The long-abandoned Gayfers building downtown now has a new owner, but as of last week no plans had been unveiled for its future use.

The buyer, Gulf Coast Housing Partnership (GCHP), has been responsible for a number of mixed-income housing projects in Louisiana and Mississippi, but President and CEO Kathy Laborde remained tight-lipped about plans in Mobile. She said the company was not yet ready to announce anything.

“It’s too early to release any information on the project,” she said. “We’re not prepared to talk about it.”

A number of the projects listed on the company’s website are apartment complexes consisting of a combination of subsidized and market-rate units for rent. The website also lists a number of mixed-use developments consisting of a combination of residential and commercial space for lease.

“We do a lot of different kinds of transactions,” Laborde said.
Part of the mission of GCHP, according to its website, is to create “quality-of-life communities and safe, healthy, affordable housing for low-to-moderate-income working families and individuals, persons with special needs, seniors and the homeless or those at risk of becoming homeless.”

Elizabeth Stevens, president and CEO of Downtown Mobile Alliance (DMA), said she visited some of GCHP’s developments and found a variety of mixed-use, mixed-income developments. She said generally she’s not opposed to such spaces in downtown Mobile because affordable apartments could be rented by members of the service industry.

“A lot of folks work downtown and need an affordable place to live,” she said. “I think Downtown needs to be a place to accommodate a lot of people.”

While Stevens said she wouldn’t mind mixed-income housing at the long-vacant building, she added that she hopes at least some space is reserved for commercial use.

Carol Hunter, a spokeswoman for DMA, said it might be hard for a developer to put residential space on the bottom floor of the building, bounded by Dauphin, Conti and St. Emmanuel streets.

“The Gayfers building is the perfect location for mixed use,” she said.
In addition to service-industry employees like hotel and restaurant workers, Hunter said a complex with affordable rent would be ideal for many others.

“For young college graduates, market-rate units down here are out of their price range,” she said.

The GCHP has not yet submitted plans for permits to the city for any future project involving the building, Director of Planning Richard Olsen wrote in an email message.

“I do not believe they have had a pre-development meeting,” he wrote.
Under current zoning restrictions, an apartment complex is allowed at the location, Olsen said.

“All I can really say at this time is that [multi-family residential] is allowed by right,” he wrote. “Providing everything, use and exterior work on the building, complies with the [Downtown Development District)], they would not have to go before either the [Planning Commission] or [Board of Zoning Adjustment].”

In addition to New Orleans and Hammond, Louisiana, GCHP has completed several projects in Baton Rouge as well. One, the Elysian, is a 100-unit, mixed-income housing development. Out of the 100 units, only 12 are considered “affordable,” meaning they are subsidized and subject to income restrictions, said Baton Rouge planning department program analyst Joel Harrell, who referred to GCHP as a “real asset for the city.”

The Corona in Baton Rouge is a 37-unit historic rehabilitation, where GCHP partnered with a group called Mid City Redevelopment Alliance. It is unclear whether the project consists of mixed-income housing, although Harrell said it’s possible the development had state funding.

GCHP collaborated with Capital Area Alliance for the Homeless to develop the Scott School Apartment complex. The complex consists of 60 affordable apartments, 20 one-bedroom apartments and 40 efficiency units, according to the GCHP website.

In New Orleans, where the company is headquartered, GCHP developed several mixed-use and mixed-income developments, but has also performed work for Tulane University and a local arts center.

One New Orleans project includes a collaboration with Global Green USA for the development of five single-family homes and a community center in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward, a neighborhood nearly destroyed by flooding after Hurricane Katrina.

Bill Bridge, a spokesman for Global Green, said that project started 10 years ago.

“We looked at a plan and decided to go in and develop new housing for residents there,” he said.

The homes are environmentally friendly and sustainable, Bridge said, because of the type of materials used in construction and the fact they are equipped with solar panels.

The project also includes an almost 7,000-square-foot community center, which will double as a storm shelter for residents and others in the future. The community center is yet to be completed.

In Biloxi, Mississippi, GCHP completed a project for the Biloxi Housing Authority (BHA). Bobby Hensley, executive director of the BHA, said the company helped BHA retain a Hope VI grant and complete its related project after the project’s first developer was fired.

Biloxi’s Bayview Oaks and Bayview Place resulted, consisting of 216 low-income units, along with Cadet Point, which offers 76 units for senior housing, Hensley said.

In addition to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant, Biloxi’s project was also funded with tax credits, which means the units come with income restrictions, Hensley said.

About 50 units in the complexes were completed with tax credits, meaning they’re only open to residents making 60 percent of the area’s median income.

Of those 50 units, 24 are filled by residents using Section 8 vouchers, Hensley said. The residents in other portions of the complex pay an affordable rent, which for the Biloxi area, Hensley said, is around $550 to $600 for a two-bedroom unit.