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More affordable housing or short-term rentals? Why a rezoning effort is being met with resistance

New Orleans City Hall
Jesse Hardman
New Orleans City Hall

A divisive measure that could bring more affordable housing, or even more short-term rentals, to New Orleans will be heard at the City Council meeting Thursday.

The plan is spearheaded by Council member Kristin Gisleson Palmer and aims to rezone parts of the city to allow and incentivize housing developments. The move is supported by housing advocates but has met resistance from Neighborhood Housing Associations and Council member Joe Giarrusso when it was brought before a council meeting Monday.

A rezoning measure that will affect zones HMR-1, HU-B1 and HU-B1A will be heard at the City Council meeting Thursday.
The City of New Orleans
A rezoning measure that will affect zones HMR-1, HU-B1 and HU-B1A will be heard at the City Council meeting Thursday.

If passed, the zoning changes will occur in the Marigny, Bywater, Treme and business corridors scattered throughout the city. The zoning change will incentivize homeowners and developers to add additional housing units onto their homes and produce more multi-family homes to create more spaces for affordable housing.

The change could also allow developers to build multi-unit homes on land that was originally zoned for single family homes.

Giarrusso sounded off at City Planning Commission members when they presented the zoning changes for several reasons, including removing an overlay for the “doubles to dorms” measure the Council recently passed. Giarrusso also found issues with a lack of enforcement on short-term rental units and how fast the action is moving.

"I don't understand why we're rushing to do this right now, and I can't support this as it currently stands," Giarusso said in a committee meeting Monday.

The overlay recently passed, a measure spurred by Giarrusso, intended to stop the spread of single and double-family homes converting into dormitory-style housing around Tulane and Loyola campuses. The policy, voted 7-0 in favor by the Council, required that every bedroom added to homes through renovation near those schools will require a parking space.

Palmer, the current representative for District C who ran for the second At-Large Position and lost to JP Morrell, retorted at the enforcement issue at the end of the meeting after Giarusso had left the dais.

"This is something that's been on the books for many years,” Palmer said. “I'm not going to sit here and wait for the next Council. The next Council can deal with lack of enforcement if they would like to, just like this Council has been dealing with lack of enforcement.”

Palmer also said housing advocates like the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance, a collaborative organization of nonprofit housing builders and community development corporations, should shoulder some blame for not providing the city with affordable housing. And the city should also be at fault for not enforcing short-term rentals, she added.

"I think greater housing alliances have failed us. They couldn't even get NHIF passed this weekend," said Palmer, speaking on the failure of the Neighborhood Housing Investment Fund that failed to win over New Orleans voters.

NHIF's dollars were originally set aside to help eliminate blight and improve housing around the city, but the fund has morphed over the years to help lower-income homeowners improve their homes to avoid code violations and help tenants facing eviction during the pandemic. The city has also used the fund to incentivize private, affordable housing developments and aid first-time home buyers.

NHIF will continue drawing funds from short-term rental fees — $15 from every booking. The fee was implemented by the Council in 2019.

Palmer added several amendments to Thursday’s agenda that keep the parking overlay intact and prohibit any short term rentals to be permitted in new developments.

Two housing advocates took the public comment portion of the meeting to confirm their backing for the rezoning plan.

Andreanecia Morris of HousingNOLA and Maxwell Ciardullo of Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center urged the Council to pass the measure when it comes up for a vote Thursday.

LFHAC recently published a studyon the effects of neighborhood housing associations and their ability to stop affordable housing from being built in their neighborhoods, which showed that predominantly white districts in New Orleans are able to sway the City Council to vote to delay, downsize or deny housing projects that could give the city more apartments to the working class.

The study finds that the politically influential and boards of primarily white members have canceled 422 apartments for affordable housing and paused 184 more in the past 15 years that could have helped the city's predominantly Black and working-class renting population, perpetuating segregation in the city. The study found multiple neighborhood associations frequently oppose measures to provide affordable housing but say they support more affordable housing in the city, which LFHAC called a "Not In My Back Yard" mentality.

"NIMBY- ism made it impossible to rebuild a lot of these neighborhood-scale homes after Katrina,” Ciardullo said. “This motion would allow us to start restoring our neighborhoods and the affordability that they used to have.”

The Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association, Carrollton Riverbend Neighborhood Association and Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association were just some of the groups to speak against or ask to defer the measure. Comments against the move varied from opposing a more dense city or wanting the next Council to vote on the measure when the new Council, which will include five new faces, assumes their roles Jan. 10.

The Council will read the move this Thursday, its last regular meeting of the year.

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