Armed with a proposal to boost affordable housing in the city and a progress report on his signature anti-murder program, Mayor Mitch Landrieu assured residents in his annual State of the City address Tuesday that his “new way of doing business” in New Orleans continues to bear fruit.
“We have changed from a way that did not work to a new way that does,” Landrieu told a crowd gathered on the rooftop of the ReFresh Project on North Broad Street, a building that houses a Whole Foods Market and offices for several nonprofits.
The centerpiece of the mayor’s remarks was a new “Housing for a Resilient New Orleans” plan, aimed at setting aside 7,500 affordable housing units by 2021, with 4,000 of them coming within the next two years.
Shortly after Landrieu outlined the plan, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority released a report warning that rents in the city are rising sharply, and that three out of five renters now spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
Laid out in a 23-page report, the mayor’s new housing plan appears to supplement a proposal for 5,000 affordable units announced last year by the Mayor’s Office, the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance and the Foundation for Louisiana.
Landrieu said a comprehensive strategy is needed. “People are flocking here, but rising demand and job growth mean that since 1999 rent has increased by 50 percent,” he said.
The plan will draw on $17.3 million in city funding this year for housing loans, grants, rental assistance and other programs. Landrieu already set aside that money in this year’s budget. But the Mayor’s Office said there will be only $10 million for the plan next year, leaving officials still searching for the other $7 million to fully implement the proposal in future years.
As part of the plan, the city will reserve for lower-income residents a percentage of properties that it seizes from homeowners who haven’t paid taxes, and it will ask the Redevelopment Authority to remove some properties from sheriff’s sales, among other strategies.
Notably, Landrieu’s plan would amend city rules to require developers of market-rate housing to include affordable housing units in proposed projects — an idea Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell has pushed and the City Council is considering.
The new report from NORA, put together by the Center for Community Progress and released Monday, found that the “rental housing challenge in New Orleans is one of quantity, quality and affordability. Rapidly rising rent levels, coupled with the poor condition of much of the city’s older rental housing stock and the difficulty producing new affordable housing, have created a situation that affects both the city’s economic prospects and its residents’ quality of life.”
About 55 percent of New Orleanians are renters, compared with a national rate of 36 percent. Rents have risen by an average of 6 percent to 7 percent every year since 2012, while vacancy rates have fallen below 8 percent, according to the report.
As a result, about 61 percent of the city’s renters are considered “cost-burdened” and now pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing. About 38 percent spend more than half their income for housing, compared with about 27 percent nationwide.
Landrieu’s address also touched on progress he said has been made under his signature NOLA For Life murder-reduction program. He put out a report showing that while 55 percent of murders in 2011 were gang- or group-related, only about a quarter of murders today are gang-related.
“In fact, since we launched NOLA for Life in 2012, we’ve reduced murder more than any other similar peer city,” Landrieu said.
He conceded that carjackings, armed robberies and other crimes increased in the first half of the year, and that police response to calls for service has been too slow. But he also pointed to the redeployment of some police officers to street patrols and to two new police recruit classes that will soon graduate.
Outside of crime reduction and housing plans, Landrieu reflected on street repairs, the return of most local public schools to the Orleans Parish School Board, improved access to health care under Gov. John Bel Edwards’ Medicaid expansion and public redevelopment projects.
He also touted a “transformative” deal announced Tuesday by Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, the U.S. Justice Department and inmate advocates over operation of the city’s jail — an agreement that will give broad power to an appointed official but stops short of removing Gusman entirely.
Probably the most crowd-pleasing line in Landrieu’s speech was one seemingly aimed at Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee for president.
“The future does not belong to any city that closes its heart to our Hispanic brothers and sisters who helped us rebuild our homes after Katrina and are still doing so to this very day,” the mayor said. “Or to our Muslim neighbors who assert their religious liberty to choose his or her faith, or to the LGBTQ community, who to this day remain under assault.”
Nor, Landrieu said, does the future belong to “sleepy Southern towns” that spend time revering the Confederacy — a shot at those who oppose his effort to take down Confederate monuments in the city.
Staff writer Jeff Adelson contributed to this report.