Proposed constitutional amendment could help New Orleans increase affordable housing

Updated: Sep. 18, 2019 at 6:10 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - City leaders say New Orleans has an affordable housing problem and a proposed constitutional amendment on the October 12 ballot could help the city address the problem.

The measure to be voted on by voters across the state would allow the city to create tax incentives for more affordable housing.

John Pourciau, chief of staff for Mayor Latoya Cantrell’s administration, said the effects of not having enough affordable housing are many.

"Constitutional Amendment number four allows the city to provide exemptions and abatements for affordable housing,” said Pourciau. “Affordability is an issue in the city that affects all us, and it affects us from those folks who are first time homeowners, those folks who’ve lived in houses for a while that they own and also for renters.”

Pourciau said passage of the constitutional amendment would not automatically trigger tax exemptions, or property tax freezes.

“So what we’re going to want to do, provided that the amendment passes, is create those policies, hand-in-hand with the council that is specific,” He said. “Some of the things that this could potentially do, for instance, is create incentives for landlords to maintain or lower their rents, it could provide for gap financing to create new affordable housing, it could also provide a means by [which] folks [would] be able to stay in their homes if they are income restricted or to provide for first time home ownership for moderate income individuals.”

The Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance supports the measure, according to its president, Andreanecia Morris.

“This is tax relief, not tax elimination,” Morris said.

She said making sure homeowners can afford their property taxes is important.

"What we need now is meeting the needs of homeowners and landlords, and this is so important because this is leveling the playing field for the majority of the people of New Orleans. We’re a city of mom and pop landlords, we’re a city of singles and doubles,” Morris said, of the types of homes.

Pourciau said the tax exemptions would not benefit short-term rental properties or developers building large scale projects.

"This is definitely not focused at all on the short-term rental piece and also there's a limit within the law that would restrict these incentives to folks of 15 units or less on any particular site,” he said.

But in terms of property taxes and exemptions, it is a balancing act because the city still relies on property tax revenues.

Pourciau said that is part of the discussions being had at City Hall.

"There's actually a chance that by bringing back vacant and blighted houses you increase the property values of property around it, so you're not losing money, if anything you might be increasing the valued property collectively in the city by making sure that areas of property are revitalized and that you have less vacant property in the city,” he said.

And now, City Hall officials and housing advocates hope voters statewide will embrace the idea.

"We’re asking people to trust our government, we’re going to hold them accountable if we pass this, and so we’re asking them to do the same, to join us in that,” said Morris.

Mayor Cantrell has been touring other parts of the state to drum up support for the measure.

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