In Fight Against Gentrification, New Orleans City Council Loosens Density Restrictions

Robert McClendon, NOLA, July 27, 2015

As a real estate boom makes affordable housing increasingly hard to find in New Orleans, the City Council is experimenting with new zoning strategies aimed at giving developers an incentive to include space for low-income residents in their projects.

The council made its most recent move Thursday (July 23) when it approved a rule that allows apartment developers to build on smaller lots in exchange for including some units set aside for low-income residents. The bonus would be available in any district that allows multifamily units, including most of Treme, Faubourg Marigny and Bywater.

Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who has been increasingly vocal about the need to mitigate the displacement associated with gentrification, sponsored the new rule, calling the amendment a good “first step” and saying that other zoning changes are in the works.

“Everyone in New Orleans knows that we are in the midst of an affordability crisis,” Cantrell said.

The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center has been working with Cantrell and the City Planning Commission for more than a year in an effort to work more affordable housing incentives into the zoning code. “Council Member Cantrell’s amendment does a fantastic job of encouraging market-rate housing developers to include some apartments for working families in return for a development bonus,” Cashauna Hill, the Action Center’s director, said in a statement. “If we want long-term residents–the drivers of our cultural and service economy–to be able to live in the neighborhoods that have been home for generations, then we need to solve our affordability crisis, and that will take all the tools at the City’s disposal, including zoning-based initiatives.”

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This is how Cantrell’s zoning rule will work:

The zoning code requires a certain amount of lot space for each unit in an apartment building. Since a developer’s cash flow on a multifamily building is based, in large part, on the number of units in it, a project’s profitability is limited by the size of the lot. Under the new rules, the more affordable housing developers include, the smaller the lot-size requirement. This would allow developers to put more units on smaller lots, lowering overhead and increasing profitability. Developers would be able to build on lots up to 30 percent smaller than they otherwise would, provided enough units are reserved for low-income residents.

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