Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Who can say what is real anymore?

Congratulations to Sidney Torres on the great honor of being voted "Best Potential Candidate For New Orleans Mayor" by Gambit readers. As a person who also won a Gambit poll one time, I know well the weighty significance of such an honor.  For his part, Sidney certainly seems to know how serious it is.  This week he took out a full page ad to say, Thank You.

Thanks from Sidney

So what does Sidney mean to tell us here?  Before answering it's important to note that respondents to the very same poll named Garbage Collector as the "Best next job for Mitch Landrieu."  Clearly folks are having fun with these men. That's just the joy of doing the Best Of poll, I guess.  So is Sidney playing along with the joke? Or is he seriously considering running? Anything is possible in the Trump age so we have to ask.

Actually, Gambit already asked earlier this summer in this cover story.
"I'm serious about keeping the door open," he says. "I'm not going to rule that out right now. My hope is that someone steps up that can do the job, from the approach of hands-on, in the field. This city, currently, right now, has to be run from in the field, not behind the desk. I know [Mitch Landrieu] is out there. I’m not criticizing his efforts. ... I believe a hands-on approach from someone who understands business, someone who balanced a checkbook, someone who knows how to make payroll when you don’t have a lot of money coming in, someone who knows how to manage different departments and understand different departments — you got to have someone who can look at something quickly and diagnose it from experience, not from trying to hire a consultant or an engineer to figure it out.
So he's serious about waiting to see if we can find some good people, the best people, people who "understand business" to come in and do the job. If not he'll consider being himself the one to fix it.  That sounds reassuring. 

Meanwhile, Sidney continues to understand his real estate business.  In the latest development he's roped LaToya Cantrell into supporting a scheme to keep the poors away from his apartments.
In this case, Edwards Communities has agreed to make a donation toward an affordable housing fund instead of building the 14 units required under the zoning code. Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who was behind the push to create the development bonuses, is floating the alternative.

Andreanecia Morris, executive director of HousingNOLA, said the deal being considered for Edwards Communities raises the problem of precedent: If the first developer to use the bonuses finds a way around building affordable rental housing, will other developers try the same thing?

"This definitely could feel like a guide point for developers," Morris said. "The way these density bonuses work is that the existing project has the affordable units. So if it's a rental property, then they create rental units. If this was a condo property, then the density bonus would require they do affordable condos on site."

Under Cantrell's proposal, Edwards Communities would provide $644,000 to a fund that would be used to provide up to $46,000 in down payment assistance for low-income families to buy homes in Mid-City if they make at least 80 percent of the area's median income. The problem with that proposal, Morris said, is that most families in that income range often can't afford mortgage payments on a loan of more than $125,000, in addition to paying for utilities. Pricing for houses in Mid-City are usually out of reach for these people, she said.

In recent HousingNOLA surveys of Mid-City, there were few homes listed for less than $250,000. Based on home sales through midyear 2016, the average selling price in Mid-City's major ZIP code was $347,200.
Look, we've talked already about the insufficiency of inclusionary zoning measures like the five percent set-aside Sidney's developer is trying to work-around now.  But this new proposal is actually even worse. It allows developers to buy their way out of the set aside obligation by contributing to a fund that will never be of any actual use to low income renters at all.  It's like trying to solve the climate crisis by selling carbon credits. And then throwing the money raised directly onto a coal fire.

Much like Sidney's campaign for mayor, it's an appalling idea one might be tempted to ask whether or not it is a joke.  But you have to admit it's a great scam if Sidney and LaToya can pull it off. And they seem serious.

Update: GNOHA has issued a statement opposing the Cantrell-Torres scheme
The Alliance also questions whether the $644,000 in down payment assistance Edwards Communities would create 14 homebuyers who would ostensibly replace the 14 low-income renters that would lease apartments in the project on Lafitte Greenway. The Alliance argues that a $46,000 subsidy -- the amount a homebuyer would be eligible in receiving from the fund -- isn't enough to offset costs for potential buyers because of the $192,000 average home home price in New Orleans.

"Low-income buyers in New Orleans need at least $150,000 in subsidy to buy existing houses for sale in Mid-City," the Alliance wrote, citing a market study.

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