Despite budget challenges greater than many of the worst-case predictions, Gov. John Bel Edwards has already taken promising steps towards undoing the damage done to low-income families in previous administrations.
But to truly be effective, any effort to improve the quality of life and strengthen the economy in Louisiana must address the rising cost of housing.
Homes in many cities and towns across the state are no longer affordable for working families, and the intertwined problems of rising rent and stagnant wages continue to plunge them into economic jeopardy. Louisiana’s economy suffers, too, as businesses experience increased costs associated with employee turnover when workers can’t afford to live near their jobs.
Nearly 28 percent of the state’s renters pay more than half their income toward rent and utilities — an amount housing experts consider a “severe” burden. That’s the ninth-highest level of any state in the country, and an increase from 25 percent in 2005, according to an analysis of Census data by Make Room, a nationwide campaign to get renters on the agenda.
Some progress has been made. Just this week, the Housing Authority of New Orleans opened its housing voucher waiting list for the first time since 2009. City leaders and housing advocates created a 10-year plan to tackle the city’s housing challenges by developing 5,000 new affordable homes by 2021. And new policies are in the works to create more incentives for developers to build affordable housing.
Gov. Edwards has signed a Medicaid expansion, prioritized increasing the state’s minimum wage and proposed to double Louisiana’s earned income tax credit.
But we need leaders from all levels of government, nonprofits and businesses to do more to encourage new construction, preserve existing affordable housing and prevent displacement.
For example, instead of raiding the Louisiana Housing Corporation reserves to pay for general fund spending, we must dedicate these resources towards proven efforts to create and preserve affordable housing — like establishing a dedicated, sustained funding source for the state’s Housing Trust Fund, which was created years ago but only funded once.
We need state officials to codify the Louisiana Tax Commission rulings on Low-Income Housing Tax Credit property tax assessments so that some assessors stop overcharging developers, discouraging investment in new affordable properties and making them financially unsustainable to operate.
State leaders should also explore policies such as inclusionary zoning, which require that developers either make a percentage of apartments in new buildings more affordable or pay into a dedicated housing fund.
There is no silver-bullet solution to these issues. But we need Louisiana’s leaders to work together to create and preserve affordable homes that protect the economic futures of everyone in our state.
vice president, Enterprise Community Partners