Gov. John Bel Edwards has vetoed a bill that would have blocked so-called “inclusionary zoning” policies in Louisiana cities. Those policies require housing developers to set aside some units for low-income residents.
But the governor won't oppose a future law banning the policies if parish governments fail to enact them by 2019, he said — which means New Orleans, Baton Rouge and any other cities considering such requirements must act fast to finalize their plans.
If parishes don't do so within the next year, "I will conclude that it is not their will to utilize these strategies and I will be inclined to sign a similar piece of legislation in the 2019 regular session,” Edwards said in a Saturday letter to Sen. John Alario, the Senate president, vetoing Senate Bill 462.
Louisiana lawmakers gave parish governments the green light to create inclusionary zoning policies in 2006, with the goals of boosting stocks of affordable housing, after the destruction caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and reducing concentrations of poverty in certain neighborhoods.
But no parish has yet enacted such a zoning policy. The latest effort to do so in New Orleans was stymied amid strong opposition from some developers and after City Council members could not agree on which incentives to offer to developers for creating affordable units.
The plan that has been under discussion in New Orleans would require developers to reserve 12 percent of their housing units for low- or moderate-income residents in in-demand neighborhoods. The city would, in exchange, give developers some sort of incentive.
In Baton Rouge, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome is exploring a similar plan.
But developers argue that such a mandate has not worked well in other states, and that forcing them to lower their charges for certain low-income people would mean they would have to charge more for their market-rate units, which could actually compound the shortage of affordable housing.
The Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans and other opponents lobbied state lawmakers in each of the past two years to kill the law allowing such mandates. They failed in 2017 but this year won passage of a bill in the House and Senate.
The head of that organization said Thursday that Edwards "turned his back on" homebuilders across the state.
The move "will either have a chilling effect on new home construction and renovation, or increase the costs of housing beyond many of our citizens’ reach," Jon Luther said.
But the heads of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance, who had urged a veto of the bill, praised Edwards' action.
“We’ve obviously thrilled,” said Andreanecia Morris of the Housing Alliance.
“Now, we look forward to working with local officials to pass and implement the 'smart housing mix' policy so that workers can continue to live and thrive in our cities,” said Cashauna Hill of the Housing Action Center.
Editor's note, 5/31/18: This story was updated after publication with comments from the Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans.