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New Orleans budget: These are the housing, transportation priorities for 2023

New Orleans City Hall
Carly Berlin
/
WWNO
New Orleans City Hall

New Orleans City Council approved a nearly $1.5 billion city budget for 2023 on Dec. 1, after a month of hearings determining spending priorities for the new year.

“What you’ll see from this budget is what I’ve constantly called the ‘and’ proposition,” said budget committee chair Joe Giarusso. “You will see public safety and youth services. Affordable housing and blight reduction. Ongoing road work and fixing potholes, lights, and erecting signs.”

The budget incorporates both recurring revenues and one-time funds, including unspent money from prior years, and the majority of the city’s remaining federal COVID relief funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. The ARPA funding makes up about $124 million of the budget.

The single largest piece of one-time money – $100 million – will go toward a reserve fund for upfront costs during future emergencies, and to shore up the city’s credit rating. Other recipients include a $32.5 million police recruitment and retention package, $20.9 million for “blight remediation and beautification,” $15 million for a new power substation at the Sewerage and Water Board’s Carrollton plant, and $5 million for new programs to support the city’s unhoused population.

New Orleans Public Radio has largely covered housing and transportation issues across the city over the last year. The budget items below, though not the most expensive projects or programs to come in 2023, are just a few of the plans city officials highlighted as priorities for transportation and housing needs in New Orleans.

EV charging plan

Proposed by Council member Lesli Harris, the budget includes $200,000 to fund a new citywide electric vehicle charging plan.

The city has already begun installing free EV charging stations on city-owned property, and in early 2022, the council passed an ordinance directing the city to begin transitioning its fleet to EVs.

But the development of charging infrastructure has been piecemeal so far, said Alison Poort, Harris’ chief of staff. A new strategic plan – modeled after one Baton Rouge officials rolled out this year – will incorporate community input about charging locations, and help court federal funding down the line, Poort said.

Bike lane removal

The budget earmarks $300,000 to remove bike lanes on two thoroughfares in Algiers, at the request of Council member Freddie King.

The council voted unanimously in September to tear out the protected bike lanes on Newton Street and MacArthur Boulevard, after months of heated debate about parking, traffic and roadway safety.

A memo detailing amendments to the Mayor’s draft budgetsaidCouncil member King requested $1 million for bike lane removal and “a public works fund for the West Bank,” though it's unclear what exactly that fund is, and whether the $300,000 budgeted funds will cover the full cost of the bike lane removal.

The Mayor’s Office did not respond to a question about the current status of the city’s plans to create a 75 mile bike network, in light of the removal of the Algiers lanes.

King’s office directed a request for clarification to the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, Gilbert Montaño, who did not respond.

Beefing up short-term rental staff

As New Orleans gears up to overhaul the rules governing short-term rentals yet again, the city continues to scale up its effort to crack down on illegal listings on platforms like Airbnb.

The 2023 budget includes 11 new positions within the Short-Term Rental Administration. That’s on top of a big increase earlier this year, when the office went from a budgeted staff of seven to 23, according to John Lawson, the press secretary for the Mayor’s Office.

Those 23 existing positions aren’t all filled, but the move to grow the STR administration comes after years of allegations of lax enforcement, and as the city prepares to re-write short-term rental rules for the third time in six years.

Tammie Jackson, the director of the Department of Safety and Permits — which houses the STR Administration — said at a Nov. 10 budget hearing that the city made strides on enforcement in 2022.

As of Nov. 10, the department had revoked 24 STR licenses so far in 2022, up from 10 in all of 2021, according to a presentation from Jackson. They had also assessed $261,410 in fines, up from just $33,700 the year prior.

The Short Term Rental Administration’s 2023 budget is $1,642,502.

Inspecting rentals for health and safety

The city will now have new inspector positions dedicated to investigating health and safety issues in rental housing across the city.

When the city council passed a stripped-down version of the “Healthy Homes” ordinance in early November, they enshrined a set of habitability requirements for all rentals in city code. The standards include having a working smoke detector, adequate temperature controls, and ensuring there are no signs of mold or rodent infestations.

An earlier version of the ordinance would have required regular, proactive inspections of most rental housing. The version the council adopted requires that inspections happen only after problems arise.

When the measure passed, the council also directed the city to work toward creating new, full-time positions dedicated to inspecting “Healthy Homes” violations, indicating that they should be created during the budgeting process for 2023.

The new positions aren’t laid out in the Mayor’s draft budget, released in October, nor are they listed in a budget amendment memo that came out ahead of Thursday’s vote.

But Lawson confirmed in an email that four new inspector positions will be created. Further action by the council will be needed in the new year to set inspection protocols and to approve budget adjustments for the positions, he said, and there is not a specific dollar amount for the jobs set in the 2023 budget.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include more information on the budget items.

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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