Why We Say Put Housing First

Andreanecia Morris
Executive Director, HousingNOLA

Affordable Housing is a term fraught with bias as it often brings to mind the worst kinds of stereotypes rooted in racism, sexism and classism. People often reject the notion of Affordable Housing for all, until they learn the definition: Affordable Housing means that you’re not paying more than 30% of your gross income on your total housing costs. It’s that simple. Once they understand the real definition, people see the connections and realize that without secure housing the people of New Orleans cannot prosper.

The National Equity Atlas found that if all New Orleanians lived in Affordable Housing, they would have an extra $513 million to spend annually on things like child care, transportation, educational opportunities, savings, vacations and other things to improve their lives. Once people understand the real value of Affordable Housing they know that they want it for themselves and their family—including those who don’t qualify for traditional housing subsidies. In fact, 93% of likely voters think that Affordable Housing is important for the local economy. Once they understand that they are affected by this problem, they want a solution.

HousingNOLA has a clear, but ambitious objective: end housing insecurity in the City of New Orleans by making sure that there are Affordable Housing opportunities for all. Over the past year, we have seen tremendous and sometimes unexpected success paired with crushing disappointment and swinging back to victory. The Louisiana Legislature passed reform of security deposits while simultaneously voting to restrict the right for local municipalities to fix their housing mix. Thanks to Governor Edwards, the state pre-emption bill that would have prevented our Smart Housing Mix was vetoed, but we’ve stalled on local implementation. As a result of this inconsistency and the fact that New Orleans lost more Affordable Housing opportunities than we created, our community earned a “D” for its efforts in HousingNOLA’s 2018 Report Card.

We must make meaningful progress soon or we will find ourselves living in a drastically different New Orleans. We have the examples of the post-recession cities like Detroit to show us the worst-case scenario, but we don’t have to look to other communities to know how bad it can get. We can look to New Orleans’ not so distant past, the first year immediately following Hurricane Katrina. The storm and the subsequent levee breeches devastated the city, but it also illuminated the gross inequities the city struggles with to this day. Failing to end the current affordability crisis will guarantee another disaster and this one will be entirely man made.

Last year, we realized that in order to address this problem, we needed to take a different tack and launched the Put Housing First Campaign. This campaign will engage voters around the HousingNOLA Plan and it also holds our elected officials and decision makers accountable. We can no longer simply document our failures, we must identify the cause and ensure that those responsible answer to the people of New Orleans. Right now, 50% of the people of New Orleans are living in housing that they cannot afford.

This is the biggest problem this city is facing and solving means allowing the people of New Orleans to secure lasting and equitable opportunities to economic empowerment and housing security for many of our citizens. Lack of Affordable Housing is a detriment to an individual’s progression and the scope of the crisis New Orleans faces means that it is imperative that we correct this. The good news is we have a plan and it will work, but not until we find the will to Put Housing First.

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