N.O. developer plans to shelter migrant workers

NEW ORLEANS – Developer Joshua Bruno said there’s a deep need for affordable housing in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.

Hispanic laborers helping rebuild the city and residents still displaced by the hurricane are having a hard time finding such housing, he said.

He’s hoping to fill that need with two Central City apartment developments totaling 49 low-income units that should be completed within 50 days.

Bruno, president of New Orleans-based Downtown Development Group, is converting old apartment complexes on Washington Avenue into new housing without using tax credits that many developers are seeking post-Katrina.

He said his project is privately financed, although he will take advantage of the Gulf Opportunity Zone’s bonus depreciation incentive.

Washington Gardens, a $1.4-million development at 2119 Washington Ave., will feature 24 apartments. Washington Place, a $1.3-million development at 2316 Washington Ave., will have 25 apartments.

Washington Place should open in 30 days, and Washington Gardens should open 20 days later, he said.

Bruno said the one-bedroom, 400-square-foot studio apartments will rent in the mid-$600 range.

Before Katrina, the complexes were magnets for drugs and crime and a thorn in the side of the 6th District police, he said.

Bruno, a New York native who attended Tulane University, said his apartments might house some of his own employees. Fifteen employees, or about 20 percent of his total workforce, are from Mexico, Argentina or Honduras, he said. Some of the workers are living in Kenner and Treme, he said.

Since they came to the city to help with the rebuilding, migrant workers have “not been accepted by a lot of other landlords,” he said.

In some cases, landlords have asked migrant workers for double deposits out of fear they might suddenly leave, he said.

Bruno said he has been able to keep the cost of construction down by relying on his in-house construction company. By buying materials in bulk at a discount, the cost-per-square-foot can be lowered, he said. Other developers should consider building without tax credits, which bring with them high carrying costs, he said. Also, private financing often allows a developer to build quicker, he said.

The two Washington Avenue complexes will have gated entrances and gated parking, he said. Also, closed-circuit television cameras will monitor the property, he said.

High-efficiency electric and gas systems will keep costs down for tenants, he said. Also, gas and water usage is covered in rent, he said.

The properties also have courtyards that provide green space for tenants to use, he said.

Bruno is also developing Metairie Heights apartments, a 12-unit complex at 1609 S. Arnoult Road in Metairie. The site was home to an apartment complex that dated to the 1960s, he said.

Metairie Heights is 65 percent complete, with tenants already living there, he said.

One-bedroom units will rent in the low-$700 range, he said.