Housing, I-49, economic development frame Boulet’s early priorities 

Incoming Mayor-President Monique Blanco Boulet speaks to stakeholders at a town hall meeting on housing and revitalization on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023. Photo by Travis Gauthier

Across a trio of town hall meetings held by incoming Mayor-President Monique Blanco Boulet this week, economic development emerged as the central tenet of the new M-P’s vision for Lafayette. 

It was at the heart of this week’s discussions about I-49 and housing, and Lafayette Consolidated Government’s role in stimulating economic growth was the sole focus of Wednesday’s capstone town hall, where Boulet called it a fundamental aspect of her vision for Lafayette. 

That shouldn’t be surprising given Boulet’s tenure as CEO of the Acadiana Planning Commission, where she was influential in several major economic investments around the region.

“I think it’s natural because that’s my background, so that’s the filter that I look at things through. I think that’s the role of government, to build a strong foundation for our families and our businesses,” Boulet told Straight News Online in an interview Wednesday after she wrapped the third town hall. “That’s the heart of our community, how we live and how we work.”

But the centrality of economic development in her priorities stands to reshape LCG’s approach to other community issues, and housing is so far the clearest example.

Tuesday’s town hall on housing and revitalization brought dozens of Lafayette’s most engaged stakeholders into an active dialogue with the new M-P, whose comments centered around the impact on Lafayette’s workforce and local economy.

“When the housing market squeezes like this, yes you have the most impacted populations, but it really ripples all the way through our economy and our society,” she said. “So, we do need affordable housing, but we also need workforce housing. Housing that our first responders can afford. Housing that our teachers can afford.”

The new M-P welcomed ideas on changing Lafayette’s development code to remove barriers to density that have choked the city’s residential growth, and on expanding Lafayette’s federally funded housing support programs, like grants for home restorations and first-time homebuyer loans. 

The housing issue appears primed to play a defining role in the first year of Boulet’s mayor-presidency as it reared its head again at Wednesday’s town hall on economic development in points made by UL economist Gary Wagner, who plans to study the Lafayette Development Code’s impact on housing affordability next year. 

“Lafayette has become more expensive relative to the neighboring parishes,” Wagner said. “Also a key point for our future is our region is less competitive from a housing affordability perspective than a lot of places that we’re seeing people move to. … So I think housing affordability is something we can move the needle on, and I think it’s going to be important to do as well.”

What may be in store for LCG after the incoming M-P takes office in January for now remains unclear. Boulet’s engagement in this week’s town halls focused singularly on soliciting input and avoided announcements or proposals. But whatever her plans for Lafayette may become, Boulet says economic development will be at the center of that vision.

“As we move through local government, I always want to have that economic development question hanging over our heads, ‘Are we making good long-term decisions?’” she said. “The economy impacts everything we do. It impacts our families, how we grow, how we live, and all of that touches everything through quality of life. It is all very interactive.”