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Coastal Desk

$35M set aside to relocate Gordon Plaza residents from toxic landfill after unanimous Council vote

Jessie Perkins Gordon PLaza
Halle Parker
/
WWNO
Gordon Plaza resident Jessie Perkins rallies with other residents and supporters in front of City Hall on Thursday, June 23, 2022.

The New Orleans City Council voted unanimously to set aside $35 million to relocate residents living in homes built on top of a toxic landfill on Thursday.

It's the latest victory for Gordon Plaza residents after battling for decades to move off the site after the Environmental Protection Agency declared the area a hazardous superfund site in 1994.

“The moral imperative is on the mind of everyone on the council,” said Councilmember Eugene Green, whose district includes Gordon Plaza. “This is a top priority of mine, and of the council.”

Introduced by all seven council members, the ordinance moved the money from stalled projects within the Department of Public Works to the Chief Administrative Office within the city’s 2022 capital budget. The ordinance stated the $35 million would be used “to the extent necessary” to buy out and move residents.

Constructed in the 1980s, the Gordon Plaza subdivision was marketed to first-time Black homebuyers, billed as a way to expand affordable housing in the city. The 67 houses were built on top of the former 95-acre site of the Agriculture Street Landfill. An apartment complex for elderly residents, townhouse development and elementary school was also built in the area, though all have since been shut down and closed off to the public.

After 50 years of operation as a landfill, the ground was laced with more than 50 hazardous chemicals, including arsenic and lead. A 48-acre plot remained undeveloped, and now the city is looking to construct a solar park in the area to power Sewerage and Water Board pumps. The land bought from remaining Gordon Plaza residents would also be used for that project.

In January, the City Council created a $35 million line item in the capital budget for Gordon Plaza’s relocation, but a funding source wasn’t specified.

With money secured, the next step will be disbursing — a process that’s still being ironed out.

“This is a major step forward, but let’s be clear that there’s still much more work to be done,” City Council President Helena Moreno said Thursday.

Last month, the city put out a search for a law firm to hire and conduct property acquisitions, aiming to hire a firm with a background in environmental justice. City officials have said its own attorney office doesn’t have the expertise for buyouts.

But residents and some City Council members criticized the move, worried that the law firm would look to limit costs on the city rather than paying residents what they need to move out. Moreno and Council member JP Morrell questioned why the city didn’t hire a firm to conduct appraisals instead, feeling it would be more expeditious.

The city also struggled to receive responses. Ultimately, the city’s request for proposal closed with one response at the end of May that some Council members argue isn’t adequate to fulfill the role. On Monday, the Gordon Plaza Task Force — a collection of city officials, Council members and residents — will discuss a new request for proposals looking for a real estate firm to determine the cost for moving residents to comparable houses.

Lydwina Hurst Gordon Plaza
Halle Parker
/
WWNO
Gordon Plaza resident Lydwina Hurst addresses the City Council about plans to draft a new request for proposals during the meeting on Thursday, June 23, 2022.

Lydwina Hurst and Shannon Rainey, board members of the nonprofit Residents of Gordon Plaza, Inc., said if another search is needed, it should give firms a shorter timeframe to respond to keep the process moving. They’ve also pushed for the City Council to declare a state of emergency within the neighborhood to remove hurdles for moving the residents off.

Rainey said she was excited to see the Council’s unanimous decision after years of work, but “this is the first step.”

Walking out of City Hall Thursday, Hurst said, “We’ve been in this long enough, and we want a resolution ASAP.”

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