Greauxing Resilience at Home: A Regional Vision

 

Goal Three: Greaux resilient, urban affordable housing options.


Introduction

The state of housing affordability in the United States is frequently referred to as being in a “crisis.” In reality, the housing crisis stems from multiple interconnected crises, including decreased construction and the rising value of land, the costs of which are then passed down to homeowners and renters. The fact that income levels have not kept pace with rising housing costs in the last half-century means that, increasingly, housing affordability has become unattainable for many low-and moderate-income (LMI) households.See footnote 1  

In Southeast Louisiana, the cost of housing in urban areas is at an unprecedented high, with many regions experiencing some of the sharpest increases in the cost of housing. In New Orleans, where approximately half of the city’s residents are renters, the cost of rent increased 49 percent between 2000 and 2022; meanwhile, average income levels over the same period dropped eight percent.See footnote 2 Between late 2021 and early 2022, New Orleans experienced the second-fastest increase in rent in the country, second only behind the City of Miami, Florida.See footnote 3 Across the state, 44 percent of low-income residents in 2021 were housing cost-burdened (paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing costs); the number was nearly doubled for extremely-low-income (ELI) households.See footnote 4 Overall, there was a shortage of over 100,000 rental homes affordable and available for ELI renters.See footnote 5  

The aim of this goal is to provide regional and local governments and other housing stakeholders with a survey of options to address what has been referred to as the three “Ps” of affordable housing: preservation, production, and protection — specifically within an urban context (see Background below).See footnote 6 Together, the three “Ps” refer to a holistic approach to making housing available and affordable, placing emphasis on not only building new affordable housing, but also on maintaining current housing stock and keeping the cost of rent or homeownership affordable. Importantly, the final prong of “protection” highlights the importance of creating and maintaining community stability and addressing the factors that may lead to displacements, such as rising housing costs and/or physical risks, such as flooding and other hazards.  

Indeed, the affordable housing crisis has also been shaped and intensified by converging crises in public health and the environment. Nationally, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought about both economic devastation — felt most acutely by LMI households — as well as an “eviction tsunami.”See footnote 7 In Louisiana, residents are also grappling with extreme weather events that are intensifying as a result of climate change. These events are oftentimes catalysts for the migration and displacement of individuals. For example, during the 20002010 Census period, which coincided with hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Southeast Louisiana experienced significant population shifts. As illustrated in the map below, many coastal areas saw a sizable decrease in population, while inland communities — including in Region Seven — expanded by as much as 25 percent over the same ten-year period.

Image: https://lasafe.la.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Regional_Population-Shift_Clean.jpg

Description: This map illustrates population changes along the Louisiana coast between 2000 and 2010. The red bubbles indicate the location and percentage of population losses that occurred over that ten-year period and green bubbles show population gains.

Credit: Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) Regional Population Shift, LA SAFE (2018), https://lasafe.la.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Regional_Population-Shift_Clean.jpg.

In essence, homeowners and landlords are confronting a perfect storm that has led to significant increases in the cost of housing: increasing flood risk as a result of changing development and environmental patterns; higher prices for flood and property insurance; renovation costs from recent hurricanes; and pandemic rental protections that are drying up even as landlords are still recouping lost rent from COVID-19. In the case of landlords, these costs are more often than not passed down to renters. In 2021, the lack of affordable and/or available housing was described by Governor John Bel Edwards as the “single greatest concern” in the state, citing over $3 billion in unmet housing needs in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida and other storms.See footnote 8  

The social, economic, and political consequences of unaffordable or unavailable housing are far-reaching and multi-generational. Access to housing (or one’s neighborhood and built environment) is one of the five social determinants of health, alongside education, economic stability, healthcare, and social and community context.See footnote 9 Housing is not merely inextricably linked with the other determinants that shape health outcomes for every individual; it is also foundational. The lack of safe, quality, affordable housing can lead to poor physical and mental health, which can, in turn, destabilize one’s economic and social welfare. The neighborhoods where people live can also define their access to essential resources like education, jobs, food, and healthcare. In short, housing is a fundamental human right.See footnote 10 

The options offered in this goal should be tailored to the unique characteristics of each community in Region Seven. Maintaining or constructing housing that is affordable for families are complex and challenging processes that require significant investments in time, money, political will, and community support. Importantly, affordable housing development requires a breadth of stakeholders with different expertise, roles, strategies, and priorities — including local government, developers and owners, nonprofits, and other private or for-profit stakeholders. 

