Housing, New Orleans Style

October 1, 2002

Planning for this issue’s REALTORS® Conference & Expo preview reminded me of why New Orleans is one of my favorite convention cities. Its unique mix of unabashed bawdiness and old-world charm make it a great escape from the daily grind.

But apart from what makes it a great convention destination, the Big Easy faces some not-so-easy issues when it comes to housing its residents. The city’s housing stock is old, and much of the new construction is targeted at upper-income buyers, not at the workers who support New Orleans’ tourism and retail trade. Insofar as housing goes, that makes New Orleans a good microcosm of many U.S. metro areas—and demonstrates why NAR is putting so much emphasis on the need to provide better housing opportunities for Americans at all income levels. (See “The Edwards Report,” page 5.)

At the conference in November, NAR will release a study outlining the housing challenges facing New Orleans. The study, conducted for NAR by Wade R. Ragas, professor of finance with the University of New Orleans Real Estate Market Data Center, shows that slow job growth and modest wages have worsened affordability problems for the area’s low- and moderate-income households.

As in other areas, nonprofit organizations in New Orleans are working to fill the void, often in very enterprising ways. One such group, the Preservation Resource Center (www.prcno.org), is using a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to commission architectural plans and models for homes in three historic New Orleans styles—a Creole cottage, a shotgun house, and a bungalow. PRC’s goal is to create housing that’s affordable—the target cost is $60 per square foot, not including land. The program was inspired by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Affordable Housing Design Advisor (www.designadvisor.org), which encourages and facilitates good design in affordable housing.

The PRC program shows how federal support and local innovation can work hand in hand. And the NAR study is expected to highlight other such efforts. In New Orleans, I look forward to delving into the full study—maybe over a bowl of spicy gumbo. At the end of the day, home and food are two of the subjects dearest to my heart.

Stacey Moncrieff

Stacey is executive editor of publications for the National Association of REALTORS® and editor in chief of REALTOR® Magazine.

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