Former St. Bernard Ave. church will anchor development

Test pilings are now being driven for Sacred Heart at St. Bernard, a new multi-use residential/commercial complex under construction at St. Bernard near Claiborne avenues in the 7th Ward. The project, expected to be completed in early 2018, will result in 53 one- and two-bedroom apartments.

Photo | Courtesy Jeff Strout
Pictured are: Ron Davalos, Providence Community Housing; Sisters of the Holy Family Leona Bruner and Enterprise Community Parnters’ Michelle Whetten.
Providence Community Housing – a nonprofit community development housing organization –  is working to develop the project with Columbia Residential, Urban Focus Louisiana real estate developing and consulting company and the Vaucresson sausage family on the site of the former Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

“Sacred Heart at St. Bernard is a continuation of Providence’s commitment to provide affordable housing options for residents of the Greater New Orleans area and is one more shining example of how successful partnerships are working to keep neighborhoods strong in our community,” said Terri North, president and CEO of Providence Community Housing.

53 apartments in all

Six rental units will be carved out of the renovated Sacred Heart Church, which Liz Lacombe, director of property and building management of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, said the archdiocese sold to Providence in June 2015. The archdiocese last used the site in 2016 when Food for Families/Seniors, a food distribution ministry of the archdiocese, handed out food from the Sacred Heart parking lot.

A new, four-story building will provide another 47 rental units. Forty-four  units will be reserved for residents making less than 60 percent of the area’s median income, and nine units will be rented at market rate, North said.

The  first floor of new building also will have 4,200 square feet of retail/commercial space at affordable rents, with a priority given to local businesses, a community room and a leasing office, confirmed North.

JHP Architecture/Urban Design, Gulf Engineers & Consultants and Massengale are the project’s design team, and Block Builders is the general contractor. Columbia Residential Property Management will manage the property once construction is complete, North said.

Funding the project are the Louisiana Housing Corporation, providing 9 percent low-income housing tax credits worth $7.5 million; a $400,000 Community Development Block Grant; and Permanent Supportive Housing rental subsidies for 11 units. Enterprise Community Partners and Capital One will provide tax credit equity; Capital One Bank is financing the construction loan and permanent financing and is also buying the tax credits, North said. The city of New Orleans is cooperating with $1.14 million in federal HOME funds; and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) will allot rental subsidies for 13 voucher units.

Neighborhood involved
A big part of the revitalization effort was to include the surrounding neighborhood in every step. Several community meetings were held at nearby Corpus Christi Community Center and the Autocrat Club – first for input and for addressing concerns such as parking, a dedicated community room, how the apartments would be managed and security around the property – then to update community members on the progress of the design and building phases of the project.

“The thing I like about it is there were a lot of conversations with many partners on this project,” said Sister of the Holy Family Leona Bruner, who attended the groundbreaking. “They talked to the pastor at Corpus Christi Catholic Church and went door to door talking to businesses and residents who will be served. Everybody had a voice in this. This wasn’t just big money and corporations that came in and built this. Things that served the community will remain. I am very pleased the church (former Sacred Heart Church) will be used for residences.”

A second phase of the project will include the redevelopment of the Vaucresson Sausage building, shuttered since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, across the street.

North said “Providence is working with Vance Vaucresson to redevelop it into a sandwich shop” where the family’s famous hot sausage po-boys and other cooked food will be sold.

Sacred Heart at St. Bernard demonstrates how partners work together to rebuild neighborhoods.

One of Providence’s long-time partners is the archdiocese, North said.

“When we were first envisioned, Archbishop (Alfred) Hughes, along with (deceased) Father Michael Jacques and (former Catholic Charities CEO) Jim Kelly, wanted to come up with an organization to help with the housing crisis after the storm,” North said. “Our first priority was helping the archdiocese with its needs,” including rebuilding affordable senior residences at Delille Inn, St. John Berchmans, Nazareth I and II, St. Bakhita and St. Ann.

“We work closely with the archdiocese,” North said. We’ve done a lot of partnerships. They were one of the original and best partners in creating affordable housing.”

Those interested in renting apartments upon completion in 2018 should call Tonya Hall, regional manager at Columbia Park, at 284-4769.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at

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