New Orleans' recovery from Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures has been remarkable. The economy and population are growing, investment is rising, and we are attracting new residents from across the nation and the world. Real estate prices have boomed too, and while this has been profoundly good for many people, it has created an acute shortage of affordable housing, both for rent and to own.
Considering this, I have watched with interest and some disappointment the recent debate about the proposed multi-family project along the Lafitte Greenway. I live near the proposed project, and real estate development with affordable housing has always been a large part of my professional practice. My company Green Coast, along with our partners ERG Enterprises and the Crescent City Community Land Trust, are currently renovating the Pythian Building in downtown New Orleans, where nearly 40 percent of the 69 new units will be priced affordably for the downtown workforce. We have also helped build or rebuild 1,500 housing units, mostly affordable and workforce housing, since our founding in 2007, and we are working on a number of mixed-income housing projects now, both as a lead developer and consultant.
This kind of approach necessitates that a developer think about profit and loss in a different way and consider the social ramifications of the project. But, if done correctly, these types of projects can succeed and in some cases be more profitable than a standard approach.
Debating how and where our city should be creating new affordable housing opportunities is critical, but this debate has principally been between allies in promoting new and better affordable housing opportunities. While it is important to debate questions like, is it better to create affordable rentals in a particular neighborhood or to have a City down payment assistance program that works everywhere, I believe our local affordable housing crisis necessitates that we do both of these and more.
The Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance (GNOHA) issued an eye-opening 2015 report on the state of housing in our city, and it stated that 58 percent of renters in the city do not have an affordable place to live. The City Council passed the density bonus, allowing developers to build more units in a project in exchange for making some these new units affordable. This was a market-based step towards addressing the affordability problem. However, as the current debate over the apartment complex in Mid-City shows, density bonuses alone will not resolve the housing challenges.
We should examine how to incorporate an inclusionary housing program into city policy. Nearly 20 years ago, I played a part in passing a thoughtful and progressive inclusionary housing plan in Davidson, North Carolina. This ordinance, the “Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance”, looked at affordability as a public service just like police protection, fire protection, access to parks, etc. The Town passed a measure stating no new real estate development could negatively impact the town’s ability to provide this necessary service to its residents.
Davidson maintains records on affordable housing, and reviews each proposal to ensure the town would have no less affordable housing than it did before the proposed development. It also created incentives for developers allowing them to maintain current affordability levels and make a profit.
Being a New Orleans developer is difficult, and I am reluctant to propose making the entitlements process more cumbersome or development more expensive. But this effort to increase the supply of affordable housing is so vital to our city’s success that I feel compelled to speak out now. We need the tools to ensure that our culture-bearers, our teachers, our first responders, families who have been in this city for generations that are being pushed out by rising prices, can all continue to live in New Orleans and add to its spirit and life.
I hope that the controversy surrounding this project, and particularly the debate between Councilmember Cantrell’s Office, the Mayor’s Office, and third sector housing advocates like GNOHA and the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Coalition (GNOFHC) spurs a deeper conversation about how to create an inclusionary housing policy in our city to help ensure that everyone who wants to call New Orleans home can afford to stay here.
Developer Will Bradshaw holds a Ph.D. from MIT in urban planning and sustainable communities, teaches in Tulane's master's program in sustainable real estate development; and has experience in working with affordable housing.