Fighting the NIMBYs on Affordable Housing

New Orleans City Council Meeting 05.23.2019 on housing development in the Bywater neighborhood.

New Orleans     Sadly, it’s not just an aberration in my own neighborhood where bizarrely the “not in my back yard” crowd fought fiercely to block the return of affordable housing to a long established Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) site.  It seems to be almost everywhere in big American cities with increasingly entitled, gentrifying faux-liberal populations.

In a small victory, the New Orleans City Council voted 6-0 with the uptown councilperson taking a powder, on a so-called “compromise” allowing the project to move forward with a slightly smaller footprint but at least holding on to the more than 80 affordable units that included slightly more than 50 market rate apartments.   The district councilwoman had been touting embarrassing and ridiculous proposals to try to pander to the NIMBY crowd that included some of the neighborhood, real-estate dominated civic associations.  One of the more bizarre had been an argument that she was for the number of affordable units, but wanted them spread all over town.  You can hear the dog whistle from here, can’t you?

Let’s be clear.  Affordable housing is an issue in New Orleans.  Repopulating African-American families in neighborhoods is also an issue for me and for people who care about the city post-Katrina, as well as diversity of race and income in neighborhoods like Bywater where I live that were solid multi-racial working class and lower income areas when we moved here decades ago.  To save face, when I can only believe that she couldn’t get any votes, our councilwoman pasted together a fig leaf compromise that allowed some of the NIMBYs say in the design of the project to try to salvage their claims about “neighborhood character” and “green space” as something other than hard core class and race bias.  Hopefully, this committee will not kowtow to this small entitled group.  The highlight for me was reading that another councilman following the vote, essentially chided the projects opponents saying that they needed to really look deeply into their real motivations. Amen!

More depressing was reading that the pretend-progressive California legislature scuttled a bill that would have repealed restrictive zoning for single-family housing near transit stops in order to allow lower income families more access to jobs and services.  The Times columnist reporting on this normally writes about tech issues, but the headline was “Nimby Liberals Make Cities Unlivable,” and he quoted George W. Bush’s comments about “catastrophic success” from the Iraq war.  What a double-shot to the gut!

City after city in the US, Canada, the European Union, Australia, and, OK, all around the world are fencing out people to create enclaves for the rich and white and forgetting the rest of what makes cities work.  Our back yards have no value without people, and people have to be our priority.  Lots of people, not just a few.

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Please enjoy Hamish Anderson’s What You Do To Me.

Thanks to KABF.

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Jiggering Tuition Costs to Employment Yield

New Orleans      Thinking about student loan debt and the soaring costs of university education is interesting, even if it almost guarantees a migraine or a pain on the south side.

The backstory runs in several channels.  The huge gift at Morehouse College by billionaire Robert Smith and his offer to pay the student debt of almost 400 in this year’s graduating class has unleashed a tsunami of discussion.  His generosity and good will is indisputable, but equally inarguable is the public policy crisis reflected by the cost of higher education and the extended burden of student debt.

The Obama administration in attempting to rein in for profit higher education institutions disqualified certain programs and institutions from federally guaranteed student loans because of the limited prospect of graduates ever earning enough money to repay the cost of the program.  Not only did this approach hammer the Phoenix Universities of the country, it also exposed the graduate theater program at Harvard as unsustainable on these terms.

An executive order from President Trump now requires the average amount of debt incurred by graduates of different academic programs and all higher ed institutions to be reported, and the first returns are now available.  Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican from Tennessee and chair of the Education Committee, has now proposed going a step farther than the Obama rules by legislating a system that would not be institution-based, but program-based within institutions.  He’s claiming this would offer an incentive for colleges to reduce tuition costs for some programs based on employment outcomes by forcing a change on the one cost covers everything whether liberal arts or business and engineering with high pay.

The old “education for education’s sake” crowd that has bunkered down in liberal arts and other programs for literally centuries is under assault.  I’m actually sympathetic to that argument both intellectually and almost genetically.  Education shouldn’t be allowed to be transactional.

At the same time, costs and debt are totally out of control, so it is impossible not to see higher education as having earned a huge disruption of their business model.  And, let’s be honest, universities are already charging based on employment.  In the San Jose area recently I heard they were charging $96,000 for an MBA program at Santa Clara University, so don’t tell me that’s not calibrated to current and future earnings.

The Times’ reporter, Kevin Carey, nailed the problem saying, “…while college is about more than money, it can be paid only with money.”

We haven’t hit the right solution yet, but the solution in predatory markets requires using “affordability” as the benchmark for a loan.  I would argue that affordability needs to be test for every student entering the institution, regardless of program or degree, and that higher education facilities need to learn to apply that test more accurately just as they do in accounting for every penny of a family’s income.

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Please enjoy Coyote by Mako.

Thanks to KABF.

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