Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Boutique strategy

In Saturday's Times-Pica-dot-com-media-thingy Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin wrote a scare piece that, when pared down to its bare minimum, reads: Because Detroit filed for bankruptcy last week, New Orleans has to make "tough decisions" with regard to its pension obligation toward firefighters as well as hours and medical coverage for city employees. 
By working closely with City Council, we closed a $100 million budget gap and cut millions in contracts, travel, take home cars, credit card use and overtime. We froze hiring, moved retirees from city-funded health insurance to Medicare, and furloughed every city employee for one day every other week.
Andy Kopplin makes $175,000 per year.

Meanwhile, Kopplin says, Mayor Landrieu is doing a terrific job! There is a "building boom" afoot. The Mayor personally "added 4,000 jobs" (no explanation of which specific jobs or how the Mayor "added" them).  The city is in the midst of a real estate boom.
Realtors say that the Uptown and Garden District neighborhoods attract out-of-towners relocating to the area through the burgeoning film, biomedical, digital media and software and creative industries. Tops on the list of their house demands: a place that looks and feels like old New Orleans, a historic home, a walkable neighborhood and access to retail districts like Magazine or Maple streets.

Casey said almost every good home listing in the area has multiple offers. Five buyers for a property is not uncommon. Even the most expensive houses on the market, for people relocating to New Orleans or buying a second home here, still look like a good deal to people from other areas of the U.S.

"Our big mansions are like lunch money," Casey said. "It looks so affordable to people from the West Coast or the Northeast."
This process is readily evident along  the Garden District-Central City  "cusp" where houses are being sold and renovated at an accelerated rate.  And, as far as I've been able to observe at least, the newly renovated properties are scarcely occupied.  There's one I know of that belongs to a young couple. But four others nearby are silent much of the year except for brief periods when they are in use either by part-time resident owners or short-term renters.

I'm sure there are some benefits to the rapid growth in real estate investment for the city.  Somebody has to pay those huge water bills, after all. Not to mention the police and prison consent decrees. Oh and there's the matter of shoring up local funding for flood protection maintenance.  Kopplin's Detroit comparison may be inappropriate, but this doesn't mean we don't have to worry about money in New Orleans. The city may be on the verge of a major revenue coup if it manages to wrest control of the Wisner property just as another Oil and Gas boom rolls in. But clearly another major revenue strategy involves cultivating a wealthier tax base.

Developer Pres Kabacoff articulates this in the recent film, "Getting Back To Abnormal." The film is about the 2010 municipal elections but a major side story involves the demolition of the "Big Four" housing projects on the east bank of Orleans Parish. Often public housing redevelopment is sold as an improvement.  We're told that "mixed-income" combined-use developments "de-concentrate" poverty and ultimately provide better services for the people the projects are designed to help in the first place.  In the film, Kabacoff dispenses with those talking points and says directly that poor people in New Orleans are, "a drag on the city's economy." The redevelopment plan isn't about improving their condition as much as it is about moving them out of the way.

Kabacoff shows up again in Katy Reckdahl's Advocate story this past Sunday about the coming redevelopment of the Iberville housing complex.
The plan is likely to spark a municipal renaissance, said developer Pres Kabacoff, a partner in the endeavor. Kabacoff believes the Iberville reconstruction is as important as the construction of the Superdome, the filling of the lakefront in the 1940s or the work done by his father, Lester Kabacoff, to revitalize the riverfront before the 1984 World’s Fair.

“Every 30 or 40 years, we do something dramatic in the city,” Kabacoff said. “And this is one of those projects.”
Eliminating this particular "drag" will spark a municipal renaissance! We mean another one. In addition to the one Kopplin assures us is already well underway. Soon a whole new swath of property can be open to vacation home grade investment.  Now that we have a better class of people moving in there, we can finally move that unsightly stretch of elevated highway out of their way too.

As for the people who we forced it on in the first place...

Mary McDaniel, 52, is in limbo while her Section 8 paperwork migrates through the HANO Section 8 department.

“We got our boxes packed. We’re just waiting for them,” she said, fretting that all of the good apartments downtown will soon be snatched up, leaving her and her neighbor Cynthia Jordan, also 52, “way far away, in eastern New Orleans or Chalmette somewhere.”

All residents receive Section 8 vouchers to help them pay rent on the private market. HANO has also hired movers and relocation advisers and is paying deposits for apartments.

But for many, the shift to vouchers will be difficult, predicts longtime Citywide Tenants leader Cynthia Wiggins, who heads Guste Homes in Central City and has been critical of Section 8 as a solution for the poorest public-housing families.

Inexperienced renters are more apt to rent from unreliable landlords who fail to keep up their properties, Wiggins said. Many residents will also find their bills — rent, plus light, gas and water — astronomical when compared with Iberville rents, which maxed out at $374 but could go as low as $50, depending on income.

Lifelong Iberville resident Morris Smith, 40, a kitchen manager in a prominent New Orleans restaurant, ended up in eastern New Orleans with his wife and daughter, who also work in hospitality-industry jobs a short walk from where they used to live. Unlike many Iberville residents, his family has a car, which they’re now juggling at all hours.

With nowhere to walk to, his wife feels sad and isolated. “She’s not feeling this distance thing,” Smith said.
In the Iberville, Smith was paying $373 in rent; he now pays nearly $850 in rent and utilities, putting the squeeze on other bills, he said.

Such struggles are seen across the nation, said Massachusetts Institute of Technology urbanist Lawrence Vale, whose most recent book, “Purging the Poorest,” examines national cutbacks in public housing. Because of that, Vale said, “I take little joy in the prospect of demolished public housing unless it’s accompanied by a clear commitment to finding better alternatives for displaced residents.”

And there's your urban renaissance in a nutshell.  Sure we'll build a "liveable" "walkable" community with lots of attractive entertainment amenities right around you.  But when we're done with that, we're gonna need you to move somewhere else.  Sure you can still come to work down here... oh but we're taking the nice road down too so get ready to sit in traffic.

In a city so invested in this sort of strategy, is it any wonder its line employees are receiving lectures from its well-paid executives about the "sacrifices" they'll be making?

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