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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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OPINION | Time for Tulane to deal with doubles to dorms

Taylor Fishman

If you walk down Burthe Street, located in the historic Carrollton district of Uptown New Orleans, you might see Howard Bailey grinning and waving to you as he leans against a wrought iron chair on the porch of his childhood home. “I was here when I was 12 years old,” he said. “Right here.” 

Howard and his wife, Locern Bailey, have been married for 39 years. They moved back into the peach and turquoise house in 2002, and both have witnessed their neighborhood — and neighbors — change over time. 

“The green home, that hasn’t always been there,” Locern Bailey said as she pointed to a house across the street. “That was a brick home on the corner, we knew the people that lived there. A lot of people lost their property,” she said, followed by a long pause. “I can imagine that it was probably property taxes not being paid.” 

What Locern Bailey is referring to is no new phenomenon for the city of New Orleans, which, after property reassessments in 2019 and 2020, saw one in five property values increase by at least 50%. The higher property values have raised property taxes and, in turn, forced out long-term residents who can no longer afford soaring costs. 

Outcomes like these are the product of gentrification, which has been transpiring in New Orleans in a new wave since Hurricane Katrina. Thirteen New Orleans census-designated regions are actively gentrifying, and the city ranks fifth in intensity of gentrification amongst cities nationwide, according to a 2020 National Community Reinvestment Coalition report. In a New Geography article, Tulane University professor Richard Campanella uses census data to identify post-Katrina gentrification hotspots, two of which are popular off-campus student housing destinations near Tulane and Loyola University. One of them is the Baileys’ neighborhood. 

Continuing down Burthe Street, you will surely see a sign that says, “Stop Doubles to Dormitories.” Stop Doubles to Dorms, commonly known as “Stop D2D,” is the name of an advocacy group created by the Maple Area Residents Incorporation that aims to halt the conversion of local homes into off-campus student housing. The organization’s website explains that these development practices contribute to the gentrification of Carrollton, driving up rent and property taxes and forcing long-term residents out in favor of wealthy, short-term student tenants. The increase in housing density also increases the noise and trash in the neighborhood, in addition to limiting available parking. Some residents think the influx of student renters creates “neighborhoods without neighbors” and diminishes the social value of these areas. 

Locern Bailey says she most values her neighborhood for the, “neighbors that have been here for a while. Because that means a lot, when you live in the neighborhood and you really have neighbors.” She is concerned about the limited parking, citing “a number of times” in which she’s come home to a blocked driveway and feels that due to her age, it is important for her to be able to park in front of her house. 

As of 2022, the largest developers of D2Ds were John Hamide and Preston Todesco with 36 active properties, Amicus Properties and the Heidenbergs with 12 respectively, and Edie Pitt with 10, according to Stop D2D.

The group also claims many of these developers frequently break zoning laws, beginning work on projects before receiving the appropriate permits and renting out properties to a larger capacity than the law admits. Currently, no more than four unrelated persons are allowed to reside in these homes at one time.  

Developers have no financial incentive to stop creating these properties. My roommates and I reside in a D2D consisting of two four-bedroom units. We each pay $1,400 per month in rent, plus utilities. This scheme brings the developers a lucrative income of $67, 200 annually off of one unit alone.

Fruitless endeavors 

Stop D2D has worked with the New Orleans City Council, particularly councilmember Joseph Giarrusso, in an effort to pass laws that regulate the development of these properties. 

In March 2020, the council passed a now-expired industrial zoning district, which required one off-street parking space per each bedroom in a new construction or per each bedroom added in a renovation. 

In November 2021, the City Council passed a University Area Off-Street Parking Overlay, even though the City Planning Commission voted to deny a recommendation of it. While the initial IZD required that developers add parking spaces for any new bedrooms, the overlay only required new parking spaces for constructions or renovations in excess of four bedrooms per unit. As a result, the overlay was significantly less effective than the initial IZD. 

A second IZD, however, was enacted in October 2022 and is essentially identical to the first IZD, with the exception that it covers a revised geographical area. In April, the City Council amended the language of the IZD to prohibit tandem parking and to clarify the definition of a bedroom,  which residents hoped would close loopholes allowing developers to forgo the parking requirements. 

This October, the City Council amended the overlay to require parking spaces for new bedrooms in excess of three per unit or bathrooms in excess of 2.5 per unit, alongside other minor revisions. Regardless, the current IZD supersedes the overlay. 

The stalled progress of the Stop D2D movement may be attributed to the ways in which the group is attempting to achieve their goals — that is, by way of the local government. Even with these laws in effect, they do little to undermine the rate at which developers are overturning new off-campus housing. Moreover, the city almost always rules in favor of developers when residents file reports that allege zoning law violations. 

