Report: City Defers to White-Led Neighborhood Groups on Affordable Housing

Marigny Vernacular” by BLUE • ?n?q licensed under CC BY 2.0

While neighborhood associations are a common element across New Orleans, a recent report by the Louisiana Fair Housing Association found that the City of New Orleans often defers most to those with majority-white boards when it comes to land-use decisions. The report, Delayed Until Downsized or Denied: Neighborhood Associations Lead the Charge Against Affordable Housing and Perpetuation Segregation in New Orleans, explores how elected City officials grant largely unrepresentative, mostly-white neighborhood associations “voice of the neighborhood” status – in spite of those groups being regularly exclusive of the majority of a neighborhood’s residents.

According to the report, of the 171 true neighborhood associations across New Orleans (excluding business associations and security districts), 25 percent of them had no website or social media where they discussed when and where meetings would occur or how to join. Another 40 percent have had no recorded activity of any kind since 2015. However, those that were the most politically active – most notably the Lower Garden District Association, Neighbors First for Bywater, and the Mid-City Neighborhood Association were typically between 65 percent and 78 percent white.

“The data shows that relying on neighborhood associations as the ‘voice of the neighborhood’ means largely relying on associations dominated by white board members in a city that is mostly Black,” the report points out. “In disputes over affordable housing, this means that groups with boards controlled by white individuals are weighing in far more often on homes that will serve lower-income Black residents.”

The report found that “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) opponents of affordable housing completely killed 422 affordable housing units for working-class New Orleanians and delayed another 184. This NIMBYism has resulted in a reinforcement of segregation across New Orleans and led to the gentrification of many traditionally Black neighborhoods after Hurricane Katrina – including Bywater, Irish Channel, and Black Pearl.

“This deference to small but well-organized groups of mostly-white homeowners has denied hundreds of New Orleanians affordable homes, but it doesn’t have to be our destiny,” said Cashauna Hill, Executive Director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Center. “Candidates for elected office, as well as current policymakers must show the public hat they’re ready to defend affordable housing and repudiate race-based opposition, and instead seek out the voices representing the majority of this city.”

In addition, the report lays out several policy recommendations for both the City Council and the Mayor:

  • Defend affordable housing against NIMBY opposition;
  • Require neighborhood associations that wish to register with the City’s Office of Neighborhood Engagement and receive Neighborhood Participation Program notices to annually report their racial, gender, and homeowner vs renter demographics of their boards;
  • Develop, support and staff an Affordable Housing Advisory Committee of residents who live in subsidized housing or who are on a waitlist and can participate in public engagement and land use processes related to affordable housing developments;
  • Build an equitable community engagement infrastructure that is outlined by ordinance, supported by City funding, and specifically designed for equity;
  • Further incentivize affordable housing in the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance by fixing the Smart Housing Mix ordinance, providing deeper bonuses for developments that provide more affordability than required, and allowing increased density for smaller developments that provide affordability;
  • Commit to pairing publicly-owned land in high-opportunity neighborhoods with deeper subsidies to develop as many affordable units as the zoning will allow.

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