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More depressing was reading that the pretend-progressive California legislature scuttled a bill that would have repealed restrictive zoning for single-family housing near transit stops in order to allow lower income families more access to jobs and services.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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Winning Half-a-Loaf Against Gentrification in New Orleans

Public Housing site in the Bywater

New Orleans         People were out in force in the Holy Angels meeting space in my neighborhood of Bywater in New Orleans.  I got there ten minutes after the announced starting time, and it was standing room only.  The convener said they had one-hundred explanatory packets laid out on table tops, but they clearly had run out of them by a long margin.  What in the world would bring out such a crowd on an spring, Monday evening in the neighborhood?  You might be able to guess, but I’ll give you the answer anyway:  public housing is coming back!

A big lot of about two acres in the neighborhood near the Mississippi River and only blocks from the Industrial Canal is owned by the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) and has been for quite a while.  Public housing had been there for years but like so much of public housing, the units were caught in the post-Katrina reconstruction of the city, despite the fact that in Bywater these units, like so many other public housing units did not flood.

HANO had finally gotten its act together to make a proposal joined with a private developer as has become the fashion.  There would be 136 units with a 60-40 split of affordable one, two, and three-bedroom apartments, or 82 units that would be affordable compared to 54 units at market rents, which in Bywater have been soaring.

A recent study by a local housing research group found that rents have increased throughout the city of New Orleans by 49% since 2000, while incomes have fallen by 8%.  Yes, you heard that correctly, fallen by 8%.  Bywater did not flood during Katrina since it sits on relatively high ground, being so close to the Mississippi River that the ground has been built up about eight feet or more thanks to the historic alluvial flood plain.  Near downtown and the French Quarter with predominately what Orleanians call shotgun houses or others might see as duplexes, the neighborhood has become “hot” in real estate terms.  Rents doubled after Katrina and housing prices per square foot have been steadily rising.  In another hallmark of gentrification, in the decade since Katrina this previously working-class neighborhood went from being about one-third white to flipping where whites are now two-thirds and African-Americans, Latinos, and others are hanging onto a third.

In short, the city and neighborhood desperately need affordable rental units!  We needed the entire project to be affordable in fact.  Instead, one of the small neighborhood groups has been hollering that it wanted the split to reverse so that at most only 56 units would be affordable with the whole size of the project reduced.  The former industrial area and project they claimed was now going to be too tall at four stories, even though the former F. Edward Herbert federal complex towers over that area only blocks away as do the cruise ships docked nearby.  They also argued that they wanted more green space, even though that section of the neighborhood is only a few blocks from the relatively new and completely underutilized Crescent Park running along the river, making it obvious that their arguments were specious.

The Planning Commission recommended approval, and though the local council person had seemed to be wavering in the face of this small minority of neighbors, at the hearing she seemed to have a stiffer backbone.  The meeting was billed by the television newscasters as neighbors protesting, but in fact the meeting was a full-throated explanation and defense of the project.  There is still a Council vote to come, but at this point the last gasp hope of the anti’s for a zoning defense seems nothing more than a mask for their real feelings, even though for the rest of us it is hard to feel happy on the verge of a win when it is such a half-loaf compared to what is needed to maintain diversity of class and race against the gentry’s rising tide.

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