NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans is paying to relocate all remaining residents of a bankrupt apartment complex where people said a landlord's neglect forced them into unsanitary living conditions with rampant mold, rodents and a broken pipe that spewed raw sewage.
The rare move began last week and was expected to take about two weeks. After all residents are of the Oakmont Apartments, the 336-unit complex will be vacated and secured until code and safety violations are resolved, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said.
“The conditions of the Oakmont Apartments have become unsafe and unsanitary for residents due to the owner’s neglect and lack of concern for his tenants,” Cantrell said last week. “It is imperative that we address this problem head-on and relocate the tenants to safe, alternative housing immediately.”
City Hall said it plans to put tenants in hotels for up to three months while “housing navigators” seek affordable apartments, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported. The Housing Authority of New Orleans and the nonprofit Unity of Greater New Orleans are among those involved.
Oakmont is the largest of five New Orleans apartment complexes that landlord Joshua Bruno placed under bankruptcy protection in January to avert foreclosure. Bruno did not immediately return a message to the newspaper last week seeking comment on the city’s move.
Bruno asserts he has spent millions fixing up declining properties, only to see the conditions get worse with the coronavirus pandemic and Hurricane Ida damage on Aug. 29. Bruno also blamed Fannie Mae for stalling insurance payments amid a foreclosure fight.
Fannie Mae has argued Bruno can’t be trusted to manage Oakmont. While residents live in squalor, he has transferred millions from Oakmont and other properties over the past year to various entities he controls, the lender alleges. Residents and advocates have urged U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Meredith Grabill to wrest control from Bruno and appoint a trustee to manage them. A 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,” saying it provided “a full wraparound cushion,” including hotel stays, help finding a new home, a deposit and two months of rent to get started.
How much the evacuation plan will cost is uncertain. City Hall said it aims to tap federal emergency rental assistance money. Cantrell called it “not the ideal,” but better than leaving residents in Oakmont.
Adams said 100 to 120 residents had remained. She said homeless services organizations have been trying to draw squatters off the property.
The administration cited Bruno last summer for code violations at Oakmont. Bruno has appealed.
City Hall in February began offering relocation assistance to the remaining Oakmont tenants. Tuesday’s announcement marked a shift from optional relocation 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.