City Council votes to ease density rules at developments offering affordable housing _lowres

LaToya Cantrell, District B

The New Orleans City Council has signed off on a proposal to allow developers to build denser developments than would otherwise be allowed, so long as their projects include units of affordable housing.

The measure comes as council members and residents have become increasingly concerned about a shortage of affordable housing as real estate prices have spiked in some areas of the city.

The ordinance, sponsored by Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, was approved Thursday by a 6-0 vote, with Councilwoman Susan Guidry absent.

“This is a step in the long journey we have to affordable housing in the city,” Cantrell said.

Zoning rules limit the density of developments by specifying the maximum number of units that can be put on lots of a given size and how large those units must be. Those requirements vary depending on the zoning of the properties.

Easing those requirements would be attractive to some developers because it would mean they could add more units — and thus, make more profit — on a specific property.

Under the new rules, a complex that commits to set aside 5 percent of its units for households that make no more than 30 percent of the area’s median income would be allowed to build 15 percent more units than otherwise allowed.

A 10 percent increase in those regulations would be allowed for projects that set aside 5 percent of their units for households that make less than half the area median income, and a 5 percent increase would be available for projects that set aside 5 percent of their units for households making up to 80 percent of the area median income.

Those bonuses would be stackable, meaning a development could get a total increase in units and density of 30 percent.

The affordable units would have to be comparable to the market-rate units and spread throughout the development.

A related item on the meeting’s agenda, Cantrell’s push to repurpose and make more effective a city fund that’s supposed to go toward developing affordable housing and reducing blight, was deferred.

Cantrell wants to change the rules governing the city’s Neighborhood Housing Improvement Fund, which receives about $3 million in tax money a year, so that it would award grants or subsidies to affordable housing programs.

The fund is now used to pay staff members in Code Enforcement and the city’s legal department dealing with blight issues as well as to pay for improvements to make housing accessible for those with disabilities.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration has argued that shifting that money to other uses would hurt the city’s blight-reduction efforts.