Changing ‘trajectory of a neighborhood’: All smiles as Zion City celebrates new, affordable homes | News

Nineteen new two-story, brick homes unveiled Wednesday in north Baton Rouge’s Zion City neighborhood have given community leaders hope that similar developments will sprout in other neighborhoods where blight has crept in and where mixed-income housing is needed.

Local political leaders were all smiles as they toured the homes Wednesday, and applauded developer Brian LaFleur’s long road toward building them.

Several years ago, instead of manicured lawns and shiny windows, the lots in the Fortune Addition subdivision near Glen Oaks Middle School were adjudicated as owners stopped paying property taxes while the houses fell into disrepair.

“It’s projects like this that have the real potential to change the trajectory of a neighborhood,” said Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome at Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

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In 2014, LaFleur partnered with the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority to acquire the properties, along with some others in Melrose East. He received a $2 million grant from City Hall’s Office of Community Development to develop affordable housing in Fortune Addition, and initially expected to build duplexes for rent.

But LaFleur ran into problems with the lot sizes, which had to be subdivided to make them large enough to build on, and the zoning was also problematic for building duplexes. He and the city-parish’s Office of Community Development instead agreed that he would build 19 single family homes for purchase.

LaFleur Industries spent $1.1 million of its own capital to build the three bedroom, three bathroom houses that are listed for between $100,000 and $140,000 depending on the square footage. Five of the houses are market-rate, while the other 14 are affordable housing for families earning 80 percent or less of the median salary in East Baton Rouge.

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Two of the nineteen houses have already sold, with one selling under affordable requirements and the other going for market-rate, LaFleur said. He said he expects it to take longer to find buyers than it would have taken had the houses been rentals.

Monika Gerhart, head of the Office of Community Development, said LaFleur is known for building durable houses, which is particularly important for affordable housing because it keeps down the costs of maintenance. And Gwen Hamilton, interim director of the Redevelopment Authority said the houses exemplify what high quality, mixed income housing development should look like.

The East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority was originally intended to bring more similar projects online, but has not received a steady, dedicated funding stream for years.

Broome’s transition committees when she was taking over as mayor-president suggested merging the RDA, OCD and the East Baton Rouge Housing Authority, but Broome has not taken any public steps to follow that suggestion.

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LaFleur said he has bought more lots near the new houses and is applying for additional funding from the OCD and Louisiana Housing Corporation to build on them. Mixed income housing has become a preferred method of building affordable places to live, as developers hope that both market-rate and affordable-rate dwellers can live side-by-side and create neighborhoods with ranges of incomes.

“What you see here is part of the American dream,” Broome said. “What you see before you, and the blending of a community.”

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Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.​