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N.O. City Council fights to maintain inclusionary zoning

16th April 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Meghan Holmes
Contributing Writer

On April 9, Louisiana state senators voted 26-11 in favor of HB 462, banning municipal and parish governments from establishing inclusionary zoning policies.

An effort to create and maintain affordable housing, inclusionary zoning laws leverage the construction of market rate developments to create affordable housing units, requiring developers to set aside a percentage of units in a new development for below market rate housing.

Days prior to the senate vote, New Orleans city council members Latoya Cantrell and Jason Williams introduced a resolution opposing the measure, arguing that zoning is a local issue as mandated in the state constitution.

“Council member Williams feels we need to be able to make decisions for our own constituents and not be held hostage by state lawmakers,” said Williams’ director of communications, Katie Hunter-Lowery. “New Orleans should be governed by New Orleanians.”
Hunter-Lowery also emphasized the bill’s potentially far-reaching impacts.

“There are repercussions to this bill outside of zoning. Once those powers have been stripped away, we could see other things like stormwater management and parking regulations change. This is about local elected officials having local control.”

Republican senator Danny Martiny introduced the bill, now moving to a vote in the state House of Representatives, which replaces the phrase “inclusionary zoning” with “voluntary economic incentive policies.” Effectively, affordable housing policies would be voluntary, rather than mandated as suggested by the City Planning Commission.

The bill’s proponents (including the Home Builder’s Association of Greater New Orleans) assert that mandatory zoning policies add to already onerous regulations and could encourage developers to move outside the region. Baton Rouge mayor Sharon Broome and the Police Jury Association of Louisiana oppose the measure.

The City Planning Commission and City Council began studying smart housing mix policies as a response to New Orleans’ affordable housing crisis in 2015. More than 70 percent of Orleans parish residents meet HUD’s definition of cost burdened, spending at least one-third of their monthly income on rent.

“The city is facing a housing crisis. That’s clear, and there’s no argument about it,” said Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.

“We absolutely support smart housing, and inclusionary zoning. Setting aside a small number of affordable housing units is a modest requirement to ask of developers after the incentives many have received, and would go a long way towards ensuring the folks that support our hospitality-based economy can continue to live here. For many years developers have benefited from generous tax breaks paid for with public funds,” she said.

In 2017, the City Planning Commission recommended that New Orleans implement a land use program that includes affordable housing, enforced through an amendment to the city’s Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance. Specific recommendations included a set aside rate of 12 percent of units as affordable for 50-99 years in any new development within a defined target area, encompassing the majority of Orleans Parish.

Incoming Mayor Latoya Cantrell as well as several incoming council members, including Helena Moreno, Kristin Gisleson Palmer, Jay H. Banks, Jason Williams and Jared Brossett, expressed support for inclusionary zoning policies during their campaigns – and the City Council plans to revisit the issue when new members begin meeting in May.

“Right now inclusionary zoning is one of the few tools municipalities have to create affordable housing, and at various levels of affordability,” said Hunter-Lowery. “We know we need deeply affordable housing, and also housing for a growing middle class of teachers, city workers and police officers. Smart housing mix policies allow us to explore new ways of creating housing and we should be able to do that without the interference of the state.”

This article originally published in the April 16, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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