One of the old truisms is that housing is expensive and poor people are poor, and that’s still true, but perhaps in post-Katrina New Orleans even more so.
That is why it is welcome to see a broad-based community and government coalition working on the affordable housing issues facing the city over the next decade.
The public will be able to weigh in on housing issues through a series of public meetings hosted by the HousingNOLA initiative this month and next, but the groups under the coalition umbrella have generated a preliminary report that assesses many challenges facing affordable housing policy.
Not least is money, with the city of New Orleans getting far less over the last decade in direct federal grants for low-income housing and community development. Recovery funding is winding down, although the state Office of Community Development continues to be an important financing partner with the remaining hurricane-related funding. Federal agencies and national foundations continue to assist as funds allow.
Despite the post-storm rebound, city funding from the federal level also is affected by a smaller population than New Orleans had pre-storm.
The money issue is also serious at the household level. “While rents and home prices continue to increase, household income has not significantly changed since 2000,” the new report said.
About 28 percent of city households live in poverty even as post-Katrina apartment buildings rise around town. Rents hit working families hard. “In 2013, 46,433 households in New Orleans (58 percent) paid more than one-third of their income towards housing costs, and 29,271 (37 percent) households paid over half of their income towards housing costs,” the report said, noting that the national averages are 34 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
The good news is that citizens can hear about new initiatives that reach into every aspect of the affordability crisis.
The housing issues are not only relevant to the city but to neighboring parishes; the Regional Transit Authority has earmarked money for a master plan to improve working families’ access to more affordable areas, in and out of Orleans Parish.
The city’s new land-use plan and resilience strategy are aimed at restoring the walkable qualities of old New Orleans. The City Council has approved a new incentive for market-rate developments to include affordable units in their shiny new structures; developers can expand their project up to 30 percent if below-market units are included in the plan.
Affordable housing is going to be a challenge in New Orleans, and not only because of the impact of the 2005 storms and flooding. There is also a need to connect people with jobs so that the entire community can benefit from growth and rising prosperity.
The market will, we believe, respond in time to the need for more affordable housing, but a coherent HousingNOLA plan for the next decade could be a strong strategy for bringing all the players into the game.