July 31, 2007
As New Orleans tries to jump-start the pace of post-Katrina recovery, one obstacle towers above all others: housing.
Matt Schwartz (BSM ’99) and Chris Papamichael (BSM ’96) hope to address that. The partners, principals of New York-based development firm the Domain Companies, plan to add 700 units of mixed-income housing to the city’s stock by the end of 2008 to meet the critical need for affordable housing.
“We’re developing housing that will serve the work force,” says Schwartz. “Right now there’s a built-in demand for 20,000 housing units to serve workers in the hotel and restaurant industry alone.”
The developers are initially focusing their attention on three projects along Tulane Avenue: The Preserve Apartments, a 183-unit complex on the site of the former Baumer Foods plant; the Crescent Club Apartments, a 228-unit development on the site of the former Crescent City Motors; and 750 Jeff Davis, a 72-unit development just off Tulane Avenue.
While the Jeff Davis property will be devoted entirely to affordable rental units, the Preserve and the Crescent Club will be mixed-income developments, with 60 percent market-rate apartments and 40 percent affordable units set aside for tenants earning no more than 60 percent of the area’s median income. With a total cost of more than $100 million, the developments will feature upscale amenities such as a pool, exercise facilities, a business center and a clubhouse.
According to Schwartz, mixed-income housing is an idea the federal government is increasingly turning to. “This is a concept that’s been very successful in many areas of the country,” Schwartz explains. “The idea is to de-densify poverty and create mixed communities both in terms of income and housing types.”
Schwartz and Papamichael are no strangers to mixed-income developments. The Domain Companies has acted as developer or development consultant on 15 projects totaling more than 1,250 units. In June 2006, Domain was selected as the lead developer to convert the Markham Gardens public housing project on Staten Island into 300 units of mixed-income housing.
Mid-City suffered some of the worst flooding in New Orleans following Katrina, but Schwartz believes the area is now uniquely positioned for a rebirth. The Tulane-Jeff Davis intersection is one of 17 “target recovery areas” recently announced by the city’s Office of Recovery Management, and Tulane Avenue is part of a new development district created to attract biotechnology companies to downtown New Orleans. With its proximity to both the downtown medical center area and the French Quarter and CBD, Schwartz is confident the Tulane Avenue corridor can attract a viable mix of renter-by-choice professionals and working-class tenants.
“We want to revitalize Tulane Avenue and redevelop the area as a mixed-use, mixed-income, 24/7 live-work community,” Schwartz says. “Now that we’re moving forward, we hope our projects can act as a catalyst to help the neighborhood come back.”
To further that process along, Schwartz says his company has also been purchasing and renovating storm-damaged homes in the neighborhoods surrounding the developments to provide opportunities for first-time home buyers.
“I’m very optimistic,” Schwartz says. “New Orleans is an incredible city with a tremendous number of unique attributes but also a tremendous number of problems. Right now we have an opportunity to address a lot of those problems.”