Sunday, June 18, 2006
HOUSING ADVOCATES TAKE TO NEW ORLEANS STREETS ON SATURDAY
Public housing residents and community activists reacted angrily to the federal government’s three-year plan to bulldoze four public housing complexes in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans and replace them with mixed-income developments.
Activist Mike Howells, a member of United Front for Affordable Housing, said the plan unveiled by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials Wednesday effectively “cuts the throats” of several thousand displaced public housing residents desperate to return to the city.
“That’s tantamount to ethnic cleansing,” he said during the public comment portion of a meeting of the New Orleans City Council’s Housing & Human Needs Committee.
Howells said HUD’s plan, which he stressed is merely a “proposal,” would demolish 70 percent of the city’s public housing and take nearly 5,300 public housing units out of commission for up to three years.
“We know who’s going to be shut out as a result of that,” he said. “We’ve all heard Yogi Berra’s statement: ‘It ain’t over till it’s over.’ We’re not accepting this offer.”
Yesterday people took to the streets to protest HUD's plans to demolish public housing in New Orleans and make way for so-called mixed income housing. This would take years to accomplish, while repairing existing public housing units would take just months. Yet HUD is keeping public housing developments in New Orleans boarded up and fenced off to residents, allowing buildings to deteriorate.
The first item below from the Times-Picayune (New Orleans). The second was taken from Common Dreams.
Protesters take plight to the avenue
Scarce public housing has people upset
Dozens of activists and public housing residents Saturday protested the federal government's plan to demolish several of the city's largest public housing developments by marching through the lush Uptown neighborhood that lines St. Charles Avenue.
"There is a human right to be able to return home if you've been displaced by a natural disaster," said Bill Quigley, a Loyola University Law School professor who said he plans to file a lawsuit against the Department of Housing and Urban Development this week on behalf of public housing residents left without their own homes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
HUD, which oversees the long-troubled Housing Authority of New Orleans, announced Wednesday that it wants to demolish four of the city's traditional complexes, including the 1,300-unit St. Bernard in the 7th Ward and Lafitte near Treme. Neither complex will reopen, HUD said.
In the same announcement, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson said the department will reopen 1,000 units of public housing in other complexes by August. About 1,100 units already are open.
Before Katrina, New Orleans had about 5,100 occupied units of public housing. Another 9,000 families received federal Section 8 vouchers allowing them to rent apartments in the private market.
Protesters Saturday chanted for justice amid the live oaks and mansions along St. Charles, part of the sliver of New Orleans that the floodwaters did not ruin.
As security guards watched, they ended the march in front of the gate blocking access to Audubon Place, a private street that is one of the city's toniest addresses. But the protest was peaceful.
Robert James, 53, said he marched in support of his sister's family, forced from their apartment at the C.J. Peete complex in Central City, which has been shuttered since the storm. The James family, which rode out the storm in New Orleans only to wind up at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and Superdome along with tens of thousands of other stranded people, still have no permanent address, nearly 10 months after Katrina.
"We live paycheck to paycheck," said Robert James, a Vietnam veteran who works as a truck driver. "Sometimes, I get enough to stay at a hotel."
Other nights, James, his sister and her two sons, 11 and 16, sleep in his 15-year-old truck. James lost his 7th Ward apartment to the floodwaters. On June 3, the family cleaned up their C.J. Peete apartment, which had been burglarized since their departure.
"I have to do this for my sister and her family," James said in explaining why he was marching.
If he were on his own, said James, who grew up in the Florida and Fischer public housing complexes before joining the Marine Corps at age 17, he could find work anywhere he chose and move away.
"The only thing that bothers me is they say they want people to come back," he said. "But they're not doing anything to help us come back."
HANO could repair many of the units in vacant but less-damaged complexes, such as Lafitte, and allow people to live there temporarily, advocates for the former residents said. Instead, they said, thousands of New Orleanians remain displaced from their hometown, where the housing market is tight and rentals are scarce.
"They were shipped out of town, and the rich white people seem to think they should stay out of town," said Malcolm Suber, a New Orleans activist, as he joined the march along the St. Charles neutral ground. "We need housing in this city desperately."
HUD to New Orleans Poor: "Go F(ind) Yourself (Housing)!"
by Bill Quigley
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced they plan to demolish over five thousand public housing apartments in New Orleans. In August 2005, HUD reported they had 7,381 public apartments in New Orleans. Now HUD says they now have 1000 apartments open and promise to repair and open another 1000 in a couple of months. After months of rumors, HUD confirmed their intention to demolish all the remaining apartments.
HUD's demolition plans leave thousands of families with no hope of returning to New Orleans where rental housing is scarce and costly. In New Orleans, public housing was occupied by women, mostly working, their children as well as the elderly and disabled.
To these mothers and children, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson said: "Any New Orleans voucher recipient or public housing resident will be welcomed home."
