Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed legislation that would have asserted state authority over local zoning efforts aimed at creating affordable housing in gentrifying neighborhoods.
Backed by housing developers and sponsored by Metairie Republican Sen. Danny Martiny, Senate Bill 462 forbade municipal and parish governments from requiring developers to set aside a certain number of low income units to receive building permits for apartment, condo, single family and other housing projects.
Edwards wrote that the ban, which comfortably passed both chambers of the Legislature, would impact federal funding for affordable housing.
Only New Orleans and Baton Rouge are pursuing what’s called “inclusionary zoning,” though about 800 jurisdictions nationwide include the affordable housing set aside.
“If local governments in Louisiana do not actively pursue these policies over the course of the next year, I will conclude that it is not their will to utilize these strategies and I will be inclined to sign a similar piece of legislation in the 2019 regular session,” Edwards stated in his veto.
“We’re grateful to the governor for choosing the working families who make our cities run over wealthy real estate developers,” Cashauna Hill, executive director at the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, said in a prepared statement Tuesday. The legislation was also opposed by the city governments in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, as well as by the Louisiana Municipal Association.
In order to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment in New Orleans, renters need to earn $18.54 per hour, but the average wage for the city’s renters is $3 per hour less, according to Hill’s group.
SB462 would replace the term “inclusionary zoning” with “voluntary economic incentive policies,” which would circumvent the usual way local governments create more affordable housing in gentrifying neighborhoods that are fast becoming too expensive for many.
Developers and homebuilders countered that requiring additional units that will generate less revenues creates financial pressures that could keep them pursuing such projects.
Jon W. Luther, chief executive officer for Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans, testified in April that developers and homebuilders already clear numerous hurdles from a confusing array of regulations to neighborhood resistance to the problems of acquiring and paying for building materials. Requiring additional units that will generate less revenue adds pressures that could send homebuilders to other cities, or other states, he added.
However, Edwards’ veto was met with praise by officials in New Orleans, where new Mayor LaToya Cantrell and members of the City Council campaigned on the need for affordable housing.
“Mayor Cantrell made a formal request that Governor Edwards veto this bill, and she is grateful that he did so,” her spokesman, Beau Tidwell, told the Associated Press in an emailed statement. “We are facing an affordable housing crisis in New Orleans, and our leaders and lawmakers need to have every tool in the toolkit available to fight that battle.”
Tax incentives are sometimes used to encourage developers to include housing for low- and moderate-income residents, but advocates of inclusionary zoning say other options are needed.
New Orleans City Council president Jason Williams said he was grateful for the veto. “We must use all the tools at our disposal to continue to address the housing crisis and I intend for this City Council to move forward in exploration of an inclusionary zoning policy,” his emailed statement said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report