A City at a Crossroads

Affordable Housing Crisis and the Future of New Orleans

Jeffrey May, MURP Principal, International Development and Planning (IDP)

New Orleans a Rich History
New Orleans is a City with a rich and vibrant history. It is a place with a culture that is full of splendor and a culture that in its 300-year history is a blend of the many who’ve come to the shores of this jewel on the mouth of the Mississippi, creating a gumbo that’s flavor is a gift to the world.

After Hurricane Katrina and the breaching of the Federal Levees left the City devastated and with an uncertain future; this history is at risk of being altered to being unrecognizable or vanishing completely. Undoubtedly, New Orleans is a City of great architecture that is akin to the great cities of the world, but the secret ingredient of what makes this City special is its people. 

A Changing City and the Preservation of Culture
Over the past decade the Crescent City is experiencing people who are moving into communities and changing the fabric of what they represented. For example, the sight of spontaneous Second Lines to honor those who’ve passed in Treme’ or any neighborhood or musicians in the French Quarter continuing the tradition of the ancestors now have to consider “noise” ordinances. 

Neighborhoods that once housed the people that are the culture bearers of the City are now being pushed out because of high rents or property taxes that make it unaffordable to live in the areas that’s kept the City vibrant and alive. 

This state of affairs threatens a place where a living, breathing culture is vital to its identity and brand and may transform New Orleans into a museum city… showing “how” they use to live and where the existence of the actual people is marginalized, minimized and virtually non-existent. 

There are things we can do as a City to prevent these things from happening, but first we must understand what is going on to come up with the best possible solutions where a City can embrace change and yet continue to maintain its rich traditions. 

An essential component of this is the City’s most vital asset, and that is the people that are the blood that runs through the veins and is the heartbeat that gives New Orleans life. For this to happen, it is important to realize, the City must address affordable housing for both homeowners and renters. 

Gentrification: A Dilemma for New Orleans
Gentrification is the phenomenon when higher income households move into communities, typically communities of color, where lower income residents have existed, which then influences an increase in public and private investment and a better quality of life there. With this increase of quality of life comes higher property values that causes the displacement of the existing lower income residents. In some cases, residents who make and create the local culture and flavor of this great City. 

As Gentrification increases property values, so do the value of all properties in proximity to it. Lacking community assets and amenities, the area’s most susceptible to gentrification are those most attractive to the investors because of the return on investment.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calls these areas Racially and Ethnically Concentrated Areas of Poverty (RECAPs) are housing markets that are quite vulnerable in hot real estate markets. The home values, public and private investments, political capital and clout with the decision makers are low. All areas of a City need investment for maintenance and preservation. Those areas that are neglected overtime are the geographies where rents are lowest as well as all other quality of life indicators. They are the most financially and resource starved places.

Progress does not need to be a zero sum in nature. My forward movement should not be viewed as backward movement for you. This seems to be the case in New Orleans presently, and a new approach that balances the scales are needed. 

But in the scenario stated, progress will be feared by the stakeholders. The residents who lived in these communities when they were the worse environments, dreamt of their communities being revitalized and experiencing the benefits from the change. But this is often not the case when revitalization happens as fewer people of color or lower incomes are living in these communities. For this reason, new approaches are necessary moving forward.

A New Approach: Everyone has a seat at the table and all voices matter equally when planning a community
Civil Rights in land use and governance matters! In general, everyone wants the housing and job markets to grow as long as they are a part of that growth. When you are not a part of it, but subject to it, zero sum feels like 0 – 1; and the existing residents are the losers. The change is not only an issue because of the conflict of culture created by community revitalization. It is a Civil Rights Issue when the gentrification causes the displacement of families with children, persons with disabilities; and black and brown households. The Fair Housing Act, as amended applies to land use and governance under 42 United States Code 3608 (e) and (d)5. This statute of the Act is the Affirmatively Further Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation that requires program participants such as the City of New Orleans and the Housing Authority and others across the United States of America to plan, invest and marshal public and private resources into these RECAPs. 

Cities are a living organism or system. They are have moving and shifting parts. New Orleans is a world class and renown City because of its history, music, food culture and overall allure. Segregation in New Orleans, like the rest of America, must be addressed by all levels of government to ensure compliance within the private housing market. We have established federal laws to protected classes. Is now incumbent to fully enforce them to ensure protected groups are not discriminated against are pushed out of communities that are redeveloping. 

New Orleans residents and its leadership would do well to remember the importance of the Fair Housing Laws. Protected class members need to use the Fair Housing Act and AFFH rule to organize and defend their rights to live in the City. The elected officials and power brokers of the City should support an environment that champions Fair Housing and Affordable Housing before it loses the people that make it great!

Caption 1: New Orleans is a city full of history, culture and heritage. It is evidenced in the food, music, architecture and most of all its people.

Caption 2: Former site of the Laffite Housing Project, is the site of new development in the Treme’ Neighborhood where gentrification is changing the composition of its residents.

Caption 3: New Orleans is a city where one of its most popular dishes is Gumbo. It is also a metaphor for all who have come to the City to create its unique cultural heritage. Today the City is struggling to find a way to balance the traditional culture with the influx of new residents.

Caption 4: New Orleans post Katrina is struggling with an Affordable Housing Crisis for those who own homes, where assessments are making some consider selling their homes. Also many former residents of the City can no longer afford the rents that’s increased significantly since Hurricane Katrina.

Caption 5: Many of the great culture bearers live all throughout the city and use it as a muse to create the wonder and splendor that is synonymous with New Orleans. Today, because of the rising cost of living some cannot afford to live in the City. This is something that threatens the survival of the culture for future generations.

Caption 6: The future of New Orleans is its young people and for them to thrive and contribute to the City their families need affordable housing options.

Caption 7: Shaka Zulu is part of the Black Masking Tradition (Mardi Gras Indians) and is an ambassador for New Orleans culture and heritage and is an advocate for its preservation. He realized the most important thing to continue these traditions are the people who live in the communities who create it and their presence in the City is essential.

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