Delachaise neighbors braved the wind and rain last week to hear four out of five City Council District B candidates’ opinions on crime, economic development and preserving the culture of New Orleans.
Delachaise neighbors had the opportunity to ask four candidates questions that matter most to the neighborhood, including economic development and ways to keep New Orleans culture alive and well. Candidates had about 10 minutes to state their background, platform and new ideas to the Delachaise Neighborhood Association at their meeting Tuesday evening, followed by several minutes of questions.
Though all candidates touched on stemming the crime around the city while reducing the number of people locked up, one of the biggest questions posed was how potential councilmembers would protect the culture of the city. With an influx of “new New Orleanians” moving into the city – and at times skyrocketing housing prices – some residents fear the city’s underlying vibe may become lost.
Jay Banks, who has years of New Orleans political experience, said preserving the culture means preserving the people who live here.
“The culture doesn’t come front the food, it doesn’t come from the music, it doesn’t come from the architecture,” Banks said. “It comes from the people who cook the food, who play the music, who build the houses.”
Banks said inflated home appraisals are forcing higher taxes on people who have lived in neighborhoods all their lives. Renovations to a blighted home increases the value of the homes around it, thus increasing property taxes on everyone – even if those homes are not actually worth the inflated appraisal. Banks suggested freezing the home’s assessment at the time it was bought; that way, renovated houses nearby won’t artificially inflate all other home prices, resulting in a “marriage” between old and new residents.
“It’s getting the the point where people are going to lose their properties, and that’s just not fair,” Banks said.
Adding medium-income housing to the market is another option to help keep people living in the city, said candidate Timothy David Ray, attorney and political consultant. Ray said developers should have incentive to include affordable housing for those who make a little above the low-income threshold but still can’t afford their own home.
Encouraging more people to own their own businesses – preferably in their own neighborhoods – would also cement the city’s culture. The responsibility of a corner store to serve its neighborhood while stabilizing the community is needed in all areas of the city, but more people should be included in those plans, Ray said.
“We need to bring more people into the mix, more people of color and more minorities, to start their own business in their city,” he said.
Economic development won’t only cement some of the culture of the city, it would also help reduce violent crime rates, said Seth Bloom, who served on the Orleans Parish School Board for eight years. Improving infrastructure and development, while eliminating blight and improving education for all, would lead to a better future for the whole city, Bloom said.
“If we have education problems, we’re going to have crime problems,” he said. “If we have economic development problems, we’re going to have crime problems.”
Bloom also spoke about rehabilitating those convicted of crimes and encouraging community policing, rather than continuously locking up habitual offenders. He also said he supported providing equal education to juveniles in the system, which gives them an equal shot at life outside of jail.
“I think the city faces a number of problems right now, and I think the number one is public safety and crime,” Bloom said.
Cutting crime can’t be just a social issue – it has to involve every single department at City Hall, said candidate Eric Johnson. Johnson, who has consulted on development projects around the country, said criminals need to know there’s a “line” that cannot – and will not – be crossed.
Intermingling economic development and social programs will help combat crime, but taking responsiblity for the violence is key too.
“We cannot socially police our way out of the situation in New Orleans,” Johnson said.
Keeping an eye on the budget – regardless of what the state will contribute – is another way to improve life around New Orleans, Johnson said. It’s up to citizens to take control of their city and craft an agenda that benefits old, new and future New Orleans citizens, he said.
“What that leaves us with is our city, our responsibility,” Johnson said.
As of Thursday, there are five District B candidates, including Dr. Catherine Love. The election is Oct. 14, but candidates will file their formal qualifying paperwork July 12 through 14.