Sunday, April 09, 2017

How many Truths

A week or so ago, when LaToya Cantrell (kinda sorta quietly) announced her candidacy for mayor, she did so by putting up some clumsy language on her website about the "two truths" of New Orleans.
But New Orleans is also a city of two truths. The first truth is that of a rapidly growing city where the average income is rising and new businesses are flourishing. New construction is filling the CBD and many of our public schools, recreation centers and libraries have been beautifully rebuilt. This is a truth LaToya has nurtured and helped advance in Broadmoor and across New Orleans as a City Councilwoman.

But there’s another truth. It’s the one LaToya encountered on her college bus rides from Uptown to Xavier. This truth is about crime and illegal guns, pockets of blight, flooded streets that are covered in potholes. It’s a place where many opportunities are out of reach for too many people who do not earn enough to support their families despite all their hard work.

The mind goes immediately to a series of worn out images. "Two Americas" "A Tale Of Two Cities" It's all very hackish and about what we have come to expect down here in the minor leagues of political rhetoric. At the same time, it's not entirely without meaning.  For example, one of those "Two Truths" is described in a recent United Way report by which we learn over half of New Orleans households are either at the poverty level or barely struggling to get by.
The report notes that more Louisiana homes were struggling to stay afloat in 2014, even as the regional economy appeared to chug along -- the state's population is increasing, there are more jobs and wages are inching upward.

Why is that? The report points to a rising cost of living throughout the state. Low-wage jobs also continue to dominate the Louisiana economy. About 68 percent of all jobs in the state paid less than $20 an hour, and two-thirds of those jobs offered wages below $15 an hour.
So here are your "two truths." The economy "chugs along" but the benefits do not accrue to most of the people doing the chugging. Wages are low. Cost of living is high. Specifically the cost of housing is ridiculously out of step with what most residents can afford to pay. It's not something LaToya mentions in her Tale Of Two Truths. Possibly, in part, because she voted to allow this.
The city of New Orleans has issued the first licenses for people to rent their homes on short-term rental services since the practice became legal on Saturday.

As of Wednesday morning, the city had approved 340 properties. It has issued licenses to about 150 of them; the others are awaiting payment of fees ranging from $50 to $500.

Overall, about 1,300 applications have been filed. That’s nearly twice as many as our count on Friday afternoon.

Last fall, an Airbnb tracking service estimated there were 4,500 Airbnb listings citywide.
We're probably on the high side of 4,500, frankly, but it's going to be hard to get an accurate count.  The numbers the city is compiling now can only count the property owners who actually apply for permits in the first place.  The essential ethic of "disruption" being what it is, there are bound to be a significant chunk who won't bother. One particularly stinging aspect of the current tally we should point out though is this.
Owners of multiple units.

While arguments for legalizing short-term rentals tend to focus on people renting out a portion of their home to tourists to make ends meet or fund needed renovations, opponents pointed to cases where operators with multiple listings as an indication that many were running full-scale businesses

Dozens of people have applied for multiple licenses.
As of this writing the leading applicant, with 23, is an agent for a national vacation rental company called "Stay Alfred." As of last July, Stay Alfred was already estimated to be operating at least 40 STRs in New Orleans.  In December, LaToya and her colleagues could have done something about this but refused to act
Councilman Jared Brossett tried unsuccessfully to change the legislation by requiring short-term rental hosts to hold a homestead tax exemption, which can only legally be held by someone who owns the home. It also would have limited short-term rentals to two per block, which has been favored by historic preservationists. That attempt failed, 5-2, with Brossett and Councilwoman Guidry voting in favor of the ordinance.
The Advocate counts "dozens" of multiple license applicants currently. It has been estimated that 66 percent of all STRs in the city are operated by owners of multiple properties and 76 percent of all STRs are "whole homes or apartments."  That data is two years old and matters likely have not improved since then.

It's possible to tell a story of "Two Truths" in New Orleans. But it's probably better to tell the one truth about a power elite of real estate and tourism interests hoarding more and more wealth at the expense of exploited and defenseless workers, renters, and what's left of lower and middle class homeowners. LaToya doesn't want to talk about it that way, though. Better for her that the Two Truths are mysteriously unrelated. That way we can congratulate our friends and donors at the top while appearing concerned for their victims at the bottom.

It's also important that we don't get too specific about what we're going to do about it. Notice the language on Cantrell's site decries the ills of crime but not poverty, blight but not homelessness, and potholes because... well.. those darned potholes, amiright?  Even the words LaToya uses to evoke the hardships of the poorer classes are carefully minced neoliberal morsels about "opportunity" and "earn" and "hard work."

We've already seen how her policy preferences match this language. LaToya has spoken about the proposed rental registry law in terms its benefits for neighboring homeowners regardless of the effect on renters. She has promoted an "inclusionary zoning" density bonus as a sop to luxury developers under the pretense of adding affordable housing. And she has been quite clear in her promotion of surveillance equipment and expansive police powers because, "my constituents are saying that crime is their number one issue."

All of which leads us to wonder who LaToya believes her "constituents" actually are. And which "Truth" of New Orleans are they living these days? 

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