Progress For New Orleans

Putting the NEW back in New Orleans

Browsing Posts tagged housing

We could have used this whole experience to fundamentally remake the city into one that provides opportunity for its citizens and perhaps create a new prosperous city. We could have used this to create a new New Orleans based upon economic opportunity but instead we are continuing to pursue the same methods that have led to our stagnation and decline.

Economic development sections put low wage tourism first and follows it with the dubious concept of the “cultural economy”. The rest of the chapter seems to be focused almost exclusively on the ‘public private” partnership. It almost ignores our place in the global economy and the benefits that has brought us over the course of our existence.

And all of this is premised upon a dubious new theory that contradicts millennia of observation on the growth and prosperity of cities. The planners brought to the table the idea that a diverse and cosmopolitan population will drive economic development instead of what has actually been the case since the dawn of civilization, that economic development will bring a diverse and cosmopolitan population. We didn’t get built on this swamp because our forefathers came for the culture, they were the culture, they came for the economic opportunity and that’s how real, vibrant cities maintain themselves.  We can’t pretend we can pay people to BE the culture, we have to recognize that we have a culture because people got paid doing other, more productive things.

The one thing this master plan desperately needed to do was to sweep away the 70s CZO that zoned our neighborhood businesses out of existence. The empty storefronts that dot our city are the legacy of a previous plan, more suited to Slidell, that painted on zoning with a paint roller rather than recognizing the diverse land-use mosaic that is our streetscape. This plan pays lip service to opening up these locations to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit of the city but it should be boldly declaring that these storefronts can be a force in our economic renaissance.

But of course they are being cautious, lest they upset the forces of NO, that are holding this city back economically because it may, possibly, make their lives the slightest bit less comfortable or not cater exclusively to their needs. Well, we have a whole passel of city ordinances to deal with any disturbances and better we use them than foreswearing commercial uses and leaving our city filled with vacant buildings.

In a city that is going broke, the Planning Commission gave themselves another 14 or so district planners. Instead of eliminating the need to “kiss rings”, the so-called Citizen Participation Plan adds another layer of rings to kiss as they empower the most obstructionist elements of our city to stand in the way of new development or request kickbacks from projects.

We have already seen this play out as a neighborhood association already requested a cut of the operating funds of the ill-conceived “Re-inventing the crescent”. Not only unhappy with getting a park that will further erode New Orleans’ raison d’etre they wanted to be paid. And this is a public project. How many developers looking to bring jobs and sales tax revenue will be similarly held up?

The plan is overly protective of the housing for 650,000 plus people that we don’t need and hostile towards the commercial property that we desperately need for the jobs and the sales tax revenue they produce. It has removed most commercial zoning west of the industrial canal unless it is adjacent to a housing project.

There seems to be notion in this town that we can complain about section 8 housing and property taxes and in the same breath stop the businesses that bring jobs and sales tax revenue as if these two aren’t linked. That we can call for more police and better schools without understanding how more and better employment opportunities help both these situations.

At a time when we are struggling to maintain and grow our population we should be making it EASIER for people to rebuild and businesses to open. But instead of a growth plan, this thing focuses on a preservation plan.  But here is the bottom line, without a robust economy there are no resources to preserve anything and without a prosperous population there is no reason to preserve anything.

Throughout the process there have been calls for “input” but when it comes to the actual plan it seems to stick pretty closely to the desire of special interest groups with their obstructionist agenda. So much so, that the Fairgrounds Racetrack isn’t mapped to be commercial, like it should be, but is mapped for doubles, like we need

yet more housing without jobs.

Additionally, have we told the people of Lakeview that a new massive interstate interchange is coming to their

neighborhood or the people of New Orleans East that we don’t really care if they can get to work downtown or the people of the Treme that Claiborne is probably going to be 8 lanes of traffic at highway speeds, if we keep the destruction of I-10 in the plan. The only thing that works in the plan is the new hospitals, which it gives rather tepid support to.

My wish? Send it back to the City Planning Commission with the notation to make the entire plan advisory only. Take the destruction of the I-10 out of the plan. Open up the “Citizens Participation” Groups to all comers and not just members of unelected neighborhood associations. Short of going back to the drawing board to build a plan that embraces progress and puts economic development first, without the fantasy that either preservation or culture is economic development, a plan that opens up the city for development and redevelopment rather than giving into the forces of NO and their desire to hold the city back. We needed to start with the idea that everything not explicitly forbidden is allowed,

rather than the other way around. We need to find ways to say YES. It is the only way for New Orleans to survive and thrive.  Thank you.

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Prior to Katrina New Orleans had a housing crisis.

It may not have seemed like a housing crisis but it was. And it all related to our population numbers and our economy.

At the peak of our population we were close to 650,000 people. This was prior to most of New Orleans East being developed. Since those times in the early 1960s we have continually lost population and in the meantime we built probably a third more houses and apartments in the 1970s and 80s.

Add to this a form of housing, the shotgun, that dominates many older neighborhoods, that has proven itself extremely unpopular with a modern American family that wants bedroom doors that close. Finally moving out of a shotgun house was for many lower middle class New Orleans families proof that you could sustain yourself in some fairly comfortable manner.

The rents, pre-Katrina, were fairly cheap and based upon two things:  An owner who didn’t need to pay off a mortgage but didn’t really spend that much on upkeep and tenants who couldn’t afford much working in the low wage, tourism based economy.

The storm, and the subsequent housing shortage in the immediate aftermath, drove up rents, but we also saw wages rise to meet the new financial reality.

Now both wages and rents are falling.

More and more apartment complexes are coming online, many of them financed by disaster recovery funds.  This in turn is driving down rents for the small landlord.

The small landlord, in contrast, has new debt and new and prohibitively expensive insurance. If the rents reach pre-Katrina levels, and in many places they are approaching that, there will be no incentive to maintain these houses.

Meanwhile, the population has not kept pace with the growth in housing and the economy  is failing to produce the jobs for the citizens so that they can afford rent.

The growth in new housing development undercuts the need to save any marginal old houses that dot our city streets with blight.

But, even now we have two city agencies fighting over whether we keep blighted houses or remove them.  The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA) has been continually stymied by the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee (NCDC) in demolishing houses.

So, here’s the question? Just when can we get rid of houses that no one wants to live in, that have been empty for years, when it is likely we won’t have a population to fill all of the houses we have unless we significantly remake our economy into one where people have the resources to take on expensive projects like renovations of blighted property?

It’s clear to me that we are going to have to reimagine a New Orleans that perhaps doesn’t have the street density it once had. Or one that mixes new construction and design in with older buildings. But we can look at a block that in the future has 10 stellar houses with side yards rather than 15  half fixed/half blighted houses.

We have to adjust our thinking. Vibrant cities change constantly. But unless we attract more people on the basis of economic development, there will be little reason and fewer resources to address blight by any other mechanism except demolition.

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