Looking for a tell-tale sign that New Orleans is on the road to recovery? Try this: Early next year, Donald Trump will finally break ground on the highly anticipated Trump International Hotel & Tower, a hotel-condo hybrid located adjacent to the historic French Quarter. The Donald hasn't given up on the Big Easy—and he's not the only one. While the rebuilding efforts have certainly been painfully slow at times, the city is gradually returning to life after the devastation of hurricanes Rita and Katrina just over two years ago. A large number of multifamily and commercial construction and renovations are under way, many thanks to grants and other financial initiatives to help rebuild the city. Here's a roundup of the latest activities in the Big Easy:
BUILDING BOOM Post-Katrina, the New Orleans Safety and Permits office has issued 4,803 commercial permits in New Orleans Parish for work valued at $1.3 billion. “Definitely the permits have picked up,” says Larry Schedler, president of Larry G. Schedler & Associates, a New Orleans-based real estate firm. “It certainly has been slower than anyone anticipated, but there are development challenges in this market unlike challenges encountered in other markets between construction costs, insurance, and—to a degree—a pull-back on behalf of some of the tax credit buyers.”
Despite these impediments, new developments are going up, with a large number of mixed-income communities to meet the intense demand for affordable housing. About five projects will break ground soon with another five expected to begin construction within the next six months. Notable mixed-income projects to watch include The Preserve and Crescent Club, both developed by New York-based The Domain Cos.
Much of the city's development is being fueled by government-sponsored financial incentives. One such program: the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act, designed to attract private investors to invest in the future of New Orleans through special tax incentives. The program, which includes projects built between December 2005 and December 2010, supported the development of Algiers Crossing, a 700-unit for-sale community being built across the river from New Orleans. Through the act, residents are entitled to a 50 percent bonus depreciation in the first year of ownership.
RENTAL AID Remarkably, thousands of displaced families still have no permanent address two years after the storms. In response to this overwhelming housing need, HUD has extended its temporary disaster housing assistance program for 11,400 displaced families who are currently registered in the program. The Disaster Voucher Program, which covers housing costs for families who lived in public housing or received other HUD rental assistance but were displaced by the storms, was originally set to end on Sept. 30. Now, the 3,800 families who lived in public housing before the storms will receive rental subsidies through June 30, 2008. The other 7,600 families, who lived in private apartments and used Section 8 vouchers, will stop receiving disaster vouchers and return to the Section 8 program.
GREEN GROWTH New Orleans is starting to see the light—literally. Named a 2007 Solar America City by the U.S. Department of Energy, the city received a federal two-year grant of $200,000 to implement solar energy technologies in its rebuilding efforts. The grant will help the city devise a comprehensive plan for the expansion of solar technology and train developers on the equipment.