Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Gentrification is a policy choice

A couple of weeks ago we explained that the city's new "inclusionary zoning"(sort of) approach to the affordable housing problem is at best ineffectual and at worst an insulting token meant to enable more luxury development.

CityLab is nonetheless credulous enough to give us credit for trying.
A new ordinance passed by the city hopes to bridge this gap. Under an amendment to the city’s comprehensive zoning ordinance signed into law on September 9, developers can now take advantage of density bonuses awarded to those who include below-market units when building multifamily dwellings (apartment/condo buildings).
Again, the ordinance the city passed is either laughably ineffectual or, more likely, plain disingenuous depending out how fraudulent one believes one's representatives to be.  I lean toward very fraudulent but your impression may vary somewhat. I tend not to give any of them credit for being too stupid to understand what they're doing.  For example, Latoya, here, demonstrates that she understands the problem pretty well.
Cantrell also took time during that meeting to explain how the city reached the “affordability crisis.” Referencing a CityLab article on the matter, Cantrell pointed to the moratorium that the Louisiana state bond commission imposed on subsidized multifamily dwellings in 2009. The moratorium lasted roughly four years and triggered a Fair Housing Act complaint.  Said Cantrell at the September 3 meeting:
The issues of affordability were greatly exacerbated by local organizations and state officials [who] … raised the alarm about their projections showing that there would be too much subsidized housing in New Orleans as a percentage of the rest of the market. Based in part on that report, the state bond commission stopped the issuance of bonds for the creation of affordable housing, effectively killing actual projects and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies that would have been used in supporting the lower and middle ends of the housing market to be used on other things. And now we’re in a housing crisis. ... It’s very important that we understand how we got here, and that there were some decisions that were made just a year or two after the storm that has led us to this.
Latoya understands that gentrification is not a mystical accident of the universe and is instead a predictable result of deliberate policy choices.  But the measures Latoya is backing, supposedly, to reverse this effect are inadequate to counterproductive.

Inclusionary zoning is bunk.  It's the token that allows our politics to excuse the crowding out of most middle and lower class housing by luxury development. Ultimately more poor people are displaced than are housed as a result.   And, of course, there is this.
One of the things she believes should be reconsidered are the city’s restrictions on how high developers can build these multifamily structures. The historical character of most neighborhoods across the city include mostly single-family homes, semi-detached houses, and shotgun homes—and many want to keep it that way. This could, however, be counterproductive to efforts to make the city more resilient to storm flooding, said Cantrell.
How do you spot a lie in New Orleans? Just look for the word "resilient."  Here again we see the "height restriction" question come into play.  No one is clamoring to build higher in order to build affordable.  They want to build high so that they can build waterfront luxury units on "hot real estate."
What was really fascinating, in respect to  the city budget meeting, was the Mayor's response to the batture zoning issue.

Landrieu informed the Algiers residents that New Orleans is the hottest real estate market in the country and that waterfront property in every city is considered prime real estate.  As for height restrictions he says you can either have long, skinny buildings along the river where "no one can see anything" or you can have tall buildings (I suppose suggesting that these tall, skinny buildings are somehow less of a hindrance to viewing the river).

He then went on to break the bad news to the Pointers (Algiers) about "what's not going to happen".  The residents of the Point were not going to be able to say "I gots mine and nobody else can have theirs"...essentially confirming their worst fears about what probably "is going to happen" regarding development plans for the batture.

Interesting he would frame it that way.  Right now the batture is green space that everyone can share. The Mayor's logic seems to be that the residents of Algiers Point are being selfish for wanting to keep sharing it that way.
From the point of view of the power brokers, our "affordable housing crisis" isn't really a problem. That's just about poor people being forced out of their neighborhoods which, according to all of our previous policy choices, is what the city wants anyway.   On the other hand, developers really do have a problem getting over zoning restrictions. And, to a lesser extent, they have a political problem rationalizing all the poor people being forced out of their neighborhoods.  Getting around the zoning restrictions in the name of an "affordable housing" policy that doesn't actually work anyway.. well that kills two birds with one stone, doesn't it.  Neat.

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