New Orleans community leaders divided on affordable housing fix

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Two new affordable housing developments are coming online in New Orleans, to address a critical shortage that has long vexed community leaders. It’s a complex problem with no easy answers, according to The Times-Picayune Power Poll, which found key influencers divided on solutions.

What is the best way to solve New Orleans’ affordable housing crisis?

  • Increase the local minimum wage – 26%
  • Let the free market rule – 23%
  • Give developers more tax breaks – 21%
  • Other/unsure – 18%
  • Build more public housing – 13%.

Asali Ecclesiastes, CEO of the Ashe Cultural Arts Center, said it’s an attitude issue, not just an economic one.

“The only way to fix the affordable housing crisis is to have the political will to view and legislate housing as a right,” Ecclesiastes said. “The market will always exploit the poor and make the middle class less and less secure. The rules of the game are set up that way. If the rich, well-connected, politically savvy white folks of San Francisco lost their town to the uber-rich Silicon Valley folks, the rest of us haven’t a chance to resist displacement.”

The Pythian Building on Loyola Avenue in New Orleans was redeveloped in 2017 with help from the New Market Tax Credit program.

As for the nuts and bolts, Tony Gelderman, whose KCT Real Estate Ventures redevelops historic properties, said some tax breaks are not as lucrative as they might seem.

“The cost of compliance with the low-income tax regime meets or exceeds the benefits. …” In the New Market Tax Credit program, for example, he said, “a large chunk of the value of the credits goes to the lawyers and bankers, and therefore the benefits don’t make it into the housing. It’s sadly something of a racket.”

But public money might not even be needed, said Byron LeBlanc, president of LeBlanc & Schuster public relations. He cited PadSplit, which started in Atlanta in 2017 to convert underused residences into shared worker housing.

“Government support with favorable zoning and permitting for this type of creative solution would be a step in the right direction,” LeBlance said.

Conducted online Tuesday through Thursday, The Times-Picayune Power Poll is not a scientific inquiry. But because it asks questions of the top Jefferson and Orleans influencers in business, politics, arts, media, nonprofits and community affairs, it does afford non-partisan insight into the thoughts and opinions of those who steer the region. Of 680 Power Poll members surveyed this week, 112 voted, for a participation rate of 16.5%.

Low unemployment

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Power Poll members also were asked about the job market, in light of Louisiana reaching a record low unemployment rate of 3.8% this summer.

What is your experience in finding and hiring good job candidates this year?

  • So-so – 47%
  • Good – 25%
  • Poor – 15%
  • Almost impossible – 9%
  • Excellent – 4%.

Allison Plyer, chief demographer at The Data Center, said the unemployment number might be misleading.

“Louisiana still has 4.5% fewer jobs than in February 2020 when COVID-19 struck. Low unemployment is due to the fact that fewer Louisianans are able to work – 30,000 fewer,” she said. “We know that many women can’t work because too many child care options shuttered and never reopened.” Long COVID has also sidelined many, Plyer added.

Bywater blight

Lastly, that hulking pile of Bywater blight:

What should New Orleans do with the long-blighted F. Edward Hebert Defense Complex?

  • Jettison Joe Jaeger and find another developer – 41%
  • Raze the buildings and sell the land – 30%
  • Provide more incentives to move the project along – 20%
  • Unsure/other – 5%
  • Be patient with Jaeger – 4%.

The Times-Picayune Power Poll is a partnership between New Orleans’ daily newspaper and powerpoll.com, a nonpartisan survey, news and information company focused on the opinions of influential people. Powerpoll.com is based in Nashville, Tennessee, and surveys in 29 metropolitan markets.