Iberville Public Housing Development Historic District
The Iberville Public Housing Development Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. Adaptation copyright © 2015, The Gombach group.
The Iberville Public Housing Development was the third of six low-rent public housing developments in New Orleans funded by the United States Housing Act of 1937, also known as the Wagner-Steagall Act. Constructed as a superblock in 1941, the original plan for Iberville contained 75 residential buildings and one administration building. The 75 two- and three-story, courtyard-oriented buildings were categorized into 11 different building types. Each type featured common characteristics, such as a brick exterior, hip and side-gabled tile roofs, parapets, chimneys with cement caps, and first floor stoops. Porches and galleries exhibited iron columns and decorative cast iron railing, which mimic those found in other areas of New Orleans, specifically the French Quarter. In addition, buildings featured simple doors as well as double-hung windows. Most of the buildings had rectangular footprints, while a few located at the property boundaries were irregular due to recessed or protruding wings.
By the time the Wagner-Steagall Act was approved, the Louisiana legislature had already passed Act 275 of 1936, which paved the way for New Orleans to participate in the low-rent housing projects. Act 275, also known as the Housing Authority Act or Slum Clearance Act, authorized "the creation of public corporations in cities having population in excess of 20,000, with power to investigate living and housing conditions and to develop projects for clearing, replanning and reconstructing slum areas in order to provide housing accommodations for persons of low income." This act created the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO).
In March 1938, William J. Guste, member of the Housing Authority of New Orleans, returned from Washington, D.C., with a signed low-income housing development contract. Approved by President Roosevelt and signed by Nathan Straus, United States Housing Administrator, the city of New Orleans was "the first in the entire United States approved by the USHA under the Housing Act of 1937." By September 1938, President Roosevelt had allocated $9,830,000 USHA funds to eliminate blighted areas below Canal Street where 95 percent of residences were considered "substandard."
The loan approved was for the whites-only Iberville Housing Project and its African American counterpart, the Lafitte Housing Project. The Iberville Housing Project was located on the former site of Storyville, the notorious red-light district that existed along Basin Street between 1897 and 1917. Storyville was considered a slum after the United States Department of the Navy caused the district to close, which significantly diminished the owners' and madams' political power. In early November 1939, Guste stated expropriation suits would be used to acquire property in the Iberville Housing Project site, as owners were "insisting upon prices that the Housing Authority of New Orleans is unauthorized to pay."
The third of six low-rent public housing developments in New Orleans funded by the United States Housing Act of 1937, the plan for Iberville consisted of constructing 75 residential buildings with a total of 858 units, a single administration service building, three yard stations, a meter house, and a jobs office. Iberville was designed by the architecture firm of Herbert A. Benson, George H. Christy, and William E. Spink, the same firm who designed the St. Bernard Housing Project (demolished in 2008), which was in the development and land acquisition stage at the time of the Iberville construction.
Iberville, along with the other New Orleans public housing developments, began to transform during the 1960s. As public housing and other public services were desegregated and middle-class white inhabitants moved to the suburbs, the concentration of poor African American residents at Iberville increased. The razing of North Claiborne Avenue to make way for Interstate 10 also caused a major decline in population. In 1970, Congress passed the Brooke Amendment to the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1969, which resulted in lower HANO revenues and cutbacks in maintenance and public services at all New Orleans public housing developments. As temporary housing became permanent, "Iberville, like urban housing projects across the country, had become a warehouse for its city's poorest African-Americans."
Iberville continued to decline as only 441 of the original 858 units were occupied in 2011. In an effort to save the "distressed housing" at Iberville, HUD awarded $30.5 million to HANO and the City of New Orleans to redevelop the development. In September 2011, New Orleans, along with Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle, was awarded a grant under HUD's Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, a strategic approach to "help transform high-poverty, distressed neighborhoods into communities with healthy, affordable housing, safe streets, and access to quality educational opportunities."
† Jill Adams, Architectural Historian, R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates, Inc., Iberville Public Housing Development Historic District, nomination document, 2014, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.