true catalyst for what’s to come. Judson agreed.

“With our local team effort, including our team from Urban Strategies and HRI and our partnership with HUD, we will make this happen,” she said.

Leona Baxter, a resident of the development before her home was destroyed, participated in some of the Just Imagine community meetings.

“If I don’t live to get there,” she said, “I’ve got my grandson – she pointed to the seventh grader who has plans of becoming an engineer –  and he’ll have a better future, and a better, safe community.”

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