Packing Local Boards, Whites Kill Black Access to Housing

Besides barely voting in local elections, black people also tend not to participate in their neighborhood association boards. That was the gist of a report the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center released last week on affordable housing in the city. In the report, the Center found that regardless of a neighborhood’s racial makeup the board that represents the neighborhood is usually majority white.  Then those whites do what they can to block any type of affordable housing from being built in the neighborhood.  This is a new modern day form of redlining in New Orleans.

The housing in question usually takes the form of apartment complexes. And the whites who oppose them usually voice their displeasure at City Council meetings.  There these proposed complexes are labeled as ghettos or crime magnets. And this strategy stopped over 600 units from being built since Katrina. The result is twofold. One is a housing crisis for black people in need. The second is more and more desirable areas of the city getting whiter and whiter.


In areas like Treme and other parts of the 7th ward, black people are finding themselves priced out of the neighborhood. Afterwards, these neighborhoods begin to see financial investments that weren’t being offered before. Yoga studios pop up. So do cafes, restaurants, and fresh food options.  

Response of the City Council

The Council relents to pressure from these boards because they’re the ones who show up at the Council meetings. It’s a squeaky wheel gets the oil type of scenario. The minority get their way because they make the most noise. The Fair Action Center chides the Council for giving these boards so much sway. They point out the egregious racial undertones of their opposition.

But only 29% of registered voters actually show up to vote. So Council members may be a bit wary of making enemies out of those who are politically active.  Does the Council support this modern day redlining?

The Center proposed a number of recommendations to prevent a minority of whites from determining where black people end up. The recommendations include having these boards annually report the income and racial makeup of their members. They also recommend having affordable housing incentivized through amendments to the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance. What’s not recommended though is encouraging black people to participate. Blacks should become more active on the boards that claim to represent them. That way the Council or some third party won’t have to regulate these boards. This is a more sustainable way of achieving a racial balance on these boards.  

One way to do this would be to require boards that are registered with the city to notify neighbors of board meetings. It’s not unreasonable to assume that in some areas a good deal of people might not even know that there’s a board that exists. So them even knowing about meetings is far fetched.  

Whether more black people on these neighborhood boards would result in more affordable housing being permitted is hard to say. But at least they won’t be shot down with covert racist language. And at least it will be a decision made by those who represent a majority make-up of the area.   

It will be interesting to see if any change comes as a result of The Center’s report. Or if it’ll just be information that is swept under the rug. But finding a way to get their black constituents more involved should be a priority for the newly elected Council members as our neighborhoods continue to evolve. 

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