With a new Mayor and City Council on the way, is anyone out there taking the affordable housing issue seriously?
Save for housing advocates like mayoral candidate James Perry, former executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Center, few other candidates have released a cursory statement acknowledging the report.
The affordable housing crisis has been one of the city’s most pressing problems since evacuees began repairing the city following the failure of the federal levee system, but have any of our political leaders worked substantively to address it? Do most citizens even care?
Consider the public housing debate in 2006 and 2007. Advocates argued against closing and demolishing “the Big Four” developments at a time when demand for housing was soaring. Even as a growing homeless encampment at Duncan Plaza provided a graphic representation of the housing crisis, the palpable public outrage was met largely with scorn from politicians and much of the mainstream media. After Councilwoman Stacy Head and Senator David Vitter killed a compromise proposal sponsored in Congress by Senator Mary Landrieu, the City Council ended up voting unanimously to demolish the CJ Peete, BW Cooper, Lafitte, and St. Bernard housing developments. While replacement mixed-income apartments and townhouses are now in progress, there will be fewer affordable units than before.
In New Orleans, shared opposition to affordable housing can on occasion break traditional race, party and class boundaries to create unlikely -and strong- coalitions. Case in point is a diverse coalition of neighbors from the Marigny, French Quarter, and Treme that emerged last spring to force a reduction in the number of affordable units in a mixed income development proposed by Pres Kabacoff. Simultaneously, in eastern New Orleans, residents of the gated subdivision of Lake Carmel mounted opposition to a proposal consisting of thirty-six affordable single-family units. Developer Harold Foley and most of the homeowners opposing his project are black professionals. Many of them, including Foley, grew up in the modest single-family homes that defined the east in the 1970s and 1980s. In August, Foley’s opponents succeeded in convincing City Council to vote against allowing the project to proceed.
It’s undeniable that affordable housing remains one of the city’s biggest challenges. The question is: is it a problem people want solved? It’s similar to the conundrum of a budget deficit that requires additional taxation. Homeowners don’t want subsidized housing developments nearby for the false fear that their own property values will decline as a result of crime, drugs, and other challenges that they associate with affordable housing residents or the neglectful upkeep that they associate with landlords. With major elections looming, might candidates who speak candidly about the need to build more subsidized apartments and homes be punished by voters for their prescription? Early in the race as it is, no candidate has offered a solution to the affordable housing shortage. In fact, some are touting reports that there is too much affordable housing, even with evidence to the contrary. Perhaps more tellingly, no candidate has offered affordable housing as a problem that would demand a solution.