February 21, 2018

Spurring Change in the Gulf Coast Through State & Local Policy

John Sullivan of Enterprise Community Partners

Q&A with John Sullivan, State & Local Policy Officer Program

At Enterprise, we work in state houses and in city halls across the country to increase local resources for affordable housing, ensure that rental housing stock is sustainable for the long-term, and advocate for policies and services which support low-income families. We're thankful for a grant from J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. that helps make this work possible.

We asked John Sullivan, state and local policy program director in the Gulf Coast region, to share more about his role and the advocacy efforts taking place in Louisiana and Mississippi.

How did you get into this work?

When Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, I was just out of law school and looking for an entry into public service. I got involved in the recovery effort in Mississippi and served on the governor’s recovery team. Working to rebuild devastated communities introduced me to the vital role that housing and community development plays in people’s lives. I grew in appreciation for the importance of safe, affordable housing as a bedrock for opportunity and lifting people out of poverty. 

What policy efforts are you specifically focusing on in Louisiana and Mississippi?

A large part of our statewide policy efforts is focused on the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, and ensuring that a positive regulatory environment is supporting the program. Our focus is maintaining strong policies in the yearly plans for the Housing Credit, supporting trade organizations in their policy efforts, and fighting against policies and government actions that hurt Housing Credit developments. 

We are pursuing policies that help people access more stable higher-wage jobs near where they live. In addition, we are promoting policies that support responsible homeownership, resources for homeowners to maintain their homes and homebuyer counseling programs for moderate-income families and first-time homebuyers. 

It’s been nearly 13 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.  What role does recovery policy play in the region today?

The once all-consuming mission of Katrina recovery has given way to a new set of challenges, many of which are the result of recovery successes. For instance, the revitalization of New Orleans has made the city an attractive place to live and now accompanying problems like housing affordability and displacement are at the forefront.

However, recovery and resilience policy remain a major priority. In addition to ongoing recovery efforts from smaller disasters since Katrina, the region is constantly preparing vigilantly for future natural disasters, and is also confronting the realities of climate change and eroding coastlines. 

What policy efforts are you specifically focusing on in New Orleans?

Our policy efforts in New Orleans have been guided by two housing plans produced in response to those post-recovery challenges of housing affordability and displacement – HousingNOLA and Mayor Landrieu’s Housing for a Resilient New Orleans plan. Enterprise was involved in developing both of these plans, which lay out a thorough, vetted housing agenda to address housing insecurity in New Orleans. And in May, a new mayor and city council will be sworn in which will offer in some ways a new start to building off those old plans. Some of the bigger policy initiatives include: 

  • Passing an inclusionary zoning ordinance in New Orleans.
  • Implementing the city’s fair housing plan.
  • Increasing density and addressing regulatory and zoning barriers that limit housing development.

Last year Enterprise led a polling effort to gauge voter interest in affordable housing issues in preparation for the upcoming mayoral and city council elections in New Orleans. How did the results of the poll influence our efforts and what role does the voice of voters play in policy advocacy?

With support from partners, we polled 500 New Orleans likely voters to gauge their opinions on housing issues. These voters ranked affordable housing as the #2 issue facing the city, and connected affordable housing as a critical component affecting quality of life and the future of the city.  These results clearly communicate that voters expect the new mayor and city council to tackle the growing problem of housing affordability in New Orleans, and we will reference the results to support our policy priorities.

What factors help you most in influencing the changes Enterprise hopes to see in the New Orleans, Baton Rouge and the Gulf Coast?

Enterprise has a strong reputation on the Gulf Coast as an ally and trusted source for help on housing issues. I’ve benefited from the goodwill built by our staff over the last 13 years on the Gulf Coast. Relying on our reputation and relationships cultivated for the last 13 years has made my job much easier. 

Learn more about our state and local policy efforts across the country and our work in the Gulf Coast, and find out how to support our work.