So, at its Thursday (Aug. 9) meeting, the City Council approved a motion directing the city planning commission to incorporate recommendations and initiatives contained in the Smart Housing Mix Ordinance Study into comprehensive zoning ordinance amendments that would establish a mandatory inclusionary zoning overlay district, create a new mandatory inclusionary base zoning district, and create a mandatory inclusionary zoning planned development classification.

The goal is simple and needed. When developers go before the Council with their plans to build new tony apartment complexes along with their requests for tax credits and other incentives in order to do so more cost-effectively, the New Orleans City Council wants to ensure that there is also a plan to expand affordable housing by requiring a percentage of new units to be rented at below-market rates so that they are within the reach of the average worker.

This is, of course, especially vital because NOLA is smack dab in the middle of an affordable housing crisis . . . in case you haven’t heard.

While it’s a good move, let’s not applaud our City Council members just yet.

You see, we have been here before–right here, that place where seemingly good intentions and ideas meet real world politics. And we have certainly learned–the hard way–that inclusionary zoning laws are nothing without leaders willing to back them up and hold developers feet to the fire as opposed to folding like a house of cards just because some developer says “pretty please…with ice cream on top”.

Last February, the New Orleans City Council allowed developers in the Riverfront Overlay District to build taller, denser construction without requiring them to include 10 percent affordable housing in their large-scale developments as originally planned. Just to be clear, that was the quid pro quo. The developer wanted more units and taller buildings than current zoning laws allow. The City Council says cool, we will relax the rules and grant an exception, but only if the developer gives the city something in return. That something was supposed to be 10 percent of the units rented at affordable rates within reach of working class New Orleanians. But in February, the Council bumps the requirement for affordable units and gives on the taller, denser construction anyway.

The bottom line is that the developer got what he wanted–more units and taller buildings–and the people of New Orleans, especially the 61 percent of renters that are housing cost-burdened, got . . . well, they got . . . this is a family paper. But you know.

All of of us leads us back to the Aug. 9 New Orleans City Council meeting and the motion directing the CPC to incorporate recommendations and initiatives from the Smart Housing Mix Ordinance Study into the CZO amendments and so on, so forth, what have you, and blah, blah, blah.

Forgive our malaise, but the reality is that we can have all the Smart Housing Mix Ordinance studies and inclusionary zoning laws any one city can handle; yet they don’t mean a thing without city leaders that will back them up and make them requirements as opposed to suggestions.

It’s time that this city’s leaders see the affordable housing crisis as the serious and critical problem that it is and act accordingly. Motions are good, but action is even better!

The New Orleans Tribune

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