It’s an often-told problem: Many New Orleans residents are being priced out of the city’s housing market as rents, home prices, utility bills and insurance costs rise while incomes stagnate. This week, a group of city leaders unveiled what they say could be the solution.
The fix is a 10-year plan, dubbed HousingNOLA, that backers say will generate 3,000 “affordable housing opportunities” by 2018 and 5,000 by 2021.
Questions remain, however, about the plan’s long-term funding and scope. Though the city in 2016 will provide $17.3 million for housing programs, it’s not clear how the plan will be funded beyond that.
Even the 5,000 units organizers tout is a far cry from the 33,593 homes they say residents will need in the next 10 years.
The groups behind the plan include the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance — a coalition of neighborhood groups, housing advocates and housing developers — plus the Foundation for Louisiana and the city’s Office of Housing and Community Development, among others.
The plan was announced Thursday after a year of planning and a September preliminary report.
Other entities, such as the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority and the Housing Authority of New Orleans, are expected to help with funding in the years ahead, though it’s not clear to what extent.
“Affordable housing opportunity” doesn’t necessarily mean a brand-new home, said Andreanecia Morris, the Housing Alliance’s chairwoman. “Sometimes it’s going to be building brand-new, affordable units, but a good bit will be about giving people the chance to stay in their current home,” she said.
Energy-saving practices, for example, could significantly reduce residents’ utility bills, she said.
The plan assumes the opportunities — in whatever form they take — will be available to households earning less than 80 percent of the area median income, or $48,000 for a four-person household and $43,200 for a three-person household.
The authors define affordable living situations as those in which residents spend less than 30 percent of their income on housing costs. That means a family of four should spend no more than $1,200 a month for all housing costs.
The final 114-page document outlines five chief goals:
Preserve and expand the existing supply of affordable housing: In partnership with the city, HousingNOLA will support 2,000 rental units, 1,500 homeownership units and 1,500 units for people with special needs. It will rely, at least initially, on $17.3 million in city funding for housing loans, grants, rental assistance and other affordable housing opportunities, city spokesman Hayne Rainey said. Organizers also hope to gain private-sector and national funding.
Prevent future displacement: To stop residents from being priced out of the city, the authors say the city should explore property-tax relief for low-income homeowners facing increases in their assessments, as well as tax relief for investors who commit to preserving and creating affordable rentals.
Enforce and promote fair housing policies: HANO will look into recruiting more landlords for its voucher program and providing “mobility counseling” for voucher tenants about available housing options in a range of neighborhoods. Accomplishing the former goal has proven problematic, however. A 2009 Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center report found that 82 percent of New Orleans landlords either refused to accept vouchers or placed unreasonable requirements on tenants using them to pay the rent. Research also has shown that a large number of Section 8 tenants continue to be concentrated in the same areas.
Encourage sustainable design and infrastructure: Organizers plan to examine best practices for creating energy-efficent rental and homeownership options for residents of all incomes.
Increase accessibility for all, including residents with special needs: On top of the city’s funding commitment for special-needs residents, the alliance will work with service providers to collect and track data on special-needs populations and accessible housing units in New Orleans, and will educate landlords about taking in special-needs renters with vouchers.
Long-term funding questions aside, the plan appears to have the backing of the mayor, the City Council and others.
“Affordable housing is one of the top priorities of my administration, and we are pleased that many of the city’s initiatives are reflected in the HousingNOLA” plan, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.
Council members LaToya Cantrell and Jared Brossett were both on hand to laud the plan’s announcement Thursday. Brossett also touted an ordinance, introduced later at that day’s council meeting, that would “give information … on whether new (housing) developments decrease affordable housing or whether it will be increased.”
Key to the plan’s success, even with political support and some funding, is the participation of all involved, organizers said.
“Being ‘all in’ first means that everyone is working in partnership,” said Ellen Lee, the city’s director of housing policy and community development.
“I live in a house, in a neighborhood, in New Orleans. And that is so cool, and I wish that experience for anyone who wants it,” she said.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.