In another futile effort last fall, the members of the advocacy group banded together to report claims of fire safety violations in off-campus student housing. The reports prompted the Louisiana Fire Marshal to conduct property searches that wielded the potential to evict students from their homes mid-academic year. No fire safety violations were found. 

Zoning in on institutional actors 

Rather, many stakeholders say that Stop D2D should realistically be focusing on the parties responsible for creating the demand for off-campus student housing: the universities themselves. 

If Tulane had the capacity to house enough of its student body, it would neutralize developers’ incentives and keep them from disrupting the local community. 

“It’s fine if they want to admit more students, but they need to have a plan,” said Y. Frank Southhall, organizing and community engagement manager at Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative. “Tulane needs to be at the start of finding solutions. The community shouldn’t have to deal with this. Tulane should publicly come out and say that they oppose D2D,” Southhall said. 

Last year, even sophomores — who are guaranteed on-campus housing — struggled to find a place to live. 

Southhall says the university has not only an obligation to the local community, but to its students as well. He said that even if the majority of Tulane students can afford off-campus D2Ds, the ones who cannot will continually be pushed further off campus. Students who are not within walking distance of campus will have to invest in transportation, allocate time to commuting and may feel isolated from their peers.

With the rising rates of D2Ds, housing close to campus may soon be out of reach for many others as well. When I asked our new upstairs neighbors what they pay for rent, they informed me that each pays $2,050 per month, plus utilities. That’s a $650 increase in rent from what my roommates and I pay for the identical unit below. 

“[Rent augmentation] isn’t good for anyone. It’s not good for local residents, it’s not good for students, it’s not good for anyone except for the people who own these properties,” Southhall said.

Looking forward

Alternatively, the community could focus on working towards the creation of an affordability clause for new housing developments, a tactic that has been implemented in other major cities across the U.S. Southhall claims that if Tulane built a certain amount of affordable housing units — even for their own students — every time they constructed new buildings, it would minimize the impact of D2Ds. 

Other colleges and universities have enacted policies to minimize their footprint: maybe it’s time for Tulane to follow suit. 

Middlebury College only allows a select number of students to live off campus — albeit, they have the capacity to house the majority of their student body — and students who are chosen must receive approval of their proposed accommodations. When Columbia University started its Manhattanville Houses project, the university spent over $578 million to contract historically marginalized groups and local firms for construction. In accordance with city contracts, the school also invested over $100 million into community development initiatives.

While neither of these solutions were perfect, as residents near Middlebury College have complained about off-campus students and Columbia controversially used eminent domain, both of these colleges and universities made substantial efforts to minimize their impact on the communities they are embedded within. 

The public service requirements Tulane imposes on their student body are insufficient compensation for the local issues these students often unwittingly complicate. According to Southhall, Tulane needs to stop using “the image of their students to absolve themselves of the larger socio-economic issues they cause,” whether that be though underpaying their cafeteria staff, he said, or “whether it be through trying to germ up more revenue by admitting more students and then not having a plan for those students three years later.” 

“Tulane is actively working to reduce pressure on housing in the university area by constructing The Village, a series of new residence halls,” said Lauren Jardell, Tulane’s director of government and community relations. “When completed, which we project will be in the fall of 2025, Tulane plans for Juniors to reside on campus with the exception of students who are from New Orleans and whose families live locally, those studying abroad or those who have other housing accommodations through the Goldman Center.”

Although Tulane hopes to finish its new housing complex by 2025, students moved into the first Village dormitories, River and Lake Residence Halls, a semester after the intended completion date. Even with a higher housing capacity, it remains unclear if the new dorms will be able to house the entire junior class and still leaves seniors with no option but to find off-campus housing.  

Students have the power to actively engage with Stop D2Ds efforts, even if like myself, they are D2D tenants themselves. They can do so by being mindful of their neighbors and putting pressure on the university to take action. 

My roommate, Sami Marcus, who brings a car to school, says that since learning about Stop D2D, she’s made a concerted effort to make sure there are available parking spaces on the block for her neighbors and to be mindful of noise levels. She added that cultivating positive relationships with neighbors is important, too. Southhall encourages students to keep up with city politics, discuss housing issues and formulate student clubs that address community concerns.

Although there is evidently an issue regarding development density in Carrollton, both Tulane students and long-term residents must be able to coexist before long-term solutions are realized. 

“It’s a plus getting to know young people,” Locern Bailey said. “And we kind of miss it when you guys are gone. We really do.”

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