For over 20 years, New Orleanians have been contributing to our Neighborhood Housing Improvement Fund (NHIF) to meet our housing needs and to ensure we aren’t pushed out of the city by high prices, storms, and other barriers to housing. If we don’t vote to renew it and the library millage, the funding will lapse and essential programs that assist with hurricane recovery, home repair for seniors and residents with disabilities and funding for first-time home buyers could face devastating cuts.
The worst time to defund our only locally generated affordable housing fund would be now. Even before COVID-19, New Orleanians had to make over $20/hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment. And most of our service-economy jobs don’t pay anything close to that, which is why it’s no surprise that over 5,000 families are put out on the street through court-ordered evictions each year.
Tens of thousands of renters and homeowners have fallen behind on their rents or mortgages since the pandemic started. To make matters worse, homeowners have been stuck struggling with unaccountable insurance companies after Hurricane Ida. And the tremendous demand in the rental market has meant that landlords have been able to increase rents by $500 per month or more. To be blunt, we are in a crisis on top of a crisis, on top of a crisis.
Renewing the NHIF isn’t a silver bullet to solve all of these issues, but we can’t afford to take a step backward. The existing NHIF millage brings in $3 to $4 million per year and can be used for three things: affordable homeownership, affordable rental housing, and eliminating blight. Typically, it has been used for down payment assistance for first time homebuyers; creating new affordable rental homes; demolition of blighted structures; financing home repairs for low-income elderly and disabled homeowners; and assisting our unhoused neighbors.
One of the key benefits of the NHIF is its flexibility. It doesn’t come with the red tape or bureaucracy that is often attached to federal housing funds. That means it can be deployed quickly to address emergencies. Last year, the city took advantage of this to launch one of the nation’s first rental assistance programs right after the pandemic hit — nearly a year before federal rental assistance reached us. After Hurricane Ida, NHIF funds were used to create a program to assist homeowners at risk of losing their homes because of high insurance deductibles. This is why the NHIF has broad support.
Last summer, 79 neighborhood associations, public health groups, education advocates, criminal justice reform organizations, housing developers, and good government groups came together in support of renewing the millage. The City Council voted unanimously to add it to the ballot and the mayor supported the initiative as well. The only opposition came from the Bureau of Government Research. But that shouldn’t be a surprise since they’re partially responsible for the housing crisis we’re in. Their 2009 report, “The House that Uncle Sam Built,” argued that New Orleans had too much affordable housing. Because of that, the report is largely regarded as helping to sabotage our rebuilding efforts and cut off affordable housing funding to the city after Katrina.
The Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center believes that funding should follow the will of the people. New Orleans voters consistently rank housing affordability as one of their top three concerns in poll after poll. Yet we spend very little of our city budget on housing, and most of that comes from the federal government. The NHIF is an incredibly important way to ensure that a portion of our tax dollars is spent on keeping our city affordable and ensuring that the people who make New Orleans great can actually afford to live here. So, on December 11, vote yes for the Neighborhood Housing Improvement Fund.
Maxwell Ciardullo is the Director of Policy and Communications for the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center.