Exactly how people will be welcomed home, HUD did not say.
How can thousands of low-income working families come home if HUD has fenced off their apartments, put metal shutters over their windows and doors and are now plans to demolish their homes?
Jackson, who is likely sleeping in his own bed, urged patience for the thousands who have been displaced since August of 2005: "Rebuilding and revitalizing public housing isn't something that will be done overnight."
Patience is in short supply in New Orleans as over 200,000 people remain displaced. "I just need somewhere to stay," Patricia Thomas told the Times-Picayune. Ms. Thomas has lived in public housing for years. "We're losing our older people. They're dropping like flies when they hear they can't come home."
Demolition of public housing in New Orleans is not a new idea. When Katrina displaced New Orleans public housing residents, the Wall Street Journal reported U.S. Congressman Richard Baker, a 10 term Republican from Baton Rouge, telling lobbyists: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."
This demolition plan continues HUD's efforts to get out of the housing business. In 1996, New Orleans had 13,694 units of conventional public housing. Before Katrina, New Orleans was down to half that, 7,379 units of conventional public housing. If they are allowed to accelerate the demolition, public housing in New Orleans will have been reduced by 85% in the past decade.
The federal demolition of housing in New Orleans continues a nation-wide trend that has led some critics to suggest changing HUD's official name to the Department of Demolition of Public Housing.
Much of the public housing demolition nationally comes through of a federal program titled "Hope VI" - a cruelly misnamed program that destroys low income housing in the name of creating "mixed income housing."
Who can be against tearing down old public housing and replacing it with mixed income housing? Sounds like everyone should benefit doesn't it? Unfortunately that is not the case at all. Almost all the poor people involved are not in the mix.
New Orleans has already experienced the tragic effects of HOPE VI. The St. Thomas Housing Development in the Irish Channel area of New Orleans was home to 1600 apartments of public housing. After St. Thomas was demolished under Hope VI, the area was called River Gardens. River Gardens is a mixed income community - home now to 60 low income families, some middle income apartments, a planned high income tower, and a tax-subsidized Wal-Mart! Our tax dollars at work - destroying not only low-income housing but neighborhood small businesses as well.
Worse yet, after Katrina, the 60 low-income families in River Gardens were not even allowed back into their apartments. They were told their apartments were needed for employees of the housing authority. It took the filing of a federal complaint by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Center to get the families back into their apartments.
As James Perry, Director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Center says about the planned demolition of public housing, "If the model is River Gardens, it has failed miserably." Despite HUD's promise to demolish homes, the right of people to return to New Orleans is slowly being recognized as a human rights issue. According to international law, the victims of Katrina are "internally displaced persons" because they were displaced within their own country as a result of natural disaster. Principle 28 of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement requires that the U.S. government recognize the human right of displaced people to return home. The US must "allow internally displaced persons to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, to their homes or places of habitual residence. Such authorities shall facilitate the reintegration of returned or resettled internally displaced persons. Special efforts should be made to ensure the full participation of internally displaced persons in the planning and management of their return or resettlement and reintegration." The US Human Rights Network and other human rights advocates are educating people of the Gulf Coast and the nation about how to advocate for human rights. HUD has effectively told the people of New Orleans to go find housing for themselves. New Orleans already has many, many people, including families, living in abandoned houses - houses without electricity or running water. New Orleans has recently been plagued with an increase in the number of fires. HUD's actions will put more families into these abandoned houses. Families in houses with no electricity or water should be a national disgrace in the richest nation in the history of the world. But for HUD and others with political and economic power this is apparently not the case.
As in the face of any injustice, there is resistance.
NAACP civil rights attorney Tracie Washington promised a legal challenge and told HUD, "You cannot go forward and we will not allow you to go forward."
Most importantly, displaced residents of public housing and their allies have set up a tent city survivors village outside the fenced off 1300 empty apartments on St. Bernard Avenue in New Orleans.
If the authorities do not open up the apartments by July 4, they pledge to go through the fences and liberate their homes directly. The group, the United Front for Affordable Housing, is committed to resisting HUD's efforts to bulldoze their apartments "by any means necessary."
If the government told you that they were going to bulldoze where you live, and deny you the right to return to your home, would you join them?
For more information about the July 4 protest by the United Front for Affordable Housing, call Endesha Juakali at 504.239.2907, Elizabeth Cook 504.319.3564, or Ishmael Muhammad at 504.872.9521. If you know someone who is a displaced New Orleans public housing resident and they want to join in a challenge to HUD's actions, they can get more information at www.justiceforneworleans.org ; For more information on the human rights campaigns for Katrina victims, see the US Human Rights Network at www.ushrnetwork.org or the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, www.nesri.org.]
Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and professor at Loyola University New Orleans School of Law. You can reach him at Quigley@loyno.edu