After years of waffling on the issue, New Orleans City Council agreed unanimously Thursday to consider inclusionary zoning, the New Orleans Advocate reports. The vote comes less than a week after Council also gave preliminary approval to legalize Airbnb and other short-term rentals in most areas of the city, a policy many say will drive up rents and take affordable units off the market.
Because of Thursday’s vote, the city’s planning commission will be directed to study whether developers should be required or merely incentivized to include affordable units in new or substantially renovated projects. “We owe it to our people to consider all viable options that increase our affordable housing stock,” said Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who voted in favor of both inclusionary zoning and legalizing short-term rentals.
Officials say regulating Airbnbs will reduce the total number of short-term rentals in the city by requiring licenses and setting limits around where they can be located and how many guests they can accommodate. Under the plan, condos and apartments in commercially zoned areas can be rented year-round with few restrictions. Owners who can prove they live on-site will be able to rent rooms and half-doubles. Rentals would be banned in most of the French Quarter.
Between 4,500 and 5,000 Airbnbs are operating in the city currently, despite being illegal, because the city has no enforcement mechanism. Since Homeaway and Airbnb have pledged to share information with the city under the new plan — as well as collect taxes on the rentals and contribute to an affordable housing fund — officials also argue the plan will allow the city to ensure renters play by the rules. Possible enforcement mechanisms include allowing regulators to shut off power to repeat violators. Enforcement would be funded through the taxes the sites would collect for the city.
Still, many affordable housing advocates say the new rules — which were drafted with help from Airbnb and Homeaway — are insufficient. Councilman Jared Brosset, who cast the only vote against the plan, said that homes rented to tourists for up to a quarter of the year will be removed from the city’s housing stock and effectively unavailable to working-class residents. “There is a clear mismatch between the need for affordable housing and the current supply,” he said. “I am a strong supporter of affordable housing, and I can’t turn my back on that for short-term rentals.”
The director of housing advocacy organization HousingNOLA, Andreanecia Morris, also noted inconsistencies with the Council’s recent decisions. “We know that there is a mismatch here in New Orleans, (where) we have available units … vacant properties, that we have vacant land, but we still have an affordable housing crisis,” Morris told the Advocate.
While it isn’t yet clear how inclusionary zoning will play out in the city, Mayor Mitch Landrieu has already announced his intention to make including affordable units mandatory as part of his five-year affordable housing plan. He says mandatory inclusion would both increase housing opportunity for low-income residents and decrease housing segregation and discrimination.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.