by Morgan Lawrence

In order to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment in New Orleans, renters need to earn $18.54 per hour, according to a national report, Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing, that was jointly released in early June by the the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC).

Director of Policy and Communications for GNOFHAC, Maxwell Ciardullo, says the shrinking amount of federal housing assistance has contributed to the affordable housing crisis in New Orleans.

“There’s a serious mismatch in where one has to work and where one has to live,” Ciardullo said, adding that popular areas like the Central Business District, the French Quarter and surrounding neighborhoods with increasing property values employ thousands of workers who cannot afford to live where they work because of the lack of affordable housing.

Each year, Out of Reach reports on the housing wage—defined as the hourly wage a full-time worker must earn to afford a comfortable and safe rental home without spending more than 30 percent of his or her income—for all states, counties and metropolitan areas in the country. This report highlights the gap between what renters in a community actually earn and what it costs to afford rent at fair market value.

A significant portion of New Orleanians are earning about $10 an hour less than the figure the report says is needed to afford a decent, two-bedroom apartment.  Twelve (12) percent of full-time, year-round workers in New Orleans earn less than $17,500 a year, which is roughly $8.41 per hour; and more than 64,000 working women earned less than $17,500 through in part-time or full-time work in a 12-month period, according to U.S. Census data. The minimum wage in Louisiana is still set at the federal base wage of $7.25 an hour. According to the report, a minimum wage earner would have to work 84 hours per week to afford a modest one-bedroom unit in New Orleans. And while a reported 71 percent of workers in the New Orleans area earn an average of about $35,000 a year, even that breaks down to an hourly wage of roughly $16.82–about $1.72 short of the hourly wage the report says is needed to comfortably afford a decent two-bedroom housing unit.
Meanwhile, rents are up about 50 percent more than they were pre-Katrina; New Orleans has only 47 affordable rental units for every 100 low-income residents; and 36 percent of the city’s residents are paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing, according to the Data Center.

The city of New Orleans has taken some steps to address the affordable housing crisis. In addition to a plan to create or preserve 5,000 affordable homes by 2021, the city of New Orleans Planning Commission has recommended a Smart Housing Mix Policy that would require or incentivize all new developments seeking approval from the city to include a percentage of their units at affordable rates. Opponents of this affordable housing policy recently attempted to ban it at the state legislature but failed.

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