Affordable Housing Plight

In this June 26, 2017 photo, Carolyn Horton packs her belongings in her apartment that she has to move out of as her affordable housing subsidies expire, at the American Can Apartments in New Orleans. Says Horton, "My rent was $810, but they want to raise it to $1,100 or $1,200. Now I have to income-qualify for a new place and with just under $700 in Social Security, that's not easy." (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) ORG XMIT: LAGH206

Gerald Herbert

The next mayor and City Council should think long and hard about how to create more affordable housing in New Orleans, a poll released Tuesday suggests. 

Overall, the poll found, housing was the second leading issue voters said they want candidates in the Oct. 14 election to address, with crime coming in first.  

Moreover, most voters said they support setting aside some private housing units for residents with lower incomes and requiring landlords to register and submit their rental properties to annual inspections — two ideas the City Council has been pondering.

The survey, commissioned by the nonprofit developer Enterprise Community Partners and designed by University of New Orleans political science professor Ed Chervenak, was paid for by the housing advocacy group HousingNOLA and the Greater New Orleans Foundation.

Enterprise, HousingNOLA and others already are using its results as ammunition as they lobby City Hall for increased funding for their cause and press candidates to prioritize the problem and to endorse the advocates' preferred solutions.

“The results of this poll affirm that affordable housing is a top issue for voters in New Orleans,” Enterprise Vice President Michelle Whetten said.

In a Tuesday email asking supporters to petition the council for more money for housing programs, the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance, another advocacy group, also pointed to the poll.

“These departments” — the Office of Community Development, Code Enforcement and the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority — “and their budgets are crucial to meeting the organization's 2017 housing goals,” the group said.

The poll comes as the council is holding hearings on Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s proposed 2018 budget, a process that has been overshadowed this year by the hubbub around the municipal races.

The hearings are due to wrap up in early October. The deadline for adoption of the budget is Dec. 1, well after both the Oct. 14 primary and Nov. 18 runoffs.

The poll was released as work to advance the idea of creating a rental registry, a vehicle to inspect most rental property in the city in a bid to ensure safer housing for residents, has virtually stalled.

The full council also hasn't considered a plan to require developers to reserve a portion of housing units in new residential projects for low-income residents.

Both plans are controversial among local landlords and developers. 

Meanwhile, some candidates on the campaign trail haven’t agreed with advocacy groups on ways to solve the problem or on how much attention it deserves, though most acknowledge the city does need to expand its supply of affordable housing.

The poll being cited by the housing advocates asked 500 voters what issues rose to first, second and third place on their list of priorities. Voters surveyed between Aug. 22 and 27 had to have pulled the lever at least three times in the past five statewide elections.

It also asked voters if they want the city to “actively address substandard conditions of rental properties” through a rental registry and if they want to reserve some new housing units for residents with lower incomes.

Roughly 46 percent of voters said affordable housing should be among the top issues for the next mayor and council to tackle; 59 percent ranked crime as a leading issue. The two issues rose to the top of a lengthy list of focus areas, also including infrastructure, transportation and flood control, among others.  

About 93 percent of people agreed that affordable housing is important for the economy, while three out of four said the city should increase funding for such housing. About three of four also said reserving affordable housing for low- and moderate-income people is important, while 80 percent said a registry of rental properties is needed. 

Almost half of voters said their own housing costs are difficult for them to manage.

“As candidates for elected office consider the priorities of voters, they must recognize the growing demand from residents for measures to create and preserve affordable housing, and make housing a central part of their platform,” Whetten said.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.