Depending on who you ask, it is generally perceived that business in New Orleans is booming in the post-Katrina era. The city has found itself front-and-center in the nation’s trend of urban renewal, an intense tourism economy and a population boom from first-time residents.
New Orleans attracts potential residents looking for culture, new opportunities, and a perceived affordability. However, as the city prepares to accommodate new residents, some of the old ones fear they are getting priced out.
America’s current era of Urban Renaissance, has yielded obvious results in major cities like New York and San Francisco. Many of the city neighborhoods run by the blue collar folks that made the city what it is have been transformed into posh villages for members of the top 20 percent in population according to a 2016 analysis by Jed Kolko. Despite new money coming into these urban areas, suburban areas are growing are growing at a higher rate. However, with the wealth brought in by college graduates with no children, the original populations of these urban areas are feeling their cost of living rise.
With a younger population looking to return to urban areas, an attractive rich culture makes New Orleans a prime candidate for relocation. In addition, the city has worked with outside developers to replace storm damaged property over the years.
Yet, what may be great for business may not be great for the original residents.
Comparatively around the nation, New Orleans’s cost of living is two percent below the national average according to PayScale.com. But what is not being considered here is the scale of rent to income. For some looking to call the Crescent City their home, paying $1,400 a month for a one-bedroom apartment is probably more appealing than paying $3,000 a month in San Francisco(according to the rent index from Zillow). That is a major drop in rent prince, but according to a study by datacenterresearch.org from January of 2018, about 35 percent of New Orleans residents spend 50 percent of their salaries on rent, a rate that is 25 percent higher than the national average.
Since the storm, potential new residents have taken advantage of suddenly available real estate. Gentilly, New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward, traditionally African-American neighborhoods, have seen most of their population return with even higher numbers. However, areas like the Treme, St. Roch and St. Claude in the Bywater that were not affected by flood waters have now become, or are on track to be, majority white residents despite being historically African-American, according to a report by the Housing Authority of New Orleans in August of 2016.
The Bywater is a neighborhood placed under the microscope often since Katrina. Not only has the neighborhood seen a spike of residential and business areas emerge, it has become a tourist attraction for travelers looking for a bohemian vibe and the “soul” of New Orleans.
Ironically, many of the new residents are from out of state. It has been said that one can just assume they’re in Portland or Williamsburg, Brooklyn while visiting one of the vegan bakeries or coffee shops in the Bywater.
As out-of-town business arrives to areas like the Bywater, the presence of short term rentals like Air B&B are felt at an increasing rate.
“There was no sense of community at all,” a former Bywater resident who declined to give her name said. “I lived on an entire city block alone with no neighbors. I eventually realized that it was because they were all Air B&Bs and no one else was going to live there permanently.”
In addition to potentially harming the makeup of New Orleans’s unique neighborhoods, short term rentals also drive the cost up for residents to scarce availability caused by out-of-state corporations. For the first time, in an effort to slow the effect of short term rentals down, the City Council unanimously voted for a nine-month ban on the rentals while the city conducts a broader study of the industry’s effects on residential areas.
In a different light, since Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans area has seen a significant jump in the Hispanic population. In the 2000 U.S. Census, the Latino population of the New Orleans metro area was at 3.1 percent and had grown to 5.2 by 2010.
“The most noticeable change in New Orleans post-Katrina is the increased influence of the Mexican-American community,” said Edward Branley, a local historian. “We’ve always had strong ties to Central America, but Mexicans coming up to the US didn’t need to go further than Houston to find work and make a life here. After the storm, there was so much opportunity, the migration path extended to here. That’s had an impact that will last a long time.”
Yet, as new residents continue to arrive, some of the original gatekeepers are at a crossroads, with home values going up 4.7 percent in the past year, and expect to rise another 6.3 percent by next year according to Zillow.
Former Treme resident and musician John Boutte now lives in Lacombe on the Northshore due to rising costs south of the lake.
“I would have bought something in New Orleans if I would have found something I thought the price equaled the value,” Boutte told NPR on Feb. 3, 2017. “Since 2006, I’ve seen houses that were $40,000 that are now $350,000.”
For now, originators like Boutte still hold on to hope that one day the markets will swing back in their favor. For what is New Orleans without the folks that made it great?