In Defense of a Smart Housing Mix

Andreanecia Morris Housing NOLA, Executive Director

Andreanecia Morris
Housing NOLA, Executive Director

Opponents of progressive and forward thinking affordable housing policy were left disappointed after the United States Supreme Court shot down a property rights case in October 2017. The case challenged a requirement in California that expects developers to subsidize the creation of affordable housing by either pricing 20% of their units below market rate, or pay a fee that subsidizes housing for people with low or moderate incomes. They were disappointed again when, earlier this year, Governor John Bel Edwards vetoed a bill that would have prevented communities in Louisiana from enacting similar requirements. These decisions have given the City of New Orleans the opportunity to enact a solution that would address the city’s spiraling housing crisis.

Out of the HousingNOLA planning process, one of the most significant recommendations eventually became what we now call the Smart Housing Mix. That process, launched in 2014, led to the 10 Year Strategy and Implementation Plan and our annual report cards which document the state of housing in New Orleans. The Smart Housing Mix, when enacted, would be a citywide policy plan to create more affordable housing that is fair and feasible by requiring that new development, adaptive reuse projects, and rehabilitation projects to include at least 10% affordable units in areas where its almost impossible to find affordable housing. Developers have the option to pay a fee, build affordable units off site, preserve a building or dedicate alternative land if they do not wish to reserve units below market rate. A standard, unified package of incentives would be offered to developers to accompany the Smart Housing Mix requirements, and require 99-year terms of affordability.

Opponents of the Smart Housing Mix seem to believe the capitalistic market will readjust on its own. If you believe the market will “fix itself,” you believe this market will suddenly begin producing units below market rate. If you think that this market, one that rewards greed and encourages unregulated growth, finally make its way down to the base of the wealth pyramid, then it is time to wake up and face the reality: this market needs policy intervention to protect the more vulnerable populations. Currently, the Median Income in New Orleans is $36,999, while the Median Home Value sits at $227,800 (HousingNOLA Report Card, 2018). In 2018, 50% of all households are cost burdened—paying more than 30% of their gross income on housing. Review the facts surrounding housing in New Orleans and reconsider if these numbers reflect a housing market that is on the verge of “correcting itself”.

For housing to be affordable and accessible, it is imperative that the Smart Housing Mix is used in central and transit-oriented development neighborhoods. As the neighborhoods of New Orleans grow and gentrify, the areas around job centers grow more expensive to live. These job centers support New Orleans’ main industry: tourism. Usually, these tourist hubs provide jobs in restaurants, hotels, convenience shops, and historical tours. Ideally, people want to live as close to their job as possible; unfortunately, when these areas become expensive to live in, people with limited means are forced to move further from their jobs. The ramifications of this are detrimental to all involved; unstable living situations create an unstable workforce.

The need for affordable, mixed housing developments near job centers with adequate public transportation is crucial. That’s why HousingNOLA had the support of a broad coalition of advocates, professionals, developers and community leaders when working with city officials to craft the Smart Housing Mix. In 2019, the New Orleans City Council will have the chance to #FixtheMix by passing the Smart Housing Mix and enact a policy that mandates affordable housing—we can longer simply offer incentives and hope for the best. The council must act soon because Governor Edwards has made it clear that we will not get another chance because the opponents have promised to bring forth more legislation in 2019 to prevent New Orleans from utilizing this needed tool. If the housing crisis will “fix itself” and the market will self-regulate, when will we start to see this shift? The answer is not soon enough to save the citizens of New Orleans who need affordable housing now. Our leaders must #PutHousingFirst and act in the best interest of the people of New Orleans when this issue comes before them!

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