A Little Hope on Affordable Housing Front

An $80 million affordable housing and healthcare development is under construction in Central City
Yellow Shotgun House French Quarter New Orleans



Headquartered in New Orleans, Gulf Coast Housing Partnership has been “real estate problem solving” for 14 years with projects from Texas to Florida.


It’s no secret that New Orleans has its fair share of problems, but perhaps none hit closer to home than the city’s affordable housing crisis.

Like many other major cities in the country, the Big Easy has experienced some serious economic struggles over the past few years. In addition to a global pandemic, however, we’ve also had to weather multiple natural disasters, the effects of which are still very much present. After Hurricane Katrina 17 years ago, the city lost almost 100,000 mostly Black citizens, many of whom have not been able to return to New Orleans.

Much of the population decrease New Orleans has seen can be attributed to underinvestment in new affordable homes, a lack of living-wage jobs, and a series of disasters that continually challenge the city’s ability to rebuild and recover. Hurricane Ida — and most recently, devastating tornadoes — have further exposed the ongoing challenges to the city’s housing stock, our economy and our infrastructure.

Part of the problem, according to the 2022 Housing For All Action Plan put out by HousingNOLA, is that more than 58,000 households in New Orleans are what’s known as “cost burdened,” meaning they’re paying too much for their homes. If a household is paying more than 30% of their income in housing costs, such as on rent or mortgage payments, utility bills, and home insurance, they’re cost burdened.

A 2020 Brookings Institution study found that the median wealth of a white family in America ($171,000) is approximately 10 times that of a Black family ($17,150). Homeownership is a huge part of building wealth in this country, and in a predominantly Black city like New Orleans, where income gaps run along racial lines, increasing access to affordable housing can be a real wealth-building game changer.

“Not only do we have an affordable housing problem, we have a greed and race problem,” said Alexandra Stroud, principal at Urban Focus, a real estate development and consulting firm that worked on HousingNOLA’s report. “The number of vacant units in this city could serve the demand for affordable housing.”

Stroud said there’s a negative bias against providing units to people with lower incomes.

“…Which is crazy because this would just allow teachers, police officers, hospitality workers and retail workers to afford to live here,” Stroud said. “Low income does not mean unemployed.”

Urban Focus provided guidance on construction costs and how to interpret some of the market data, as well as assisting with information about the current lending climate for projects for HousingNOLA’s “Housing For All Action Plan.” Stroud said the process for investors and funding for affordable housing needs to be made simpler.

“To make the impact we need to make, the red tape and bureaucracy surrounding funding smaller developers needs to be removed,” she said.

But that’s not to say there isn’t any progress being made. Just recently, a 210,000-square-foot-project was announced at the site of former Brown’s Dairy in Central City. The project, dubbed “H3C,” which the developers say is a reference to their belief in “culture, commerce and community,” will be located on the site of the former dairy’s processing plant parking lot, between Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard and Baronne Street.

The $80 million new-construction affordable housing and healthcare development is being led by Gulf Coast Housing Partnership (GCHP) and Alembic Community Development.

“I moved to New Orleans in 1993, and affordable housing was as much of a crisis then as it is today,” said Kathy Laborde, president and CEO of GCHP. “The aspirational ideas from HousingNOLA, combined with a strong state housing policy, coupled with significant capital resources, could be very impactful.”

H3C will include 192 income-restricted units, with 92 units reserved for residents 55 years or older. Additionally, there will be 12,600 square feet of commercial and community space anchored by DePaul Community Health Centers. Also on site, Belle Reve New Orleans, formerly Shelter Resources, will operate the Belle Reve Center, which will connect residents to resources, services and programs available in the community to address their current and future needs.

Laborde said one of this project’s main goals is to provide outcome data that will incentivize broad investment in affordable housing. She wants to show that it’s worth the risk.

“H3C will provide affordable housing to our residents and convenient access to healthcare which will encourage and provide the opportunity for better healthcare outcomes,” Laborde said. “We can then quantify those improved healthcare outcomes to result in increased investment in affordable housing.”

Housing and healthcare may seem unrelated at first glance, but if people are struggling to afford housing, they’re likely also struggling to access medical care. By addressing both at the same time, H3C seeks to improve health outcomes for its residents.

“Accessibility represents one of the major barriers to health care, which are called social determinants of health,” said Michael G. Griffin, president and CEO of DePaul Community Health Centers, which will operate a health center at H3C.

Griffin said that people in underserved areas are more likely to visit the emergency room to address healthcare issues that could have been prevented or managed by seeing a primary care provider. Emergency visits are expensive for both the patient and the health care industry overall.

“The convenience of our health center for H3C residents totally eliminates accessibility challenges,” Griffin said. “Residents will have access to holistic, compassionate health care that includes primary and preventive care.”

Complex problems can sometimes require complex solutions, but when it comes to improving the lives of people with lower incomes in this city, sometimes the solutions can be simple: give them a home and access to medical care. Of course, the challenge is, and will always be, funding, but projects like H3C that aim to tackle two issues at once may show that it’s not only good for people’s well-being, it’s also a good investment.