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New Orleans gets failing grade for affordable housing, according to report

A For Rent sign in New Orleans East.
Carly Berlin
A For Rent sign in New Orleans East.

For the third year in a row, New Orleans received a failing grade for the state of affordable housing in the city.

That assessment comes from HousingNOLA, a coalition of public, private and nonprofit organizations that formed in 2015 to craft a 10-year plan for addressing the future of housing affordability in New Orleans and grades the city on its progress each year.

HousingNOLA’s decade-long vision called on public agencies to create 7,500 new affordable units in New Orleans, through new construction or by providing subsidies like vouchers – in addition to preserving the affordable housing already on the market. But now, only a third of those units are available, while the need for them has only grown with rising housing costs, according to the coalition’s latest report, which covers September 2021 to August 2022.

Even before the onset of the pandemic in 2020 and Hurricane Ida in 2021, New Orleans was experiencing an affordability crisis, said Andreanecia Morris, executive director of HousingNOLA.

But the pressures of the last few years have exacerbated an already dire situation, Morris said. As residents lost work during the early days of lockdown, more people faced the risk of losing their housing. Ida brought widespread damage to much of the region’s housing stock, and many homeowners have seen their insurance premiums skyrocket in the wake of the storm — costs that landlords can pass off to their tenants.

“Things go from horrible to truly catastrophic,” Morris said.

Wages have not kept pace with the rising cost of housing in New Orleans, according to the report. In 2021, median monthly rent in the city rose to $1,082, while the median yearly income decreased by almost $4,000 since 2019, when adjusted for inflation.

A wide gap exists between the supply and demand for affordable units, particularly for renters with the lowest incomes in the city.

The Area Median Income (AMI), often used by housing advocates and public agencies to determine what affordable housing should cost, is about $56,000 in New Orleans for someone who rents a two bedroom apartment.

But many households make as low as 30% of the AMI, or $16,850, for a two bedroom unit. An affordable rent for these residents falls around $500 a month. But according to the report, demand outpaces supply by more than 16,000 units.

That means those households have to compete with those who can pay more, and risk getting pushed out of the city to areas where rents are lower, Morris said. Overall, 63% of renter households in New Orleans are cost-burdened, meaning they put more than a third of their income toward housing, according to the report.

But the report also highlighted recent successes in housing policy in New Orleans and across the state, particularly around eviction protections.

Earlier this year, the city kicked off a “right to counsel” program, ensuring that any tenant facing eviction can get access to an attorney in court, for free. And at the statehouse, legislators approved a new law that gives renters more protections in the aftermath of federally-declared disasters and introduces new penalties for landlords who lock out tenants illegally.

While those policies are designed to keep people in their homes, other measures that could have created more affordable housing stock were struck down.

Late last year, New Orleans voters rejected a ballot proposition to renew a longstanding property tax millage that sent funds to the city’s Neighborhood Housing Improvement Fund, which had been used to aid first time homebuyers and incentivize new housing developments in the past, according to The Lens.

And after entertaining a proposal that would have allowed homeowners to build Accessory Dwelling Units on their properties — a measure that’s been used in cities across the country to create more housing options and increase density — the City Council declined to move forward with legislation earlier this year.

HousingNOLA estimates that $37 billion is needed to adequately address the city’s affordable housing crisis, in order to eliminate cost burden, create an energy-efficient housing stock that’s more resilient to future climate change-driven disasters, preserve existing affordable housing, and to bring vacant housing back into commerce.

The report ended with a series of demands to city government.

First on the list is disbursing funds to the residents of Gordon Plaza to allow them to relocate off the site of a former toxic landfill. Other demands include passing a Healthy Homes ordinance — a measure that would create a registry and inspection process for rental properties, which the City Council is set to vote on during their October 20 meeting — and to create more incentives for the construction of affordable housing.

Carly Berlin is the New Orleans Reporter for WWNO and WRKF. She focuses on housing, transportation, and city government. Previously, she was the Gulf Coast Correspondent for Southerly, where her work focused on disaster recovery across south Louisiana during two record-breaking hurricane seasons. Much of that reporting centered on the aftermath of Hurricanes Laura and Delta in Lake Charles, and was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.

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