Housing advocates on Tuesday cheered a proposal to require New Orleans city planners to calculate the effect that proposed real estate developments would have on the stock of affordable homes in the city, but builders said they were staunchly opposed to an idea that would add time and expense to new projects.
Both groups spoke before the City Planning Commission.
The proposal would require “affordable housing impact statements” to be attached to land-use decisions, proposed city policies and city permits to provide an analysis of how they would alter the amount of housing within reach of lower- and middle-class residents.
The planning staff is studying the issue and is expected to present a report to the commission in coming months.
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Some housing advocates have said the statements are key to implementing the HousingNOLA plan, which calls for the creation or preservation of about 33,000 affordable housing units in New Orleans over the next decade.
They say the statements could be used to push policymakers to agree with proposals that would increase the housing supply for low- and middle-income families. In addition, the advocates say, the statements would provide an easy way of tracking whether the city is meeting its goals.
“It's not the be all and end all, but it’s an incredibly useful tool that we need to clarify the state of the affordable housing situation in New Orleans,” said Andreanecia Morris, executive director of HousingNOLA.
Exactly what those statements would look like – or who would be responsible for creating that analysis – is still largely up in the air. No formal plan is on the table, though City Planning Commission Executive Director Bob Rivers said the final proposal for small projects might be as simple as a box the builder would fill out indicating how many affordable housing units would be created and how many would be lost if a specific development were approved.
The proposal was sponsored by City Councilman Jared Brossett, who watched Tuesday’s meeting from the side of the dais but did not speak.
Developers, landlords and the Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans, however, said the statements would drag out the approval process for new projects, adding costs that would, in turn, either discourage new projects or be passed on to the future residents.
Home Builders Association board member Curt Williamson said the proposal would actually curtail the amount of affordable housing in the city.
“We are in favor of affordable housing. We simply disagree that the approaches presented here today will achieve that,” Williamson said. “More regulations or studies or databases ultimately result in more fees on our businesses, and those regulations never result in savings to the consumer.”
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That position met with skepticism from some members of the Planning Commission, who stressed there were not yet any concrete plans on the table and rejected arguments that the proposal would necessarily involve fees or add time to the approval process.
Commissioner Nolan Marshall III, who described the lack of affordable housing in New Orleans as a problem that could lead to “the end of the city as we know it,” said that even if there are costs, they could be worth it.
“We decided as a city we needed to do neighborhood participation a while back,” Marshall said. “We heard this was going to be a burden and this was going to be something that would be difficult for the development community to do, but it turned out to be beneficial to all of us. If this turns out to be a burden on developers and builders, it will be because it’s for the greater good.”
The hearing is one of the first steps in a long process toward possibly adopting the policy as a city ordinance. Once the planning staff finishes its study, expected in the next two months, it will present the results to the Planning Commission, which will make recommendations to the City Council.
The council will then be able to tweak the recommendations before sending them back to the planning staff to draft into an ordinance, which will have to work its way through a similar process before a final vote by council members.