NEW ORLEANS—Today, 79 housing developers, neighborhood associations, public health groups, education advocates, criminal justice reform organizations, good government groups, and others came together to call on the New Orleans City Council to support the extension of the Neighborhood Housing Improvement Fund (NHIF) and to place it on the November ballot alongside the fully-funded library millage.
A motion providing notice of the Council’s intent to place the NHIF on the ballot was recently added to the June 3rd Council agenda and the groups applauded that action and called for unanimous support for that motion and a future resolution required in July to call the election. Without it, the twenty-year-old, dedicated affordable housing millage will lapse at the end of this year and the City will lose $3 million per year that could otherwise be used to assist families still struggling to financially recover from the pandemic. Despite lower rates of COVID-19 infection, tens of thousands of families in Orleans Parish are still behind on their rent or mortgage due to pandemic-related financial hardships.
Last week, the City’s Director of Housing Policy and Community Development told a press conference that the need for rental assistance “far exceeds the amount of [federal] resources available.” In addition to rental assistance, the NHIF fund has also been used to make up gap funding for major new affordable housing developments, to finance home repairs for low-income elderly and disabled homeowners, to offer first-time homebuyer assistance, and to meet the needs of the city’s unhoused population.
New Orleans voters have regularly ranked affordable housing as one of their top priorities for years, even before tens of thousands of households lost income and fell behind on housing payments during the pandemic. Even the Bureau of Government Research, whose 2009 report is often blamed for helping to cut off affordable housing funding to the City after Katrina, had kind words for the NHIF last year. Its report on the 2020 ballot initiatives concluded that there were good reasons for dedicated affordable housing funding, that the NHIF millage was appropriately sized though not nearly enough to meet the need, and that the city had a track record of spending the revenue effectively.
“It would be devastating to let this critical funding lapse—even for one year—in the midst of the most acute housing crisis we’ve faced since Hurricane Katrina,” said Cashauna Hill, Executive Director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center. “We’ve been paying into this fund to keep each other safe and housed for 20 years and we deserve an opportunity to vote on its future,” she continued.
“In CBNO’s Big Easy Budget Game, where residents have the chance to balance the City budget each year, New Orleans residents consistently support not only sustaining, but increasing the budget allocation for affordable housing,” said Nellie Catzen, Executive Director of the Committee for a Better New Orleans (CBNO), another signer of the letter. “It would be hard to make that possible if we lost our $3 million per year trust fund. The renewal of the NHIF would show support for residents’ demands and ensure the City is able to keep families in their homes once federal funds run out. Especially during the COVID crisis, New Orleans cannot afford to lose this critical flexible funding stream.”
“At Operation Restoration, we support women who have been recently released from prison and who are trying to reestablish themselves in the community. Finding affordable housing while trying to make ends meet is an ongoing challenge that has only been compounded by the pandemic,” said Dolfinette Martin of Operation Restoration, another letter signer. “Extending the NHIF millage would address some of the root causes of instability that often put our clients at risk of incarceration and is imperative in such unprecedented times,” she continued.