Affordable Dreams

01:00 January 01, 1970
By: Debbie Lindsey

I love loving New Orleans. Belonging to a place unlike any other makes me feel unique. And even when that uniqueness is shared by so many and might make for a situation of conformity-- it doesn’t-- somehow belonging to the Who Dat Nation isn’t quite like “keeping up with the Joneses”. You can always tell when someone doesn’t quite get us. Like the time I asked an out-of-towner what he thought of our city and he answered in a slow and measured voice that strained for politeness, “It’s different.”  To which I replied, “Yes indeed; we’re weirder than dirt and proud of it!”

Delightfully different, however, this is not the Big Easy. There is nothing easy about her. The dysfunctions abound. The fool who governs Louisiana needs a swift kick and a moral compass that doesn’t just point to an unattainable seat in the White House. (Talk about delusions of grandeur.) All too often our City’s keepers are no more than a headline embarrassment. Programs with real potential seem to get relegated to the highest bidder and not to the highest standard. Crime—street level and governmental-- is an entire column for another time. Threats of volatile weather are the standard. And our heat burns the sweat off you as quickly as it produces it. Then, god almighty, on top of all this and more, we have mosquitoes big enough to take down an elephant—that’s if we haven’t eaten Dumbo first.

So, life’s not always a walk in the park but she’s our park, our home, our town. I simply cannot imagine living elsewhere. However, New Orleans is on the verge of becoming “elsewhere”. Oh, it won’t happen overnight, but give it a handful of years and I suspect most of us will no longer be able to afford ever soaring rents and home prices. And we will be a loss for our City. Just look at the Quarter and the dramatic changes there in terms of resident profile and cost of rents. The working class has been relocated by economics. Waiters, bartenders, musicians, artists, writers and a host of characters have made the Quarter their home for decades. And in doing so have kept it real and not some Disney facsimile of uniqueness. These are the people who shop, do laundry, vote, lend their voices and concerns to community needs. They have been the personality, verve, funk, and guardians of this neighborhood. They are the ones who truly keep the tourists and their money wanting to return year after year.

But just in the past twenty years I have seen the types of amenities that sustain a neighborhood vanish. The few remaining service-our-needs businesses are hanging on by a thread and more often now one must drive to the suburbs to shop or tend to medical care or home repair. Corporations are steadily replacing family-owned businesses and dwellings. As more condos and extreme rents move in more locals move out. I have many friends who “live” here occasionally and they do care about our City and the Quarter but they are not eligible to vote and their feed to our tax base is limited.

This is not solely a French Quarter issue. At large, this City’s working class is being shoved out. And much of our working class is working poor. As too many of us know, you can work six, seven days a week, and still barely make ends meet. New Orleans has never been known for an abundance of high paying jobs but it has always been home to affordable rents and lifestyle. Well, that’s beginning to change. I’m not an economist but it doesn’t take a business degree to observe how a medical complex the size and shape of the one overpowering Mid-City is affecting, already has affected, the property values (just as post-Katrina caused a supply and demand and the asking prices went up as a result). Certainly homeowners are thrilled (I get that). However, those awaiting their first-time purchase might find homeownership out of their reach. And those renters wishing to move to or remain in this area are now facing $1,200.00 to $2,000.00 per month for the same shotgun cottage that listed for affordable a year or so ago.  Many rents have doubled.

When did locals get a collective pay raise? Did the minimum wage just increase? The backbone of this City is powered and enhanced by the laborers and the talented, the cooks and Indian chiefs, teachers and preachers. Last time I checked most ain’t makin’ bank.  Come on, the folks, the working stiffs, the characters that make this town unique cannot afford to live here much longer.

I welcome the influx of fresh ideas, idealism and puppy love that so many of our new comers bring with them. But they unwittingly have caused much of the rent increases. Face it, when someone relocates from New York or Boston and have been paying several grand a month for a small apartment they have no problem with twelve hundred for a spacious place. What is the answer? Rent control—but that won’t happen. So it is up the landlords not to milk this supposed gravy train of new pocketbooks and reign in the rents. It can be done. Raise rents as needed but without exploitation.

 My landlord has all but refused to raise our rent; not sure why but I am so grateful I rejoice each time I pay it. Will I stay and continue to be the best tenant he could ever wish for? Damn straight. But what of the other landlords? Will the recently posted FOR RENT sign around the corner with its asking price of $2,300 (better include a hand-job) trigger visions of sugar plums and dollar signs. Will they slap granite counter tops and prefab Jacuzzi-tubs from Loews into our shotgun houses and say adieu to you and you and you?

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