NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Mayor Mitch Landrieu said great things are happening in the city, but during his annual State of the City address Tuesday, the mayor also acknowledged that much work remains to be done.
"I came here to tell you today that the state of your city is strong, and it's getting stronger every day," the mayor said to applause as he stood on a stage erected on the Refresh Project Building on North Broad which houses Whole Foods, Liberty's Kitchen, and a community wellness center.
In the already palpable morning heat, the mayor said public safety remains his top priority. He spoke of gains in reducing gang-related violence.
"Violent gangs are getting the message: Stop the shooting, or we're coming for you and we're going to get you," said Landrieu.
Current murder rate trends are encouraging, according to the mayor.
"Halfway through 2016, we are again on track to have the lowest number of murders since 1971," he said.
Landrieu said that is the good news.
"That said, for the first quarter of 2016, other types of crime have now ticked back up.Scary armed robbery and carjackings, and response times have still been too slow. This is still unacceptable," said Landrieu.
City council members also are concerned about the number of robberies.
"That's something that we have to continue to work on, you know. We gained some traction in one area, and we have to look at what else needs work," said City Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who chairs the council's Criminal Justice Committee.
And another big priority for Landrieu is housing. During his speech, he announced a five-year strategy for increasing affordable housing in New Orleans, calling the effort Housing For A Resilient New Orleans.
"It's super hard. I'm actually close to homeless at this moment," said Will Cousin, a worker who had an apartment of his own in New Orleans but struggled to keep up with the rent. He said he currently lives with his mother.
"The rent was as low as $570, but because I wasn't get paid that much like every two weeks, bi-weekly, I really couldn't afford it, and that was the cheapest. And all of my jobs have been downtown and inside of the city," said Cousin.
"People are flocking here, but rising demand and job growth means that since 1999, rents have also increased by 50 percent and here's the problem - wages are essentially flat," said the mayor.
Under his new housing plan, 4,000 affordable units would be built or preserved by 2018, and the goal is to have 7,500 by 2021.
The city said accomplishing the five-year goal will require an annual investment of $17.3 million, which is the amount allocated in 2016. The city would need to identify $7 million each year in resources to offset reductions in federal funding.
Additionally, the city through the City Council and City Planning Commission hopes to put new, inclusionary housing policies in place that will require more affordable units at new private, multi-family developments.
"Close to schools, close to parks, not pushing all the poor people out to the outskirts of town. So that's what this housing initiative is going to do, and everybody is going to play a role, right? That's the other part of it, if somebody wants to build a new development, a small percentage of that has to be set aside," said Councilman-at-Large Jason Williams.
Non-profits are part of the equation, and they like the mayor's plan.
"It's going to go a long way to addressing the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens, but also a lot of our regular, everyday folks who are also struggling with these issues," said Andreanecia Morris, executive director of Housing NOLA and president of the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance.
Landrieu said citywide property values are up 54 percent, and the value of some homes has doubled or even tripled.
He also said that due to a $6 billion building boom, the city is seeing major growth in its sales tax revenues. He said New Orleans is one of the fastest-growing major cities in the country.
He also touted infrastructure improvements, including street work, construction of the new terminal at Louis Armstrong Airport, plans to redevelop the World Trade Center and investments in the Port of New Orleans.
"We're rocking it in the air, on the water, and on the ground," Landrieu said.