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Mixing It Up: Fair Housing and the Smart Housing Mix Policy

Posted on 26. Feb, 2018 by

New Orleans is a city like no other in terms of its rich history and cultural individuality. Unfortunately, when it comes to ballooning housing costs, New Orleans falls in line with many other cities in America. As rents rise, the workers who make New Orleans what it is—such as musicians and those in the hospitality and tourism industries—are being forced to the periphery, resulting in fewer employment options, longer commutes, wasted resources, and increased traffic and parking congestion.

The Smart Housing Mix policy seeks to expand affordable housing in developing neighborhoods such as the CBD, Treme, and Mid-City by ensuring a percentage of new units are affordable for the average worker while also providing developers with incentives to build those units. For example, density bonuses would allow developers to build more units based on how many of those units are affordable—benefitting both those workers who are seeking housing and the developers who can then increase their rent revenues. Other incentives may include reductions in parking requirements, expedited permitting, and tax abatements. Units would not just be affordable at the time of move-in, but would remain that way for a minimum of fifty subsequent years.

A 2017 study by the New Orleans City Planning Commission suggested improvements to the policy, such as increasing the area of the city where the policy would apply (counting on developers to voluntarily “opt in” has proven to have disappointing results). The report also recommended increasing incentives so that developers are more likely to allocate units for tenants whose income is 60% or below the neighborhood’s area median income (AMI).

Inclusionary housing policies similar to the proposed New Orleans Smart Housing Mix have been successful in cities across the country, from Fairfax County, Virginia to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In Breckenridge, Colorado—a ski resort community whose economy relies heavily on tourism—the high demand for luxury homes made it difficult in the past for low-wage workers to be able to afford rent. In the late 90s, however, a “Workforce Housing” program analogous to the Smart Housing Mix policy was instituted, and today almost a third of Breckinridge’s permanent residents live in these affordable housing units. As a city with a thriving tourism industry, New Orleans would benefit from a similar model.

The 2017 study produced by the City Planning Commission is a step in the right direction for the New Orleans Smart Housing Mix Policy, but in order for Smart Housing to come to fruition, the New Orleans City Council must pass an ordinance turning the idea into a reality.

If you believe affordable housing is important, now is the time to contact your city councilperson and tell them that you support the implementation of a Smart Housing Mix Policy in New Orleans.

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