Affordable Housing Plight

In this June 26, 2017 photo, Carolyn Horton packs her belongings in her apartment that she has to move out of as her affordable housing subsidies expire, at the American Can Apartments in New Orleans. Says Horton, "My rent was $810, but they want to raise it to $1,100 or $1,200. Now I have to income-qualify for a new place and with just under $700 in Social Security, that's not easy." (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) ORG XMIT: LAGH206

New Orleans residents need on average to earn at least $19.15 per hour to rent a two-bedroom apartment in the city and live comfortably, a report out Wednesday shows — about 61 cents more than they needed a year ago.

They would need to earn as much as an additional $8 an hour to rent in some of city’s most in-demand neighborhoods, such as the Garden District or Uptown.

[Click here to see data by zip code.]

The report, released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, is already being used to urge city officials to work harder to keep housing prices down, particularly in a city dominated by the low-wage tourism industry.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city’s median family income is $63,300, or a combined roughly $30 an hour for all family members who work, although workers in the hospitality industry often make considerably less.

"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," said Cashuana Hill, the Fair Housing Action Center's executive director.

City officials have been considering the so-called Smart Housing Mix — a policy that would require developers to reserve some apartments in large complexes for low-income residents — for nearly two years but have not finalized those plans.

The new report examines the cost of living in New Orleans and Louisiana, as well as in other cities and states across the country, plus median incomes for individual areas.

Data on fair market rents and incomes come from HUD. That agency generally defines fair market rent as the 40th percentile — counting from the bottom — of gross rents for an area, an amount that includes the cost of shelter and utilities.

The report's authors adhere to the standard that no household should spend more than 30 percent of its gross income on housing costs, and they assume that each household would be paid for 40-hour workweeks for 52 weeks a year.

Then, they assign a “housing wage” to various counties or states — the amount a renter must earn hourly in order to meet that standard.

This year, New Orleans’ housing wage for a two-bedroom unit was one of the highest in Louisiana, second only to Vernon Parish. Louisiana’s statewide wage, $16.63 hourly, was ranked the 29th most expensive in the U.S.

Last year, New Orleanians needed to earn $18.54 an hour, the most in the state, to rent a two-bedroom apartment. The state average of $16.16 an hour was the 30th highest in the country.

The fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit in New Orleans is about $964.

New to this year’s report is a breakdown of costs by ZIP code. It shows residents would need to earn at least $27 an hour to live in the code area that includes the Lower Garden District, much of the Central Business District and part of the Garden District, for example, while they’d need about $19.42 hourly to live in the ZIP code that includes the Lower 9th Ward, Holy Cross, Bywater and parts of Marigny and the Upper 9th Ward. 

Fair market rents in those two areas were $1,410 and $1,010, respectively.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.