Federal housing leaders were in the process of foreclosing on the old Ardenwood Park apartments in Baton Rouge, La., when Community Development, Inc. (CDI), stepped in to acquire the struggling property.

Many of the property’s 208 units were inhabitable due to plumbing failures, mold, and other problems. It was so bad that some residents were even donning raincoats each time they used their bathrooms, to avoid leaks from the toilets in the apartments above.

Despite the deteriorated conditions, 124 families lived in the development, and they were a close-knit group.

“On my second evaluation visit to the site, I arrived with our housing director, Donna Collins-Lewis, just as four school buses were unloading,” says Fred Cornforth, CEO of Idaho-based CDI, the lead developer. “I witnessed all the laughter and friendship that were apparent among the children; they knew each other. Preserving the housing and the community were now equal goals.”

After failed attempts by other developers to renovate the property, CDI, in collaboration with 4321 Associates, has completely redeveloped the 40-year-old property while preserving its affordability.

The purchase of the property involved the assumption of an existing federal Sec. 236 loan, which had an interest reduction payment (IRP) contract attached to it. The team was able to pay off the loan while having an agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to decouple the IRP contract. This allowed the project to offset its construction period interest in the approximate amount of $11,300 each month through the construction period.

The 16 existing residential buildings were demolished down to the framing and slabs. The buildings were rehabilitated with new facades, pitched roofs replacing the flat roofs, windows, doors, and fiber-cement siding with brick accents. The project was completed in 2014 with a large number of the relocated tenants moving back to the property.

Now called Renaissance Gateway Apartments to signify its rebirth, the development has a permanent supportive housing contract with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals to provide 32 affordable rental units for individuals and families at risk of homelessness and for persons with disabilities.

The $28 million project also used 4% low-income housing tax credit equity from WNC to finance the rehabilitation.

“It’s been a major improvement,” says Collins-Lewis, who is also a member of the Baton Rouge Metro Council. “It’s made a huge difference to this community, this neighborhood, and the city of Baton Rouge overall.”

Project Details

Developers: Community Development and 4321 Associates
Architect: Wright & Dalbin Architects 
Major Funders: WNC; America First Multifamily Investors; city/parish of East Baton Rouge; East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority; Louisiana Office of Community Development; Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals; Louisiana Housing Corp.; Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas; Iberia Bank; National Housing Trust; Department of Housing and Urban Development