New housing committee gets to work

Hammond City Councilman Sam DiVittorio kicks off the first Housing Advisory Committee. Over the next year, the 16-member committee will work on ways to improve affordable housing and home ownership availability in the city.

Solving Hammond’s affordable housing problems will not be easy, but 16 locals have taken on the challenge.

The Housing Advisory Committee met Wednesday at city hall to begin defining Hammond’s current housing situation, see how it compares to other cities across the country and determine what can be done to improve it.

Dr. Emily Hamilton, a fellow with the Mercatus Center who studies land use and housing affordability, presented the committee members with much information about land use, housing options, and the effect of zoning on construction. It will be up to them over the coming months to decide what will work best for Hammond.

The committee will help set up more home ownership opportunities and housing availability within city limits by looking into possible recommendations for zoning changes or transitions of areas that are now more industrial or commercial versus house residential or apartment complexes. It will also look at certain infrastructure and sewer improvements that may need to be made or at least studied before taking on more residences, he said.

The 16 committee members include Daniel Crosby and Bishop E. Rene Soule, nominated by Councilman Kip Andrews; Joe Mier and Karen Wallsten, nominated by Councilwoman Carlee Gonzales; Erica Betts Williams and Kylan Douglas, nominated by Councilman Devon Wells; Lemar Marshall and Melanie Ricketts, nominated by Councilman Sam DiVittorio; Greg Nothacker and Greg Drude, nominated by Councilman Steven Leon; George Anthon, nominated by Mayor Pete Panepinto; Matthew Lyons, nominated by state Rep. Nicholas Muscarello; Tom Hogan, nominated by state Rep. Robby Carter; Ryan Barker, nominated by state Sen. Patrick McMath; Daniel Laborde, nominated by state Sen. Bodi White; and Hilaria Broadwater, nominated by state Sen. Beth Mizell.

The committee elected three members to lead them for a six-month term: Marshall as chairman, Mier as vice chair, and Laborde as secretary.

Hamilton said the percentage of income households are spending on rent is at an all time high.

About 50 percent of renting households are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, which generally means there is not enough money left to meet other needs, she said.

“When median rent in the region exceeds 30 percent of income, problems like homelessness result and this problem is getting worse over time,” she said.

According to data collected on the various housing types, a little more than 55 percent of housing types are single family detached homes in Hammond compared to a little more than 60 percent for the country.

While Hammond is seeing a multi-family boom over the past five years, it is still a very small part of the city’s total stock of housing, Hamilton said.

According to her data, Hammond’s median house is $169,000. Across the country, the median house is $266,000.

The median price for housing is close to $100,000 less in Hammond than across the country, she said.

While the lower prices of housing puts the city in good shape relative to median incomes, she said households at the lower end of the spectrum are likely struggling.

Hammond’s median housing price is 4.2 times the size of a mortgage that would be considered “affordable” with 30 percent of income going to housing. The U.S. median price is only 3.9 times median income, she said.

Hamilton stressed it is important for there to be a filtering process in the housing market.

“It’s important to have housing consistently delivered at a variety of house points in order to be able to accommodate households at all income price points,” she said.

Hammond excels in middle dwelling, she said, which is duplexes and other types of small buildings that accommodate more than one household, allowing them to share housing but at construction costs that are more comparable to single family homes.

She warned against changing restrictions to become too tight for builders to follow.

“In Hammond, while there is a high rate of duplex construction, there’s some rules that likely make duplexes less appealing to build – large lot size requirements and large set back requirements,” Hamilton said.

Single family zoning is one of the primary tools used to regulate housing construction and limit how much housing can be built, she said. It is usually paired with the minimum lot size requirements and takes up most residential land available for housing construction.

“These zones directly limit how much housing can be built. The amount of land zones for any type of single family development divided by the minimum lot size is how much housing can be built there and can’t accommodate any more than that amount without reforming those zoning restrictions,” she said.

This type of zoning limits construction directly but also directs construction towards single family housing, which is also the most expensive type of construction, she said. Rules, such as parking requirements, make multi-family housing more expensive.

Hamilton said mobile homes have been getting increased attention for providing housing to the country’s lowest income level; however, land available for mobile home markets is limited.

“Municipalities are not zoning more land for mobile homes typically which could accommodate that portion of the housing market,” she said.

At the start of this first meeting, city attorney Andre Coudrain informed members of their legal obligations as representatives of the city. He made them aware of fair housing protections that their recommendations must adhere to under federal, state and local laws.

The next Housing Advisory Committee meeting is set for March 18 at City Hall.

(1) comment

JeanneV

The formation of the new Housing Advisory Committee is a step in the right direction for Hammond. Perhaps their first task should be to consider what we would like Hammond to look like in 10 years.

Dr. Hamilton's comments seem to be based upon the assumption that our goal is to create as much housing as possible within Hammond by means of multi-family housing units. Many of us chose Hammond as our home precisely because it does NOT look like that. The charm of Hammond is in its neighborhoods, rich with single family homes with ample yards for trees and gardening and space for children to play. Of course we need multi-family housing as well, and there is ample space in our rural area for such construction- it's going up all around us right now. But let's not assume that a reasonable goal would be to maximize Hammond's land use to produce the greatest possible population density. This is not Manhattan, with very limited land available. Our area is rich with undeveloped land.

I live in the Iowa District, which has a Zoning Overlay designed primarily to protect our small neighborhood from multi-family housing. The Iowa District is an old established neighborhood, filled with single family homes on generous sized lots. They are "prime-pickings" for developers who would love to convert the larger homes into apartments and to level and replace the smaller ones with duplexes and apartment buildings. The yards and setbacks would likely be absorbed to allow for larger buildings and parking. The trees, garden spaces, play yards, and the privacy that comes from green space, would be gone! Our neighborhood would also be gone. Is that the goal?

The Iowa District Overlay is currently under attack for exactly this purpose- the construction of a multi-family dwelling in the district. If that is allowed, the Zoning Overlay and our neighborhood would essentially be destroyed.

I hope that the Housing Advisory Committee will begin its formidable task by considering their vision for housing in Hammond. Is it a high-density bedroom community for Baton Rouge and New Orleans, with a predominance of apartments and townhouses, lacking green space and character, or is it a lovely small city with its own southern charm, with yards and trees and gardens?

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