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More depressing was reading that the pretend-progressive California legislature scuttled a bill that would have repealed restrictive zoning for single-family housing near transit stops in order to allow lower income families more access to jobs and services.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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Inclusionary Zoning Lite and Little

New Orleans     Catching up on back papers I found both the interesting and the disappointing.

Let’s start by keeping it positive and look at something called RentCheck, which is an application designed for tenants, but gaining some support by landlords, finding it useful enough that they have downloaded it in 40 US states and seven different countries.   RentCheck charges renters $20 per lease and landlords $5 per month to manage properties using the app. The app “…allows renters and landlords to complete a standardized rental inspection with smartphones.  Users can track the condition of a property using time-stamped photos and get access to inspection records at any time.”  This stops the problem of landlords showing up unexpectedly and of tenants having to prove the conditions of the apartment are the same as when they rented so that they are able to recover their security deposits.  If it works, it seems like a win.

On the other hand, we fight for inclusionary zoning everywhere in the world when it means the development of more units of affordable housing, so it seemed like good news seeing a headline that the New Orleans City Council had finally adopted a plan for such zoning in the city, especially since real estate and business interests had tried to get the state to prevent them, forcing a veto from the governor.  The plan seemed pretty complicated though.  It’s not a citywide requirement for developers, but instead is based on maps – that have not been generated yet – that will focus less on areas plagued by dislocation or gentrification, and instead on areas close to public transit and job centers.  Are developers even interested in those areas?  How does this not ghettoize affordable housing rather than beating back gentrifiers?

According to one of the local papers,

“The policy requires a developer building five units or more to make 10 percent of rental units affordable to anyone who earns 60 percent of the area median income, or about $30,000 for a two-person household.  The requirement also applies to homeownership, but the area median income in that case is higher, set at 80 percent, or about $42,000.”

The CEO of the Home Building Association is screaming like a stuck pig that this plan isn’t “workable,” is “anti-business,” and will push developers into surrounding parishes without any restrictions.  Meanwhile to put some sweeteners in the pot for the developers, the city is willing to allow more density, reduce parking requirements if close to a bus stop, and shrink the size of a lot size.

All of which is so much hooey, and this is the punch in the gut to dash any hopes that inclusionary zoning lite or whatever was just passed will really increase affordable housing in New Orleans:

“Consultants told city officials to temper their expectations.  If New Orleans had enacted such a policy five years ago…just 126 affordable units would’ve been created based on projects built since then.”

All of which makes this a drop in the bucket compared to the oceanic problem of affordable housing in New Orleans or any other city thinking about inclusionary zoning.  Why would politicians take the heat and lose the campaign contributions for something that only yields 25 new affordable units per year?  Why pretend to deal with the issue, rather than meeting it head on?

Very disappointing!

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