By Claire Byun
While making New Orleans more equitable for everyone is a sizable goal, Mid-City residents got a taste of what some in the community are doing to solve inequality.
The Mid-City Neighborhood Organization hosted an open discussion on equity around the city at their meeting Monday night, and several citywide organizations turned out to discuss improving life for all New Orleans residents.
Several organizations at the meeting focus their efforts on making education, housing and transportation around the city more equitable. Andreanecia Morris, director of HousingNOLA, said her team is continuously working on affordable housing – not just subsidized housing.
“It’s about staying in your home and it not eating up 30 percent of your income,” Morris said.
Anyone spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing – which includes rent, mortgage payments and house-related bills – is categorized as “rent-stressed,” Morris said. About 45 percent of New Orleans residents are classified as rent-stressed.
“Unless we take some direct intervention, we’ll continue to spiral out of control,” Morris said.
HousingNOLA officials forecasted a need for 33,000 housing opportunities in the city, Morris said, though the organization is still working on ways to give everyone a level playing field. Morris stressed that equitable housing not only improves health and revitalizes neighborhoods, but also allows children to become more successful students.
Nahliah Webber, director of Orleans Public Education Network, told MCNO members that a child’s homelike impacts every part of their school life.
“Children bring their communities with them in their backpacks,” she said. “So whatever is going on in their neighborhoods is with them, so we need to have a larger conversation about what’s going on around them and how to solve it.”
Webber said OPEN is working to spread educational resources throughout the city – and not just schools that serve mostly high-income students – so every child has a chance to learn. About 88 percent of students in the city come from low-income homes, and more than 40 percent of those students attend D- or F-grade schools.
Low-rated schools have fewer resources for students, which means those low-income students have fewer chances to succeed. Webber said OPEN is working to broaden conversations about what equitable education means in New Orleans, which includes better access to housing, transportation and food for everyone.
“That…lessens the burden that schools have to pick up and meet with their very-limited resources,” she said.
Roxanne Franklin, of Equity New Orleans, said the program is a citywide initiative to find the best and most immediate opportunities for city government to show equity in policy and service to residents. Equity was kickstarted by Mayor Mitch Landrieu and is still in the process of interviewing residents to identify current racial equity and set out measurable goals for the future.
So far, about 300 people have been interviewed. Franklin wants to gather at least 1,000 so her staff has the best idea of how and where to reroute city resources.
“We have to really think about how we engage and share info with the community,” Franklin said.
A good chunk of the equity forum was set aside for City Councilmember LaToya Cantrell, who stressed that city government, neighborhood organizations and nonprofits need to improve their outreach on populations with little representation. Mid-City’s sizable Hispanic, Latino and black populations are the least heard from when city staff are making big decisions, Cantrell said, which needs to change.
“It puts a larger responsibility on folks who are making those policy decisions to fold in the voices of those who are missing,” she told MCNO members.
The key to actually hearing those voices is meeting people where they are and figuring out what they need, Cantrell said. Without distinctive perspectives, equity in New Orleans is unachievable.
MCNO members brought up other equity issues to Cantrell over the forum. Some members argued that raising the minimum wage – especially for tourism and service workers – would help to improve equity in the city. Cantrell said the state legislature has to approve any change to the city’s minimum wage, which has been a hurdle to improving it before now.
City officials have to get out from some of the state’s control before anything changes, Cantrell said.
“It all goes back to the resources, we need to break lose from the state level to get what we need to get done,” Cantrell said.
Monday’s equity forum was part of a monthly series based on a plethora of issues. Last month’s community forum revolved around public safety.