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The Listening Post Asks: How Affordable Is Your Housing?

Jesse Hardman
Listening Post
Empty lot, and adjacent home in the 7th Ward.

A few months ago a housing notice went up on the local Craigslist page with the provocative headline: "3 bedroom, 900 square feet, God Damn, Someone Get Me Out Of New Orleans."  The author went on to write: "Once the city was built for people like me, times change, now it's built for you." 

This sentiment, that New Orleans is no longer affordable to longtime residents, has been getting louder lately.

The Listening Post Project spent the past few weeks investigating the realities of the affordable housing situation in the city:

Andreanecia Morris is cruising around the 7th Ward, checking out houses and properties.

Morris is keeping an eye on this traditionally black, working class neighborhood, to see if New Orleans’s runaway real estate bubble is expanding here.

Credit Jesse Hardman
House for sale in the 7th Ward.

“Every block has a vacant house, a blighted house, a vacant blighted house. A house you wouldn’t want to live next to. But people are selling, and people are buying”

Morris is not a realtor. She’d never be accused of painting too rosy a picture of New Orleans.

“This city is below sea-level, how many sink holes do we have?”

As the president of the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance, Morris is trying to figure out the formula that will keep housing affordable in this city. Right now, more than half of people living in New Orleans spend more than a third of their income on housing.

Morris says when people hear the term affordable housing they think, “that’s not me,” and that’s part of the problem.

“People associate affordable housing with subsidized housing, subsidized housing with section 8, section 8 with the projects, and the projects being those shiftless no good people.”  

But as rents and housing prices go up, more and more New Orleanians, with a variety of incomes, are feeling the squeeze. Part of the equation is the fact that there’s a 20% home vacancy rate. That includes all the blighted and abandoned properties, and short-term rentals, like Airbnbs.

Morris says unlike Brooklyn and San Francisco, the poster-cities for rents gone wild, there is enough housing for everyone here.

“We could have an over supply. If vacancy rate was addressed, if vacant lots were brought online, we’d have an abundance of property.”

Morris is trying to make that happen through Housing Nola, a new 10-year plan that aims to get thousands of more houses available at affordable rates.

Credit Jesse Hardman
Blighted home in the Upper 9th Ward

Helping Morris in her efforts is Alex Miller, who works for the Design and Landscape Architecture firm Asakura Robinson. Miller’s main focus is making sure New Orleans neighborhoods stay accessible to local families.

Miller says housing issues vary by neighborhood. “We don’t really want blighted buildings around,” she says.

“But how do we make sure that doesn’t drive out the people who created the culture, history, and portions of that neighborhood that people actually love and why they are moving there.”

As usual we also crowd sourced our questions on affordable housing via our text-messaging network. Many people shared their housing experiences. We asked folks where they live, how much of their income goes towards housing, and if they were forced to move because of high rents, what would they miss.

Here's a few of our favorites. Click this link to see the whole list!

I’ve been in the Bywater for 6 years and watched the rents around me sky rocket. I recently saw a 2 bedroom I looked in 2010 that rented for $900/mo on Craigslist listed at $2250/mo. This neighborhood is no longer affordable for me to rent, and buying anywhere is slipping further and further out of reach. Not just in the Bywater, but everywhere.

I live in the Point. 
I spend a third of my income on my mortgage. However, if I had to rent, I would spend more than half
Of that mortgage payment, more than half is insurance and taxes. :( I keep my house warm in the summer and cool in the winter so my electric bill is never over $209/mo (averaged) water between 75-100.

Treme. 10 months
Own. Around 20%
Location and potential. My neighbors are great and I’m really excited you see how the currently blighted buildings are redeveloped and that impact on the neighborhood

I stay uptown, broke all the time and work really hard my whole life… Sad I rent and spend about 75% on housing
Rent, utilities , and health insurance kill me. I would miss friends, music, and food the most. Not in that order, or, maybe

The ninth ward, across from Bywater, 43 years
Own, 63% for the mortgage 20% for utilities 
I know all the resident homeowners on the block (half the occupants of our block).  There is a sense of security and community. My neighbors made breakfast for the whole block after Katrina.  Her husband told me to get the refrigerator out, first. They put a watch dog in our yard, when we are away. Her sons get my tree out of the attic at Christmas. The guy in the corner checked out my car. I want my kid to have that extended family experience.

Another text message we got came from New Orleans East, a neighborhood that’s endured a lot of labels, bad headlines, and rumors.

Credit Listening Post
Text Message from New Orleans East

But Listening Poster Toni Jack says she wouldn’t live anywhere else.

“We have a beautiful new park,” says Jack.  “Activities for the children, and an Olympic sized pool,”

Jack can go on and on about the neighborhood she’s lived in for 20 years.

“I live out here, and that’s a good thing. And I’ll be your friend!”

Credit Jesse Hardman
Toni and Donald Jack

Jack, in her late 50s, is a 2nd grade teacher at Ben Franklin Elementary. She and her husband Donald, who’s 62 and retired, rented for years, Irish Channel, Mid-City, and in 1996 they finally became homeowners. They raised four kids, now adults, in the house.

“Our house is a brick, ranch style you could call it, three columns in the front. We’re still doing some work on it. The last storm did some damage, and we’re fighting termites, that’s an issue.”

Toni Jack says she spends around 40% of her income on her mortgage. Jack says she’s aware that many folks priced out of other parts of New Orleans are heading out East.

“People are trying to take care of their families, trying to work and if most of their income is going to housing, finding a place to live,” she says. “They’re scraping by.”

Jack knows what it feels like to be displaced. Her house took on 8 feet of water after Katrina. The family made it back home, and Jack says she feels lucky. She says a lot of people would love to come back, but aren’t sure they can afford to now. Like one woman she ran into at a Wal-Mart in Houston, who was displaced by Katrina and living in Texas.

“I didn’t even know the lady and we were hugging and jumping up and down. And we were just so excited to see each other. And that’s the thing about being here, in this city, this is a place I can call home.”

If you’d like to fill out our affordable housing survey, text the word “home” to 504-303-4348.  

Our microphone is your microphone New Orleans.

See you at the Listening Post

As the new Coastal Reporter, Jesse Hardman will draw on 15 years of worldwide experience in radio, video and print journalism. As a radio reporter he has reported for NPR, BBC, and CBC, and for such familiar programs as Marketplace, This American Life, Latino USA, and Living on Earth. He served as a daily news reporter and news magazine producer for WBEZ in Chicago.

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