While New Orleans endures a housing crisis “worsening by day as residents struggle to find or remain in affordable living arrangements,” city planners recommend that new developments include affordable units.
A report from the New Orleans City Planning Commission staff recommends those units remain affordable for at least 99 years and create housing in centrally located and desirable neighborhoods where cost-burdened residents are feeling the squeeze or displaced further from work, schools and other services.
In August, the New Orleans City Council tasked the CPC staff with studying three types of “inclusionary zoning” policies as part of the creation of a so-called “smart housing mix,” revisiting the results of a 2017 study that recommended the city adopt similar rules.
Those recommendations were shelved. This year, Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed a measure that would prevent municipalities from instituting their own inclusionary zoning requirements, only on the condition that New Orleans decide whether it wants them, otherwise he’ll plan to sign similar legislation next year.
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Last month, the CPC staff asked for an extension on its 2018 report, but commissioners glimpsed their reluctance to weigh in on a complex issue up against Edwards’ deadline.
(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.”)
But the CPC and city officials have had those recommendations and studies for more than a year; the latest round adds its support for the three kinds of zoning that Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration are considering. The CPC staff admits the city also is working on a tight deadline with possible pre-emption at the state level as the housing crisis is “worsening.”
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The report argues that adding inclusionary zoning to the city’s Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance — the city’s governing land-use document — “is one of the ways in which the city can work toward addressing the housing crisis. The staff believes that the creation of inclusionary zoning regulations is an integral piece of an overall housing policy that seeks to address the city’s housing needs.”
According to the report, those needs are critical. Residents struggle to find “suitable affordable housing anywhere in the city, but especially in the neighborhoods in or near job centers, near transit lines, and close to schools.”
“Attend almost any public meeting and quickly the conversation about the housing needs and lack of affordable housing for the city’s residents, who include working families, low- to moderate- income individuals, single-mothers, service industry workers, teachers, public service workers, and several more who fall into the category of being cost — or in a growing number of cases, severely — burdened, becomes a disconcerting conversation.”
The staff argues the city needs “tools” to address the affordability crisis, made worse by “claims that wages are not growing to meet the demand for higher costs of housing, transportation, medical care, and life’s basic necessities along with the reductions in federal funds that have been used to help fill in some of the gaps.”
Those tools include the creation of three types of zoning overlays and districts in areas where disparities exist, or that allow some flexibility in zoning or density on the condition that affordable units be created.
Housing NOLA executive director Andreanecia Morris tells Gambit that even with the report’s recognition of the housing problem, and the years-long argument for mandated affordable housing creation, advocates face an uphill battle with a commision with an “obvious, gross misunderstanding of the circumstances as well as the need of a solution that could be brought to bear.”
“Will we exhibit the courage necessary to take up the challenge from the governor to bring this much needed program into reality?” Morris asks. “And will we consistently enforce it?”
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Morris objects to the idea that market forces following the proliferation of luxury housing will drive down prices as demand isn’t met, as Isaacson and other commissioners have suggested.
On Nov. 13, the CPC will review the staff report and determine whether to support those recommendations before they head to the City Council.
Cashauna Hill, director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, tells Gambit that a smart housing mix is “something our residents need to afford living in New Orleans.”
“Now the City Council has to take action on this critical issue,” Hill said, “so we can prevent more families and individuals from being priced out of New Orleans."