Lafayette state Rep. Rickey Hardy, who helped blow the whistle on the LHA by requesting a state legislative audit of its operations, is now seeking to shine a light on several deals supposedly designed to help low-income and the elderly obtain affordable housing. Lafayette state Rep. Rickey Hardy, who helped blow the whistle on the Lafayette Housing Authority by requesting a state legislative audit of its operations, is now seeking to shine a light on several deals supposedly designed to help low-income and the elderly obtain affordable housing.
In large part, Hardy's frustration stems from the media's inability to access records of these housing deals. In October, attorney Richard Becker - identifying himself as "counsel for the developer on the transactions for St. Antoine Gardens and Villa Gardens" - told The Daily Advertiser that some of the documents related to those two low-income tax-credit developments, both of which involve the LHA, are not subject to Louisiana's public records laws. Specifically, he said state statute 40:487 exempts affiliates of housing authorities, which he defined as partnerships in which the housing authority has a less than majority interest. In each, an entity that involves LHA has a .01 percent interest in those two developments. One of them, the 3-year-old St. Antoine Gardens, was revealed in an independent audit to have been grossly mismanaged by the LHA (it spent $100,000 on repairs that were not its responsibility) and has also been plagued by substandard construction. The other, Villa Gardens, is under way and involves some of the same parties associated with St. Antoine. Limited partnerships own the remaining 99.99 percent of those two single-family home developments, and the public has no way of knowing the makeup of those partnerships and who is profiting from the deals to ensure conflicts of interest do not exist.
"But if anything has become clear during the political and paper work nightmare that is the Lafayette Housing Authority," the Advertiser wrote in a Jan. 16 story, "it is that no matter in which direction you look, the same small core of people can be found at every turn, serving in different capacities representing different interests."
The 1997 act Becker cited reads: "Affiliates of housing authorities shall not, by virtue of their affiliation with such local housing authorities, become subject to the laws of this state applicable to public agencies and their governing bodies, including but not limited to laws pertaining to public disclosure of records, open meetings, minimum wage rates applicable to government contracts and employees, if any, procurement of goods and services, and laws relating to public employees."
Hardy aims to change that. "We want to make sure their records are open, just like any other public entity," Hardy says. On Jan. 21, he sent out a notification of his intention to file a bill that "removes the public records exemption that is applicable to affiliates of housing authorities in their interactions with local housing authorities."
In yet another twist on these obscure deals, former LHA board members are up in arms that they were kept completely in the dark on another development, Cypress Trails, a proposed apartment complex for the elderly that is being spearheaded by the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority (LPTFA also helped with financing for St. Antoine and Villa Gardens). Becker and his group, including Greg Gachassin, whose The Cartesian Company is the consultant on that project (as well as Villa Gardens), have since moved to remove LHA from the apartment development. Hardy's bill should also shine a light on Cypress Trails. "Even if it is no longer affiliated, it was associated with a public agency at the time," he says. "They can't escape the fact that they still received public funds. They didn't return the money."
With the staggering chaos at the LHA, including a legislative audit that may lead to criminal charges as well as ongoing FBI and HUD probes, the public has every right to a full accounting of its tax dollars - including who in this community is getting rich on programs and developments designed to help the poorest among us.