When Will Affordable Housing Become a Priority?

Who knew that Marvin Gaye’s melodic refrain from a song written almost 50 years ago would provide the perfect soundtrack for Spring 2019 in New Orleans?

Yet, with every headline, every alert, every announcement, we find ourselves at The New Orleans Tribune asking, “What’s going on? In this case, we have to wonder what is happening with affordable housing in New Orleans. Ostensibly, it is one of the city’s biggest issues. It seems that members of the New Orleans City Council have not gotten the memo, however.

What’s Going On With Affordable Housing?

For instance, we have to wonder what is really going when a member of the New Orleans City Council, Councilwoman Kristen Gisleson Palmer to be clear, is opposed to affordable housing units going up in her council district. HANO’s plans for a 136-unit project in Bywater that would feature 82 affordable units reflects a drop in the bucket relative to the need. Still, it is a step in the right direction, especially if the 82 affordable units are made available to the hardworking men, women and families in this city who need it. So long as there is no subterfuge here and the 82 units will be open for folk that really need help, we are all for it. However, this plan has been met with some resistance.

That’s odd. Here we were, thinking affordable housing was an important issue for the members of the New Orleans City Council.

Reportedly, District C Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer has issues with the number of affordable units that would be located on one site. She has now offered a proposal for consideration that would cap the development at 143 units (current zoning allows for 184 and HANO’s developer had originally proposed 150 units before lowering the number to 136).

In a press release detailing her proposed modified plan, Palmer said “Requiring a planned development for this site locks in the number of units and a design which benefits the neighborhood. It will also guarantee affordable housing while making provisions to ensure that housing is designed and equipped to a standard that New Orleanians can thrive in.”

Come again? What does any of that really mean?

Look, here’s what we need to know:

How many of these units are going to be set aside as affordable units within the reach of low and moderate income New Orleanians?

What will be the criteria for renting an affordable unit? Who is will get priority? New Orleans has a real affordable housing issue.

We can’t seem to understand why 82 affordable units was a problem. Hell, it’s not like all 136 or 143 or 150 or 184 units of affordable housing aren’t needed RIGHT NOW! If the Councilwoman’s proposal means the entire development will be devoted to affordable housing units, we are all for that. We doubt that is the case, however, as “mixed-income developments” are all the rage. That’s fine. But we have no time or patience for smoke and mirrors and subterfuge. So if there are any plans to fill these affordable units up with ta few elderly people, Tulane and Loyola students, TFA recruits, so-called “starving” artists or friends and relatives of powerful people who want to move out of their parents’ backyard cottage, say so now and just throw the whole development away.

This city needs housing for the working people and families that were displaced by the demolition of traditional public housing and that are being displaced by the ongoing gentrification of neighborhoods–not the nieces and nephews of city council members. This complex, which is planned for 4100 Royal Street, would be ideally located for many hospitality workers–some of who now travel daily from New Orleans East and the Westbank–to work in hotels and restaurants in the CBD and Warehouse District. Those are the people who work hard each and every day to make New Orleans the destination visited annually by more

Meanwhile, here are some other numbers that Councilwoman Palmer and the rest of her colleagues ought to pay attention to the next time they mull an affordable housing issue as they move forward:      

• 50 – Rents in New Orleans are 50 percent more than they were pre-Katrina

• 47 – New Orleans has only 47 affordable rental units for every 100 low-income residents

• 36 and 50 – 36 percent of the city’s residents are paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing

• 61 – 61 percent of local renters are housing-cost burdened

• 35 – 35 percent are severely housing-cost burdened.

• 33,600 – According to HousingNOLA, New Orleans needs 33,600 new affordable housing units by 2025

We have asked this question out loud before. We will ask it again. When will the New Orleans City Council get serious about addressing affordable housing? Everything we have seen suggests that this board isn’t handling this issue with the care and consideration it deserves. It has unfairly targeted neighborhood STRs—making them the scapegoat for the city’s affordable housing crisis and rolling back rules that make it impossible for anyone in the city to operate a short-term rental except for rich developers with hotel-like buildings in downtown New Orleans. It has wavered on its own rules—handing out zoning variances without getting the requisite commitments to include affordable units in the real estate projects from the developers.

And now, it seems poised to kill a 136-unit development that would offer more than 60 percent of those units at affordable rates because Councilwoman Palmer is reportedly concerned whether affordable housing “fits the neighborhood where it is built.”

In New Orleans, where nearly 28 percent of the city’s residents live in poverty, 39 percent of all children live in poverty, a full 12 percent of full-time, year-round workers earn less than $17,500 per year, and more than 64,000 working women in New Orleans earned less than $17,500, affordable housing fits in EVERYWHERE.

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