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People of New Orleans find permanent solution to temporary affordable housing

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Posted at 4:38 PM, Nov 05, 2021

NEW ORLEANS, La. — There is hardly a street corner in New Orleans’ French Quarter that isn't filled with music. It’s the sound of musicians pounding away at five-gallon buckets and blasting high-notes through trumpets that keeps the pulse of the city beating.

But when the music stopped in 2005, Vance Vaucresson wasn't sure how long the silence would stay.

"It really turned your life up around and we have people that, once they left, a lot of them didn’t come back,” said Vaucresson.

For more than 100 years, Vaucresson’s family has lived and worked in the city's seventh ward. When Katrina barreled through, it destroyed Vaucresson's Sausage Company, a neighborhood staple that stood proudly for three generations.

More than 16 years later, the business still hasn't reopened.

The floodwater eventually retreated. A flood of a different kind though inundated the city, as hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid poured in to help rebuild affordable housing.

"What we gained was the universal interest in a rebuild of a city," Vaucresson added.

But affordable housing in the city of New Orleans and across the country comes with an expiration date.

The way most affordable housing in this country works is that developers are given incentives to build low-income houses or apartments. In most cases though, those incentives run out after 10 to 15 years. At that point, developers can rent their properties out at the market rate. One day, a family could be paying $300 in rent and the next, rent skyrockets to $1,300 for the same exact unit.

Julius Kimbrough with the Crescent City Community Land Trust is working to address the issue. Through a mix of public and private funding, the land trust is working to build permanently affordable housing units across New Orleans.

"It really exposes that many people don't have any resources beyond living paycheck to paycheck," he said.

Community land trusts across the nation are working to address the affordable housing crisis. In many cases, a family will purchase a house that sits on land owned by the community land trust. Purchase prices are more affordable because the homeowner or tenant is only occupying the home, not purchasing the land outright.

There are 255 community land trusts nationwide trying to do the same thing. The concept has created 35,000 affordable housing units nationwide.

Cashauna Hill with Louisiana Fair Housing sees the whole concept as a smarter way to continue to rebuild New Orleans.

"We have to be able to ensure long terms of affordability so we’re not giving away public subsidies only to see families kicked out and affordable homes turned into luxury apartments after 15 years," Hill said.

The whole concept is how Vaucresson is finally being able to reopen his family's business for the first time since Hurricane Katrina struck.

As part of his partnership with the Crescent City Community Land Trust, Vaucresson was given the financing he needed to rebuild his family's restaurant. The only stipulation is that he build two low-income apartments up above.

Those units will be affordable housing for as long as the building stands.

"We made a promise to the community that we will always have, even if it’s just two apartments, it will be permanently affordable in perpetuity," the 52-year-old said.

Two apartments may not sound like much, but in a city where rents have gone up as much as 50% in the last 15 years, two apartments will be a major boost for two families in need.

In a city known for its music, Vaucresson hopes it's the kind of tune that will catch on.

"We want to make sure when we reinvest that says we’re not going anywhere."