New Orleans Has Power to Boost Affordable Housing, for Now

GOP-majority state legislature doesn't prevent inclusionary zoning.

A plaque in New Orleans' Bywater neighborhood commemorates the Plessy v. Ferguson case, the first post-Reconstruction legal challenge to segregation. (Photo by Oscar Perry Abello)

On Tuesday in Baton Rouge, a Republican-majority Louisiana state legislature did the wholly unexpected: A committee shut down a measure that would prevent municipalities from creating and using inclusionary zoning as a tool to boost affordable housing production.

As reported by The New Orleans Advocate, had the bill by Republican State Senator Conrad Appel become law, it would have made moot a plan by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to require set-aside units for low-income residents in developments above certain size thresholds within targeted areas of the city. The bill would have also halted any exploration of the concept in other cities around the state.

Appel is the same state senator that also tried and failed to block New Orleans’ local hiring ordinance, which requires builders to give the city a five-day head start on job postings to try and fill them with qualified residents from disadvantaged neighborhoods whom the city has identified and trained through local workforce development partnerships.

Landrieu was pleased with the Tuesday move:

As the Advocate notes, the mayor’s inclusionary zoning proposal is a direct response to the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It requires recipients of HUD funding to “show their work” when it comes to establishing housing policies that actively counter existing racial segregation, and pushes local authorities beyond simply reacting to proven cases of housing discrimination.

Inclusionary zoning is one tool that municipalities and local housing authorities can use to help meet AFFH requirements by moving poor residents into wealthier areas of the city. Under Landrieu’s proposal, the targeted areas where set-asides for low-income housing would be required are already considered “strong” or “moderate” markets. They’re areas where housing costs are going up or are already among the highest in the city, including the French Quarter and the nearby neighborhoods of Marigny and Bywater.

It’s intentionally designed to be a total contrast to the history of zoning being used to keep low-income residents and residents of color away from white, typically wealthier communities. Even today, whiter and wealthier communities resort to NIMBY resistance to keep affordable housing out of their neighborhoods.

Appel’s bill would have been one more notch in the segregation victory belt for red state houses everywhere. Good riddance to that.

Also Tuesday, the Louisiana state legislature voted to extend domestic violence protections to LGBT individuals.

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Oscar is Next City's senior economic justice correspondent. He previously served as Next City’s editor from 2018-2019, and was a Next City Equitable Cities Fellow from 2015-2016. Since 2011, Oscar has covered community development finance, community banking, impact investing, economic development, housing and more for media outlets such as Shelterforce, B Magazine, Impact Alpha and Fast Company.

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Tags: affordable housingnew orleansinclusionary zoning

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