Lafayette voters will decide Saturday who will run Lafayette Consolidated Government for the next four years, and while incumbent Mayor-President Josh Guillory and challenger Monique Blanco Boulet have campaigned aggressively against each other for the past month, the two are running somewhat similar, if vague, platforms on the issues young voters tell The Current matter most to them.
KADN News15 sat down with both candidates for extended interviews informed by The Current’s reporting in which Guillory and Blanco Boulet were questioned about housing, flooding, quality of life initiatives and other local issues. Their responses, summarized and lightly edited, are below.
Affordable housing is a key struggle for young people in Lafayette, and local rules prevent anything denser than single-family housing from being built in nearly half of the city, making the density of Lafayette’s foundational suburban neighborhoods, like the Saints Streets, irreplicable nowadays.
▸ Neighborhood integrity. That is the phrase du jour for both candidates in response to questions about changing Lafayette’s zoning codes to make it easier to add to the city’s housing supply.
▸ Guillory takes a harder line against zoning changes that might affect existing neighborhoods, saying his commitment is to preserving existing neighborhood character.
“When you’re looking at housing and preserving neighborhood integrity, that’s more of a philosophy,” he says. “And that’s a philosophy that I adhered to from Day One. … I’ve always committed to neighborhood integrity.”
That tracks with Guillory’s actions during his first term, as his push to “repeal and replace” the city’s development codes in 2020 had little impact on zoning rules that limit what types of housing can be built where and prevent denser development in much of the city. Guillory’s administration is currently developing a taskforce to identify barriers to denser development, but the incumbent M-P hasn’t called on the City Council to make any substantial changes to zoning rules that affect housing.
▸ Blanco Boulet says codes should be adapted to “add housing density, as well as housing at different price points” in areas where increased density fits into the neighborhood character.
“That entry level housing price point is critical to really expand, and I think all options need to be on the table,” she says. “Our housing stock is aged, at least in the city … and we just need to look at it and be creative and do things that make sense for Lafayette.”
As CEO of the Acadiana Planning Commission, Blanco Boulet had little influence over the city’s housing codes, but she has touted the APC’s role in the new Bottle Art Lofts complex on University Avenue and Cameron Street as an example of local government support for new housing that can improve neighborhoods.
Flood risk is a fact of life in Lafayette, but the impacts of local decision-making on the scale of Lafayette’s risk has long been overlooked. Local development rules have effectively incentivized sprawling development in areas at risk of flooding, and when more people move into flood-prone areas, the need for local infrastructure increases, though local rules don’t require the administration to show the benefits of that work.
▸ Neither candidate is pushing regulatory changes to address Lafayette’s flood risk, with Guillory saying the current development code “will help us go in the future to develop more responsibly” and Blanco Boulet saying the parish needs to implement effective drainage solutions “before we even touch building regulations.”
▸ Instead, both see drainage projects as the solution to lowering Lafayette’s flood risk, each saying they will rely on science and data to determine how best to use taxpayer dollars to keep stormwater away from the parish’s homes and businesses.
▸ Blanco Boulet has attacked Guillory over his administration’s decision to fund certain drainage projects, particularly the massive Homewood Drive detention ponds that have been a years-long issue locally.
“The Homewood detention pond project was built for a 10-year storm, and today, we don’t really flood structures in 10-year storms. … So the first issue really is understanding what we have and what the actual impacts are on our floodplain,” she says. “I think we’ve made some missteps as far as our drainage projects, and so it’s going to be correcting that.”
▸ Guillory justified spending some $160 million on that and other flood reduction projects by saying, “The return on investment is those tens of thousands of homes that are no longer under threat of flooding.”
“Every single project impacts a family and impacts a business owner and impacts someone’s life that was detrimentally changed in 2016, 2019, even our flash floods in early 2021,” he says.
But his administration isn’t required to actually perform cost-benefit analyses for its drainage projects, and it hasn’t released any reports on the number of homes that will benefit from the massive Homewood Drive project.
Quality of Life
Quality of life is a major factor in how young people decide on whether to stay in Lafayette or seek greener pastures elsewhere. Local government’s role in that can be complicated, but focusing on green infrastructure, better jobs and a welcoming sense of community are common strategies that help other cities keep their young talent local.
▸ Guillory says Lafayette’s economy is solving that problem, arguing that it has strengthened and diversified in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to now have the lowest unemployment rate in the state, though that is incorrect according to data from the Louisiana Workforce Commission.
“You hear all this [about] out migration in the state of Louisiana, which breaks my heart. … But you don’t see that in Lafayette, Louisiana,” he says. “People and businesses are flocking to Lafayette.”
While Lafayette is doing better than some other parts of the state, it is still losing young college grads, who point to its lack of affordable housing and quality-of-life infrastructure as primary reasons for seeking their fortunes elsewhere.
▸ Blanco Boulet says Lafayette needs to create better jobs to raise wages and encourage young people to build lives here. The First Solar expansion coming to New Iberia, which she worked on at the APC, is an example of the area’s lower wages drawing better jobs to the area, she says, but local government will also need to support the growth of existing businesses.
“It was good to win that project because it’s awesome jobs, great wages,” she says. “But how do we build our wages up? [It] is by bringing in more competitive jobs, really good jobs, but also helping our current businesses grow and expand in a space that they feel comfortable in with support from our government.”
▸ Guillory has bet big on parks to improve quality of life in Lafayette, proposing tens of millions of dollars for overhauls of Brown Park, Moore Park and Heymann Park, among others.
“Our quality-of-life measures also feed into our economic boom. … These projects are underway right now,” he says. “This is not ‘pie in the sky, maybe we can do it.’ No, we are doing it. And these are going to be huge investments.”
▸ Blanco Boulet says quality of life should be central to every major project for Lafayette’s local government, pointing to multi-million dollar revitalization plans for the University Avenue Corridor that the APC won federal funding for under her leadership.
“If we’re gonna spend money at that scale … let’s do it in a way that improves the quality of life. Not only improves the traffic or the movement of cars, but also the way people live in and around that roadway, or whatever it might be,” she says. “So really, [in] government, we should be leveraging our dollars for the greatest impact across all areas of life, rather than just singularly checking boxes in individual spaces.”