The diversity of stakeholders affected by affordable housing also reflects the complexity of implementing solutions to producing, preserving, and protecting affordable housing. Solutions on paper do not always translate into practice, and the viability of proposed responses from one jurisdiction to the next — and even within communities — may differ. For example, the practice of upzoning to create greater density (thereby improving affordability) may be embraced in some neighborhoods, while, in other communities, residents may object due to concerns about potentially changing the neighborhood character or gentrification.See footnote 11  As relayed in informational interviews conducted to guide the Regional Vision, the concept of affordable housing is also associated with problematic social stigmas in communities across Region Seven. Although these stigmas are not unique to the region, negative perceptions of affordable housing can complicate necessary community dialogues and the development of legal, planning, and policy solutions. Approaches to addressing affordable housing challenges are seldom linear, and require customized, multi-dimensional approaches that leverage resources and expertise from all housing stakeholders — including, critically, members of the impacted community (see Goal Five).


Background: Affordable Housing in an Urban Context

There is no federal legal framework for the right to affordable housing.See footnote 12 Since the 1980s, following a decrease in federal housing resources, state and local jurisdictions have assumed the primary role for planning and administering local housing programs.See footnote 13 With the decline in federal investments in housing development programs, state and local jurisdictions have been tasked with responding to a complex system of factors that have contributed to increased housing costs, including the higher costs of building materials, labor, and land — all in the face of growing demand. 

The discussion in this part focuses specifically on affordable housing challenges and opportunities in urban areas. The distinction between urban and rural is fluid and may vary across jurisdictions and even over time, as shifting populations can change many of the defining characteristics of a locality, including its tax base, government and administrative capacity, population density and size, and geographic boundaries. 

Description: An aerial view of downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Credit: Josh Lintz, FormulaNone (via Wikimedia Commons), https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BatonRougeAerial-Dec2012.jpg.

For the purposes of the Regional Vision, “urban” refers to geographic areas “characterized by medium-density development with both residential and commercial uses”; are located in proximity to critical infrastructure as well as community services and amenities; have a larger population relative to rural areas, usually exceeding 50,000 residents; and, due to higher tax revenues, have access to more financial resources per capita.See footnote 14 While there is no standard definition to describe urban areas, the most common definitions come from the federal agencies.See footnote 15 These definitions provide a data-driven foundation to support many federal, state, and local policy decisions, including the distribution of federal funding and resources. However, these high-level definitions can be limiting because they rely on a narrow set of factors to identify urban areas that may not fully encompass the character of and challenges facing urban communities. As such, the definition applied in the Regional Vision attempts to be more comprehensive and inclusive of the non-exhaustive list of factors that characterize urban communities. 

Admittedly, as discussed under Goal Four, affordable housing is not merely a frontline concern in urban areas. However, to the extent that legal, regulatory, and social frameworks differ between urban and rural areas, so, too, are the opportunities and resources that may be deployed to address affordable housing in urban areas.

The parts that follow introduce the five objectives identified through the process to develop the Regional Vision. The actions below elevate many of the priorities identified through the course of developing the Regional Vision. Each goal and objective have been informed by informational interviews with housing practitioners and stakeholders; in many cases, they are also supported by case studies that help illustrate how these priorities have been addressed in similarly situated jurisdictions. As with other parts of the Regional Vision, the discussion below is intended to help serve as a starting point for regional and local governments that are engaged in the complex process of growing and producing affordable housing.

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