City planners are asking for more time to determine how New Orleans can best address its affordable housing crisis by requiring affordable units in new developments.
In its request for a deadline extension, city planners agree that the city is “in the midst of a housing crisis, which is worsening as affordable housing development fails to keep up with needs."
An “inclusionary zoning” component to the city’s comprehensive zoning ordinance — the city’s governing land use document — is “one of the ways in which [New Orleans] can work toward addressing the housing crisis and can be used along with other housing policies to address the city’s housing needs," according to the request.
On Oct. 9, the New Orleans City Planning Commission voted to support the staff’s request to extend its deadline to submit a report — but the commissioners were concerned that the CPC still will be rushing to understand a complex issue while up against a clock, which could prevent them from lending their support for affordability requirements. Commissioner Walter Isaacson said he’d be “disinclined” to vote for any inclusionary zoning recommendations “without us understanding whether this is the best way to get people into better housing.”
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Earlier this year, Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed legislation that would prevent municipalities from setting those kinds of rules, but Edwards said he’s likely to support a similar measure next year if New Orleans passed on an inclusionary zoning measure again. The New Orleans City Council didn’t draft any policies based on an earlier CPC staff report, echoed by the staff's latest preliminary findings. But the policies have the support of Mayor LaToya Cantrell and current councilmembers.
In August, the City Council tasked the CPC staff with returning to the issue by studying three potential rules as part of a “smart housing mix” program.
One would create a zoning overlay in areas with housing disparities, and would require that 12 percent of units in developments with 10 or more units be set at below market rate, which would be reserved for residents earning 60 percent or less of the median income.
Another option — one that’s supported by affordable housing advocates — would create an inclusionary zoning “base” that could cover not just entire districts but individual parcels, including areas in more “desirable” neighborhoods where gentrification and high prices have displaced longtime residents previously paying affordable rates. Those zoning changes would still be subject to the same kinds of City Council approval as other developments.
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At a press conference that month, Cantrell’s Chief of Staff John Pourciau told reporters that the city needs “every single option available to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make the city more livable and affordable for all our folks.”
He said the administration wants to ensure “we’re not just creating affordable housing opportunities, we’re also connecting people” to transportation, employment areas and neighborhoods, adding that the CBD’s density, lack of affordable units and connectivity to transit hubs and hospitality jobs could be better served with affordability requirements.
In its deadline extension request, the CPC staff wrote that City Hall’s ability to create “housing options that are affordable has become extremely difficult,” though “discussions for implementing the recommendations have been ongoing with a focus on addressing the City’s housing needs while ensuring development is not stifled.”
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Commissioner Robert Steeg asked the CPC staff whether the city would be better “using a carrot rather than a stick” to attract affordable development through tax incentives, and whether there are “any empirical studies or data driven analysis as to which of those two methods works best.”
Isaacson also asked whether the “large amounts of new housing units proposed and coming onto the market” may end up dropping prices into affordable ranges “just by market forces.”
These questions and considerations arrive on the heels of the CPC staff’s latest short-term rental study and while the CPC staff works on yet another study — one looking at the proliferation of and potential limitations on so-called “small box” discount stores, like Family Dollar or Dollar General.
The CPC staff is expected to present its smart housing mix study to the CPC on Nov. 13. The report then will head to the City Council, which then must meet a 90-day deadline to submit zoning ordinances to the CPC for approval.
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