One ambitious development delivers affordable housing, healthy food options, and job opportunities in New Orleans.
Centennial Place provides housing with 52 moderate-income apartments in the Warehouse District. Half of the homes are rented to households earning no more than 80 percent of the area median income.
In an adjacent building, a state-of-the-art kitchen has been created to prepare fresh and healthy lunches for charter school students in the city and provide culinary training to hopeful restaurant and hospitality workers.
“It is the most aggressive project that we have attempted so far in terms of the mixes of use and financing structure,” says Victor Smeltz, executive director of Renaissance Neighborhood Development Corp., a subsidiary partnership of Volunteers of America of Greater New Orleans and Volunteers of America (VOA) National Services.
To develop 1770 Tchoupitoulas, Smeltz and his team converted two historic riverfront buildings near the Port of New Orleans.
The old Lykes Steamship factory has been turned into Centennial Place, which features studio, one-, and two-bedroom apartments. Amenities include a roof-top terrace overlooking the Mississippi River, a relaxing courtyard, and off- street parking. The apartments are part of a larger mission by VOA to create 1,050 housing units, replacing homes lost to Hurricane Katrina.
Across the courtyard, VOA operates its Fresh Food Factor program in the former Centennial Cotton Press building, a 19th-century structure where cotton bales were once prepared for shipping. The program serves as a healthy, local food-service provider. It recently began contracting with local schools to deliver wholesome school lunches and snacks along with nutrition education. The program serves healthy breakfasts and lunches to more than 1,000 children.
A VOA affiliate in Oregon operates a similar program, which helped inspire the New Orleans team.
Fresh Food Factor’s culinary arts training program provides individuals with the food preparation and service skills needed to qualify for job placement in the hospitality industry. It has employed more than 125 trainees in the program, including veterans served by Volunteers of America’s Veterans Transitional Housing program.
For Smeltz, the program offers “a triple bottom line”—raising the level of nutrition for area children, providing jobs, and potentially creating a flow of unrestricted revenue that can be used for other social enterprises.
The total development cost of the project was about $19 million. Much of it was financed with New Markets Tax Credits (NMTCs), with Enterprise providing a $10 million allocation, and VOA providing an $8.5 million allocation. U.S Bancorp Community Development Corp. was the equity investor for the full allocation and provided an additional $2.9 million in federal historic tax credits. Tax Credit Capital provided $2.7 million in state historic tax credit equity.
Iberia Bank provided a $3.2 million permanent loan as well as $7.7 million in bridge financing. The state Office of Community Development was also a key partner, contributing a $2.5 million loan to support the commercial piece and a $1 million grant to support the development of the housing.
Additional grants were provided by the Major League Baseball Players Trust, Greater New Orleans Foundation, Methodist Health Systems Foundation, and Entergy Charitable Foundation.
Donna Kimura is deputy editor of Affordable Housing Finance. Follow her on Twitter @dkimura_AHF.