N.O. City Council members sworn in for 4-year terms _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Jared Brossett was sworn in as district D councilman Monday, May 5, 2014.

The New Orleans City Council is asking city planners to look at ways City Hall can help increase the supply of affordable housing, perhaps by requiring studies showing how proposed projects would affect the supply or by changing zoning rules to encourage developments aimed at lower-income residents.

The council voted unanimously Thursday to have the City Planning Commission conduct a study of ways to encourage affordable housing.

The action was in part a response to reports about the increasing cost of living in New Orleans and a report last year that found the city would need 33,000 more affordable housing units over the next decade.

“People are living paycheck to paycheck because they’re paying 30 to 50 percent of their income toward rent,” said Councilman Jared Brossett, who sponsored the motion.

Brossett referred to studies that consider families “severely cost burdened” if they have to spend more than half their income on rent. Before Hurricane Katrina, about 24 percent of households in the city fell into that category, but by 2013, the figure was up to 37 percent, according to a 2014 report from The Data Center.

The central idea in the council’s request to the Planning Commission is to consider requiring “affordable housing impact statements” on land-use decisions that come before the commission and the council. The statements would assess whether a specific project would increase or decrease the supply of affordable housing. The statements then could be used as a guide by officials trying to determine whether to support a project.

Andreanecia Morris, chairwoman of the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance, said such statements would help the city as it works toward the long-term goal of 33,000 new units in the 10-year HousingNOLA plan and a more immediate goal of 5,000 set by some groups.

“We need to be able to prove how we are going to get to that 5,000 and how we’re going to chip away at that 33,000,” Morris said.

Brossett and Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell previously had proposed an ordinance requiring such statements, but they are holding off while the Planning Commission looks at the issue and makes its recommendations.

The commission also could look at changes to the city’s zoning ordinance that would be aimed at increasing the supply of affordable housing.

That is something Cantrell has argued for in the past, through proposals to allow developers to build more units on a site if they include some aimed at lower-income residents and through supporting waivers for specific projects that include affordable housing but exceed the normal limits on density or size in the zoning rules.

“When we’re talking about land use, when we’re talking about where multifamily (housing) will go, this is where the rubber meets the road,” Cantrell said. “At the end of the day, in terms of quality of life and affordability and ensuring people have the ability to stay in our communities and continue to invest in them, this is so important.”

The Planning Commission will have 120 days to conduct the study and was instructed to hold public hearings on the subject within 60 days.

The proposal also could play into another study before the Planning Commission: the controversial issue of how to authorize and regulate short-term rentals through sites like Airbnb.

Earlier in the day, the council had heard from opponents of short-term rentals, many of whom said the conversion of houses or apartments for that purpose has led to evictions and is restricting the supply of housing for residents.

Morris said during that discussion that short-term rentals were not a primary concern of housing advocates such as herself, but the issue appeared to weigh on several council members’ minds.

“This is really interesting that this (housing supply issue) is coming up at the same time as the short-term rentals issue, because ... we need to examine the short-term rental issue through the affordability lens,” Councilwoman Susan Guidry said.

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.