Housing costs and crime are key concerns for residents of Freetown, an historic Lafayette neighborhood near UL.
Coping with a rising cost of living, and how it can reshape the neighborhood, is a challenge faced in other Lafayette neighborhoods. Rents are rising, and so are the number of people experiencing homelessness.
Those concerns were voiced last week at the Freetown-Port Rico Coterie’s annual neighborhood meeting. Residents were surveyed about infrastructure (lighting, drainage) food and health concerns regarding food and green space accessibility, transportation, economic development, and plans for future meetings.
Katie Guidry, owner of the Loose Caboose, a neighborhood bar, has lived in the Freetown area for over a decade. She fears the quickly rising rental prices will hurt not only community members but also the local economy.
“I’m worried that the rent is too high,” she says. “I’m worried that the rent being high is impeding local businesses and the community from flourishing. I just had a friend go looking for houses and a two bedroom house was $1300. That’s crazy.”
The Coterie adopted a community plan in 2006, that includes identifying historic areas, increasing access for various forms of transportation, creating affordable housing and stimulating economic growth in the area. Planners have chipped away at those priorities, but there’s still a long way to go.
Freetown’s community group is one of five neighborhood associations, called coteries, which serve as touch points for neighborhood planning and engagement with Lafayette Consolidated Government.
Local attorney Richard Mere says Freetown-Port Rico has suffered from a reputation for high rates of crime, but feels that the issue is being addressed. He wants people to see Freetown for what it really is: a melting pot with a unique opportunity for growth.
“I think a lot of the reputation [for crime] is undeserved at this point, but it’s still there. … I’ve seen some really nice neighborhoods, such as the white subdivisions, have the exact same problems,” he says. “The perception of a problem has lowered home values, made it uncomfortable for some people to stay here.”
Originally a subdivision called the “Mouton Addition”, Freetown is on land once part of Alexandre Mouton’s plantation, Ile Copal. Freed slaves settled there and through the decades the area became home to a blend of backgrounds. Diversity remains a defining feature; the neighborhood has long since been home to an amalgam of students, business owners, artists and families. The coterie represents two neighborhoods in one: Freetown and Port Rico.
Ursula Ned has lived all 74 years of her life in Port Rico and has seen the neighborhood change first hand. Neighbors don’t know each other as well, she says, a stark contrast to a time when she knew everyone on her street. She recalls when even the police officers knew everyone by name. Those times have long gone, and Ned also has taken notice of the criminal activity in the area. Still, she doesn’t want that reputation to ward people off.
“It’s friendly, there are businesses to visit, and it’s livable,” she says.