Tenants fight eviction at American Can apartments
3rd January 2017 · 0 Comments
By C.C. Campbell-Rock
The Grinch that stole Christmas, the ACV VII, LLC (Audubon Communities), visited low- to moderate-income tenants at its upscale American Can Apartments on Orleans Avenue in October 2016. The Grinch delivered eviction notices to disabled, and elderly tenants, families with children, and people of color, who must be out of their apartments by December 31, 2016. At least 53 families may be at risk for eviction.
The scant two-month notice given to 12 tenants with expired leases has them worried and wondering where they will find affordable housing in a city embroiled in an affordable housing crisis. Rents are skyrocketing, property taxes are escalating, and buying a home is nearly impossible for many New Orleans residents. At least 41 other tenants are also at risk for eviction, when their leases expire.“This is deplorable,” says Michael Esnault, 68, a disabled veteran and tenant at the American Can Apartments for nearly seven years. “They’re putting out the elderly, disabled, and most are Black,” adds Esnault about his evicted neighbors. Esnault, a Vietnam vet, suffers with PTSD, sleep disorders, hearing problems, and seizures. The naval airman served on the U.S.S. Kearsarge during the Vietnam War. Esnault worked as an FBI clerk before volunteering to serve in the Navy. “I lost a lot of family in Vietnam,” he explains. “When I came out, I was a total mess. Several of my shipmates were killed. My dad helped liberate two concentration camps in Germany during WWII,” Esnault says of his family’s military service tradition.
“Mitch is talking loud and saying nothing,” Esnault said. He looked to the city of New Orleans for help because the apartments’ original owner got major tax credits and financing from the government to build the condo complex.
Esnault and other at risk tenants have advocates in their struggle for fairness and affordable housing. The Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS), Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC), and the Community Justice Section of the Loyola University New Orleans Law Clinic are working toward an amicable resolution for the evictees, with Audubon Communities.
On December 30, a group of tenants, their advocates and supporters held a protest outside of City Hall. Mayor Landrieu was absent, but protesters were able to meet with city housing officials and Councilwoman Susan Guidry, within whose district the apartment complex sits.
While Guidry did promise to help tenants being evicted find alternate housing, the tenants said they’re staying in the Mid-City condos.
“The investment of public funds in this property included a promise to provide affordable apartments at the American Can,” notes Cashauna Hill, executive director of GNOFHAC. “Audubon Communities should honor their promise to Louisiana taxpayers and cease these evictions. Further, these evictions disproportionately impact people with disabilities, families which children, and people of color, possibly in violation of the Fair Housing Act.”
In addition to the potential Fair Housing Act violations, the evictions may also run afoul of regulations required of taxpayer-funded properties, including requirements to notify tenants of proposed changes, and to consider options for ongoing affordability based on resident input.
“It’s shameful what’s happening at the American Can Apartments,” says Hannah Adams, staff attorney at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS), who represents Esnault. “The low-income families we serve are being pushed out of their homes and priced out of their city,” she continues. “Audubon Communities bought a heavily subsidized affordable housing complex and now they need to follow the rules if they want to change the property to luxury housing.”
Adams says the two-month notice is not a reasonable amount of time to expect people to find affordable housing.
“Our goal is to settle this amicably out of court,” Adams adds. The groups are waiting to hear back from Audubon Communi-ties in response to a cease and desist letter they sent asking that the evictions be halted.
The American Can Apartments’ (ACA) original owner, Historic Restoration, Inc., (HRI, LLC) led by developer Pres Kabacoff, got city, state and federal aid to build the mixed-use apartments in 2000, at the site of the old American Can Company. Public funds invested in the property include: $29 million from the State in tax-exempt bond financing; $8.5 million in historic tax credits; 10 years of payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) property tax relief; and $7 million in grants and loans subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Audubon Communities, based in Peachtree Corners, GA, bought the complex in 2013.
“To his credit, Pres Kabacoff reached out to help re-house,” those being evicted, says Adams. Calls to Audubon Communities and the city’s Office of Development were not returned.
Hannah Galloway, 28, a tenant at the American Can Apartments celebration has been marred by news of the eviction of her neighbors. She graduated two weeks ago from UNO with a master’s degree in Sociology. She lives with her dad but her family is not at-risk for eviction. Still, Galloway is upset at the way her neighbors are being treated. “I completely hate it. They (Audubon Communities) make more than enough money. They don’t have to evict anyone.”
Rents are expected to double at American Can in the near future, from $700 for low- to moderate-income tenant apartments to $1,300 for the same apartment.
Galloway criticized Audubon Communities for its management style. “After the new people bought it, they tried to fire all of the security guards and maintenance staff. They don’t take care of the grounds properly,” Galloway continues. “There are two to three feet deep holes next to the sidewalks and people are having difficulty with water.” The sociologist says the buildings have plumbing issues. “Two to three times in the past two weeks the water has been shut off.”
Galloway enjoys talking to the elderly and disabled tenants. Some are in wheelchairs and then there’s the 95-year-old lady who has lived there since Hurricane Katrina and another who has lived there for 16 years. “They are the best neighbors here. I’m totally against it. I want them to stay here,” adds Galloway.
“They don’t have a lot of choices,” says Adams, regarding where tenants can find affordable housing. “There are some Section 8 housing in the east and Central City. Many want to stay in the Mid-City area. “Affordability has reach extreme levels in New Orleans,” adds Monika Gerhart, communications director of the GNOFHAC.
GNOFHAC and SLLS are urging others in the community to join their efforts. A community sign-on letter is available at https://docs.google.com/a/slls.org/forms.
This article originally published in the January 2, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.