Feb. 3: Affordable housing crunch squeezing cultural economy

Feb. 3: Affordable housing crunch squeezing cultural economy

New Orleans is known throughout the world for its culture, punctuated by its vibrant music scene.

New Orleans is known throughout the world for its culture, punctuated by its vibrant music scene. Yet a lack of affordable housing is making it harder for musicians to stay in the city, matching a trend seen across American metros. Nola.com/The Times-Picayune has the report from the Tribune News Service:

In June, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced a five-year housing plan, pledging to build or preserve 7,500 affordable housing units, including “workforce housing” units for “service workers, artists and culture bearers, who may require a deeper housing subsidy.” In April, construction started on the Bell Artspace Campus, an ambitious, $37 million space for the city’s musicians and artists to live and work in. The project is funded through a combination of tax credits, philanthropic dollars and city subsidies…Andreanecia Morris, executive director of the nonprofit HousingNOLA, said it is crucial for the city to look for financing beyond the federal low-income housing tax credits. Developers who rely on tax credits are only required to keep the units at below-market rates for 15 years. After that, they are free to increase rents.

After an initial $25 million allotment in 2007, the state Legislature has not allocated any funding for the state’s Housing Trust Fund. Advocates are working to identify a dedicated revenue source.


Cassidy-Collins would create high-income tax shelters

Under a health care bill filed by Louisiana’s senior U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, states would have the option of accepting federal dollars to build a system based on Health Savings Accounts and tax credits. The problem: the tax credits would likely be inadequate for people with modest incomes while providing generous tax sheltering opportunities for the well-to-do. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Edwin Park, Chuck Marr, Brandon Debot, and Chye-Ching Huang provide an in-depth analysis:

The Cassidy-Collins Roth HSA proposal is poorly designed to meet low- and moderate-income people’s health coverage needs and a faulty replacement for the ACA’s premium and cost-sharing subsidies.  Rather than helping people with modest incomes afford to maintain decent-quality coverage, it would offer lucrative new benefits to high-income people and create an attractive tax sheltering opportunity for them, even as subsidies for modest-income working families were being cut back. The proposal thus would transfer resources up the income scale in reverse Robin Hood-fashion and likely would leave millions of Americans underinsured or uninsured.


Current Medicaid program has flexibility

Some in Congress argue that replacing the Medicaid program with a health care “block grant” will  grant states new flexibility to design health systems that meet a state’s unique needs. However, as a new Kaiser Family Foundation issue brief explains, states already have tremendous flexibility under the current Medicaid program. The main feature of a block grant approach would be to provide less funds over time and shift costs to states, resulting in cuts to patient care and health care providers. Samantha Artiga, Elizabeth Hinton, Robin Rudowitz, MaryBeth Musumeci explain:

Each state Medicaid program is unique, reflecting states’ use of existing program flexibility and waiver authority to design their programs to meet their specific needs and priorities. The programs vary widely in terms of who is eligible, what benefits are covered, what premiums and cost sharing are charged, and how providers are paid and care is delivered. Over time, many states have expanded Medicaid to reach a greater share of their low-income population through both targeted and broad expansions. States also have used program flexibility to continually evolve and transform how they pay for and deliver care.

An example of state flexibility under Medicaid: expanded use of home and community-based services as an alternative to nursing homes, for those who choose.


Immigration ban will be costly for universities

International students are often a financial boon for universities, as they typically pay full price. President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from a group of majority-Muslim countries could put a damper on international enrollment, with colleges losing out on an estimated $700 million. Bloomberg’s Shahien Nasiripour and Lance Lambert have the story:

The order “is already causing damage, and should end as quickly as possible,” Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities, said in a statement. College Factual’s $700 million figure is based on government visa figures and assumes that foreign students don’t get tuition breaks and pay full undergraduate tuition, fees, and room and board. There’s a chance the estimates are too low, if many foreign students in expensive graduate programs also pay full price, or too high, since not every student granted a visa ends up enrolling. But the figures highlight the significant number of foreign students, particularly Iranians, that Trump’s order could scare away, depressing college revenues.

Here in Louisiana, The Advertiser reports that the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed a Freedom of Information Act request to determine how the New Orleans field office of Customs & Border Protection is implementing the Trump administration’s order and the subsequent court rulings:

“The people of Louisiana have the right to  know what our immigration authorities are doing in our name,” said Marjorie R. Esman, executive director of ACLU of Louisiana. “We expect government officials to obey the law and honor the Constitutional system of balance of powers.  The courts have spoken and officials must obey court orders.” The press release notes that media reports indicate that CBP officials detained and deported individuals, even after federal courts ordered officials to stop enforcing the executive order following a court challenge from the ACLU and other organizations.


Number of the Day

227,000 – Number of U.S. jobs added in January, beating expectations. This is the final jobs report for Barack Obama’s administration. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics via Business Insider)