NEW ORLEANS ( Associated Press) — New Orleans is paying to relocate all remaining residents of a bankrupt apartment complex where people said a homeowner’s neglect left them spewing mold, rodents and raw sewage on a massive scale. Forced into unhygienic living conditions with broken pipes.
The rare move began last week and was expected to take about two weeks. After all residents have their Oakmont apartments, the 336-unit complex will be evacuated and secured until code and security breaches are resolved, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said.
“The situation in Oakmont Apartments has become unsafe and unhealthy for residents due to owner neglect and lack of concern for their tenants,” Cantrell said last week. “It is imperative that we address this problem and move tenants to safer, alternative housing immediately.”
The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported that City Hall said it plans to keep tenants in hotels for three months, while “housing navigators” want affordable apartments. The Housing Authority of New Orleans and the non-profit Unity of Greater New Orleans are among those involved.
Oakmont is the largest of five New Orleans apartment complexes that homeowner Joshua Bruno put under bankruptcy protection in January to prevent foreclosures. Bruno did not immediately return a message to the newspaper last week for comment on the city’s move.
Bruno claimed he had spent millions fixing fallen properties, only to see conditions worsen with the coronavirus pandemic and Hurricane Ida damage on August 29. Bruno also blames Fannie Mae for withholding insurance payments in the midst of a foreclosure battle.
Fannie Mae has argued that Bruno cannot be trusted to manage Oakmont. While residents live in filth, they have moved millions from Oakmont and other properties over the past year to various entities controlled by them, the lender alleges. Residents and advocates are urging US Bankruptcy Judge Meredith Grabil to deprive Bruno of control and appoint a trustee to manage him. The hearing is set for May 23.
Hannah Adams, a Southeast Louisiana Legal Services staff attorney, represents several Oakmont tenants and said all want to leave. She called the administration’s offer “extraordinary,” adding that it offers “a complete wraparound cushion,” which includes hotel stays, help finding a new home, a deposit and two months’ rent to start. .
How much the evacuation plan will cost is uncertain. City Hall said it aims to tap federal emergency rental assistance funds. Cantrell called it “not ideal,” but residents in Oakmont are better off leaving.
Adams said 100 to 120 residents were left. She said that homeless service organizations are trying to pull occupants from the property.
The administration cited Bruno last summer for code violations in Oakmont. Bruno appeals.
In February City Hall began offering relocation assistance to the remaining Oakmont tenants. Tuesday’s announcement marked a shift from an optional transfer to a forced exit.
“People are being forced to leave because of Josh Bruno and Westbank Holdings’ history of negligence, not because of the city,” Adams said.