New Orleans renters would need to earn an hourly wage of at least $19.15 to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment, according to a recent housing report.
New Orleans’ spotlight in Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing from the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center also reports that minimum wage earners — relying on the state’s federal-set hourly rate of $7.25 — aren’t able to afford even a one-bedroom apartment, unless they’re working 88 hours per week, up from 84 hours per week in 2017.
The city even falls short of poorly ranked statewide averages, which would require an hourly wage of $16.63 for a modest two-bedroom rental.
The report's measure of "modest" housing is one in which a renter's income is not "rent-burdened" by spending 30 percent or more of that income on housing costs. More than half of New Orleans residents are renters — half of all renters put at least 30 percent of their income towards housing, and 80 percent of people earning less than $15,000 a year spend more than half their income on rent.
That analysis follows a progress report from HousingNOLA, which in 2015 revealed plans for a 10-year affordable housing strategy. HousingNOLA admits it’s “unlikely” the city will be able to meet a goal of 2,500 units by September — a goal of 750 units is more realistic, but “if, any only if” the city can find money to pay for a plan to house formerly incarcerated people in August. Only 190 new affordable units were brought online in the last eight months.
That plan also falls short of housing goals set by Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, which aimed to "build or preserve" 7,500 affordable housing units by 2021 — with 4,000 units available by 2018, followed by an additional 3,500 units.
To ensure the city stays on track with HousingNOLA’s significantly smaller goals, the group recommends the city review its production goals with public-private entities and “adjust projections based on need and resources available.” It also calls on the city to put increased funding into the Neighborhood Housing Improvement Fund on ballots in 2020.
HousingNOLA also recommends the city adopt a smart housing mix ordinance, which Gov. John Bel Edwards recently ensured cities like New Orleans could adopt when he vetoed a measure that would prevent municipalities from tasking developers to include affordable units in new construction, a process of “inclusionary zoning” that the New Orleans City Council has generally supported but has not put laws in place to secure those units.
The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center also is calling on City Hall to adopt those policies — and New Orleans has roughly a year to do it. Edwards said if cities support inclusionary zoning but don’t put measures in place to enforce it, he’s willing support a preemption bill next legislative session.
"I will conclude that it is not in their will to utilize these strategies and I will be inclined to sign a similar piece of legislation" against inclusionary zoning in 2019, the governor said in his veto statement.
In a follow-up editorial board meeting with The New Orleans Advocate, Edwards questioned whether it was a tool some cities and towns "really want to use."
"And if you want to use it, why haven't you done it already?" Edwards said. "You haven't been prohibited from passing these zoning ordinances in the past, but you haven't done it."
Center Executive Director Cashauna Hill says "now is the time" to move on a "smart housing mix" policy.
"New Orleans' tourism industry brings in $7 billion a year, but the musicians, restaurant workers, and other industry professionals who are the backbone of our economy are being pushed out of our city," Hill said in a statement. "We have the resources. Now we need innovative solutions like the Smart Housing Mix policy so that we're all pitching in to ensure everyone in New Orleans can stay and thrive."