The Times-Picayune: New Orleans Still Lacks Affordable Housing for its Poorest People, Report Says

Published: Wednesday, November 24, 2010, 7:00 PM Updated: Thursday, November 25, 2010, 4:47 AM

Katy Reckdahl, The Times-Picayune

Like other parts of Louisiana, New Orleans still lacks housing that is affordable to its poorest people, the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency found in a statewide assessment of housing needs released this week.

Policymakers now have more data showing where housing is needed, said Alison Jones, LHFA board chairwoman, who expressed hope that the data would “facilitate agreement … to help move forward critically needed housing projects.”

Time is running out on legislators’ last-ditch efforts to extend or allow the exchange of Gulf Opportunity Zone tax credits, which expire at the end of this year.

And earlier this month, the State Bond Commission refused to add to its agenda a proposed $24 million artists-loft renovation of the Blue Plate building near Earhart Boulevard and South Jefferson Davis Parkway, where developer Pres Kabacoff has set aside 50 of the planned 72 apartments as affordable.

Commissioners fear that the New Orleans rental market has been overbuilt, so they refused to increase the number of apartments being built in the city until a long-awaited market study commissioned by the bond agency is completed early next year.

The Bond Commission began slowing or stalling approval of New Orleans bond-financed proposals about a year ago, after the Bureau of Governmental Research issued a report finding that since the storm, a larger share of New Orleans families receive federal housing subsidies. The report also suggested that the city may be in danger of having too much affordable housing.

But BGR President Janet Howard said that BGR was not trying to curtail affordable-housing construction with its study, which didn’t address demand. “It was just about one element: supply,” she said.

Statewide, the proportion of households struggling with housing costs has increased, although the problems are worse in areas affected by the 2005 storms and levee breaks, the LHFA report found.

In most cities, it’s common for low-income renters to struggle with rent. In New Orleans too, the need for more affordable housing is most pronounced among the lowest-income renters, who earn up to 30 percent of the area’s median income, or $18,350 for a family of four.

But in New Orleans, where both rents and cost of living skyrocketed after Hurricane Katrina, the rent struggles extend upward to more moderate-income renters, who earn up to 80 percent of the area’s median income or $48,950 for a family of four, the report found.

The problem is that available apartments aren’t affordable to those who need them.

But there are available apartments: too many of them. Four recent housing surveys cited by the LHFA indicate that apartment vacancies range between 10 percent and 15 percent for New Orleans: “significantly higher than what is considered a ‘healthy’ rental market.”

And because of the soft market, overall housing costs in the city have fallen slightly in recent years, the study found. But the LHFA report predicted that the decline in costs won’t be “substantial,” particularly for rental units, because landlords rely upon rental payments to cover fixed costs that have risen since the storms of 2005, for mortgages, renovations and insurance.

“While prices have fallen, they will never be as affordable as pre-storm levels,” the report concluded.

Katy Reckdahl can be reached at kreckdahl@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3396 504.826.3396 .

© 2010 NOLA.com. All rights reserved.

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