Tag Archives: New Orleans

Bullying Low-and-Moderate Income Homeowners with Paperwork and Fines

New Orleans      I thought of an article I had torn out of the New York Times and stuck into my bag to read more closely on my quick trip to Katmandu recently, when I got a weird email on the same trip.  The Historic Districts Landmarks Commission (HDLC) in New Orleans had sent us a bizarre missive, labeled as a Demolition notice, or more accurately, a threat to demolish, for the ACORN Global Enterprise property on Ponce de Leon where we operated the Fair Grinds Coffeehouse social enterprise.  Admittedly, they caught my attention, and, sure enough, many of our properties have now found themselves in Historic Districts where we can potentially be subjected to such bullying.

We knew of no complaints.  There had been no HDLC inspection.  What was the issue?  Finally, reading the thing, it was just a bullying threat because they had somehow observed that several weatherboards needed to be fixed.  This is New Orleans and a tropical climate and a large two-story frame house.  There are always going to be weatherboards that need to be tightened and fixed.  It is a commonplace matter of no great consequence that will cost a couple of hundred to repair at most, so what was the beef?  The HDLC notice seemed to want us to come in and get a permit to do the work.  I wasn’t born yesterday.  You only need a permit from HDLC if you are altering a property in some material way in an historic district.  No permit is needed for routine repairs that maintain existing conditions.  This whole thing on paper seems to add up to little more than municipally sanctioned harassment and a revenue scam for a small agency.  The actions of HDLC are the real nuisance here.  Does one waste the time messing with them or just fix the couple of weatherboards and let it ride?

The story in the Times demonstrated how harrowing – and expensive – such bullying and nuisances can become.  The article focused on the spiraling Catch-22 homeowners in Queens and elsewhere in New York City can face over simple problems like this in their homes.  The NYC Building Department might issue a citation for something, but confused homeowners often uncertain how to respond, delaying, or not understanding the procedure find themselves facing a series of fines for lateness that multiply and snowball.  As the Times reports:

 “Before filing a certification, homeowners must have the condition fixed, which often begins with paying for a permit.  But before they can get the permit, they must pay additional civil penalties, incurred alongside the fines for construction issues.  Until the civil penalties are paid, owners will receive one fine after another for failing to comply.”

Understand this clearly, this is often after the problem was fixed and repaired, eliminating any safety concern or in the case of the niggling HDLC in New Orleans, aesthetic issue was addressed.

The Times pictured one house where three violations had incurred $495,800 in fines!  What in the world is the purpose of that?  Under what rationale of public policy can this level of bullying and predation by public bodies be excused?

I can think of none, and I believe there is none.

***

Please enjoy Dark Night Of The Soul by Van Morrison.

Thanks to KABF.

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Inclusionary Zoning Short-Term Rental Nightmare in New Orleans

New Orleans     Let’s be clear:  inclusionary zoning is a good thing!  The problem is a bit like fake news though.  What is real inclusionary zoning versus something that just claims to be creating affordable housing, while doing very little past the claim?  This nightmare is unfolding in different versions repeatedly in New Orleans offering warnings and lessons for policy makers around the country.

One problem turns out to be the consultants.  If you hire consultants that have worked for AirBnb to front for the benefits of short-term rentals, you are going to have problems coming up with good regulations.  Or, if you hire consultants for inclusionary zoning that have done namby-pamby studies for other cities, don’t be surprised if you get a lame-ass ordinance which allows a city council to claim they have a policy, while enacting one that does virtually nothing.  All of this is happening in New Orleans

The inclusionary zoning proposal passed in recent months was Swiss cheese.  The number of loopholes was a developer’s dream of inclusionary zoning estimated to yield – are you sitting down – a whole 57 units of affordable housing from new developments per year.

Now the city and so-called consultants are debating how to manage short-rentals in commercial developments rather than residential homes, and it’s shaping up to be not simply contentious, but another policy disaster.  The city council’s initial proposal, according to the Times-Picayune New Orleans Advocate, “would have limited commercial short-term rentals to 25% of any property and would have required owners to provide one unit of affordable housing for every unit that is used as a short-rental.”  That’s not a bad place to start, since a commercial location’s short-term rentals are basically hotels with another name located in neighborhoods.

In the next block from our house a former hot dog factory has been converted into a condo-complex called the Saxony for specious reasons that insult some of the German worker families that once lived in the Bywater.  Currently, 67 of 75 available units are allowed for short-term rental!  Yes, 67 of 75, because the current regulation allows short-term rentals in commercial properties without restrictions.  That’s normally called a hotel with a couple of penthouse condos.  In this nightmare, we could say that any new regulation that limited them by any means would be something of a dawn.

The consultant is recommending that instead for the council’s proposal that they should collect higher fees on the short-term rentals in commercial properties, claiming that would create more affordable housing than the one-to-one ratio.  What refried baloney is that?!?  The city is in no position to develop affordable housing itself, so they would be paying or subsidizing a developer to do so, as opposed to requiring the developer to have to create affordable housing from the “get go” if they want to have short-term rentals.

A lesson that hopefully New Orleans – and other cities – will learn in this short-term rental versus affordable housing developer and consultant scam is simple:  fool me once, it’s on you, fool me twice, it’s on me.  New Orleans needs to not be fooled yet again by developers and their huckster allies.

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