Shortly before New Year's, Mayor Mitch Landrieu held a press conference to tout his administration's achievements in 2015, which he called "historical and transformational progress" for New Orleans. Those accomplishments included a balanced budget, a settlement in the long-running battle over the New Orleans Fire Department pension fund, a 15 percent pay raise for New Orleans cops and ongoing infrastructure improvements by the Department of Public Works and the Sewerage and Water Board. A December lump sum settlement with FEMA for Hurricane Katrina-related damage, combined with other funds, will give the city nearly $3 billion to dedicate to infrastructure projects going forward.
There was not much good news about crime, however. Homicides are up this year over 2014 — and armed robberies and carjackings are scarily high. On Dec. 29, Jeff Asher of The Advocate noted there had been a robbery or carjacking in New Orleans for 115 of the previous 117 days. Landrieu promised to "double down" on crime-fighting efforts, noting that the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) was beginning its fourth training academy class of the year. A class of 29 new cops graduated Dec. 30. That's a good sign, but it's not enough to offset NOPD's recent attrition rate. Landrieu's handling of the city's violent crime problem will define his legacy after he leaves office in 28 months.
Here are two more issues that likely will grab Landrieu's attention in 2016:
• Public transit: Complaints about New Orleans' public transit are legion, particularly unreliable bus service. Seven years ago, the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) contracted its operations to Veolia Transportation, which also began overseeing the ferry system in 2014. Landrieu touts new streetcar construction and says New Orleans is a world-class city, but world-class cities have reliable public transit, particularly for citizens who work downtown. In our tourism-dominated economy, that's a lot of people. The city should conduct an audit to check the RTA's on-time record; regular riders say it's dismal. Landrieu will hold public hearings about expanding RTA service in January and February, but measuring RTA's on-time record should be part of that.
• Short-term rentals: New Orleans renters are hurting. Last year, CNN and other outlets labeled us one of the nation's worst cities for renters. In October 2015, the real estate website Zillow calculated the average rent here to be just shy of $1,600 per month — well above Houston, Baton Rouge and the U.S. as a whole. The Data Center found 35 percent of New Orleanians now pay more than half their salaries in rent. The City Planning Commission is scheduled to review its Short Term Rental Study this month and deliver it to the New Orleans City Council Feb. 1. Currently, short-term hotel-style rentals of private homes are illegal but widespread; more than 2,000 are advertised in nearly every neighborhood in town. It's the council's job to decide how to regulate public accommodations, but as mayor of a city where affordable housing is becoming scarcer, Landrieu should take the lead on this issue. New Orleans needs affordable housing for those who live here, not just those who vacation here.