Since its inception in the 1730s, Charity Hospital was ahead of its time. In contrast to the social norms of the time that discriminated against those with lower incomes, the hospital was founded with the purpose to “establish and maintain a hospital for the poor people of New Orleans.”Charity Hospital even upheld these guiding principles throughout the Civil War and remained a neutral party that would provide treatments to both Confederate and Union Soldiers. In 1873, a local newspaper said that at Charity Hospital, “no question of race, nationality, religion, sex or character hinders a single applicant for repose and healing.”
The hospital was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Despite its location in the heart of New Orleans, it remained abandoned. Finally, in October of 2019, the Louisiana State University (LSU) Board of Supervisors, approved plans for the historic building’s redevelopment, which will include “housing (work force, faculty/student, and market-rate), medical training programs, an innovation hub, retail, restaurants, a series of outdoor community and green spaces, and parking.”
For over 260 years, Charity Hospital upheld a legacy of providing medical care for those who had nowhere else to go. Despite this heritage, the LSU Board of Supervisors approved plans for the building that do not include substantial housing options for the working families being pushed out of the city by rising rents. Although the redevelopment plan includes “workforce housing” units, which will be reserved for households who making between 80% and 120% of the area’s median income, this will still result in monthly rent costs between $900 and $1,100. These rents will still be far too expensive to be viable for hospitality workers, for example, who are in desperate need of affordable housing options. A recent report by the Data Center showed that for most of the top 10 occupations in the hotel industry, affordable monthly rent must be $600/month or less. Additionally, it is not clear what percentage of the units will be considered “workforce housing.” In GNOFHAC’s view, although this may be a step in the right direction, it is ultimately not a comprehensive enough plan.
Furthermore, Charity Hospital investors will be renting more than 150 of the units as short-term rentals (STRs) to Sonder. Sonder is an STR company that already has significant operations in New Orleans. The proliferation of STRs in New Orleans has resulted inlong-term residents being evicted or pushed out of historic core neighborhoods due to an extreme increase in rent and property taxes, while wealthy companies such as Sonder profit from acquiring large quantities of rentable properties throughout the city.
New Orleans is facing an affordable housing crisis that requires all stakeholders to pitch in and help solve our city’s problems. That should especially include real estate developers that have benefited from millions in giveaways and incentives since Hurricane Katrina. The redevelopment of Charity Hospital, which once represented care and integrity for the people of New Orleans, falls far short of addressing the needs of working class New Orleanians who make this city the special place that it is.