New Orleans: Campaigns launched to save public housing

The Coalition to Stop the Demolitions is calling for National Days of Action on Jan. 25 and 26. The call is to rally activists around the country to show solidarity with public-housing residents in New Orleans and to save four public-housing developments from being demolished by private developers in favor of more expensive luxurious developments.

The days of action are also meant to give attention to Senate Bill 1668, the Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act. SB 1668 was first introduced in June 2007, almost two years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit. It would ensure the right to housing for New Orleanians displaced across the country and up to now denied the right to return to New Orleans because of poverty, lack of housing and jobs for the original inhabitants of the city.

Some of the features of the bill are that it: ensures homeowners in Louisiana can rebuild their homes by authorizing funds to cover the shortfall in the Road Home program; provides former public-housing residents the opportunity to come home and counseling to families with housing vouchers so they can obtain suitable housing; ensures there is no net loss of affordable housing opportunities by requiring that any public housing or other HUD-assisted housing in the Gulf is replaced; authorizes appropriations for the repair and rehabilitation of public housing in the Gulf Coast; provides additional affordable housing opportunities by authorizing funding for 4,500 supportive housing vouchers and an additional 1,000 housing units for the homeless.

The bill is indeed lacking, but goes further than any other bill to date relating to bring some justice for the people of the Gulf Coast.

However, there are efforts to defeat this bill which would be a boon to the thousands of displaced persons tragically impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

David Vitter—a Republican senator from Louisiana and author of the amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act that requires schools receiving federal funds to permit military recruiters on school grounds and to provide the recruiters with the names, telephone numbers and addresses of all students enrolled—wrote an Oct. 6 opinion piece in the Times Picayune disparaging SB 1668.

Vitter’s opinion piece argued in favor of HUD/HANO’s plan to allow C.J. Peete, St. Bernard, B.W. Cooper and Lafitte units to be demolished and redesigned by private companies with public money. The plan calls for “mixed income housing” developments where the number of units for low-income residents would be greatly reduced and the developments’ primary purpose would be for profit.

A rebuttal of Vitter’s primary arguments for scrapping SB 1668, which serve the desires of developers and the local ruling elite to redesign the city for wealthy whites, has been posted on katrinaaction.org.

The website points to a number of fallacies in Vitter’s opinion piece, chief being that HUD/HANO’s plan accounts for and accommodates the thousands of families who lived in public housing.

The HUD/HANO plan, according to Vitter, “would rebuild the C.J. Peete, St. Bernard, B.W. Cooper and Lafitte developments in a much less dense way with a mix of residents in terms of income—a third who would traditionally qualify for public housing, a third who need limited rental assistance and a third who would pay full market rate. And the agencies are already supplementing this with other low-income housing, including market-based vouchers.”

In fact, according to public-housing activists, “For some, the ‘mixed-income housing’ concept may sound appealing, but it is being used to cover up the fact that HANO/HUD seek to eliminate 82 percent of the public-housing units that were lived in by residents prior to Hurricane Katrina.”

Katrinaaction.org presents the example of the St. Thomas Housing Development, which was demolished in 2000. It housed 900 families and had 1,600 units total. In its place now stands the “mixed-income housing” development called River Gardens. Over 100 units were set aside for low income, but currently, as revealed in a Counter Punch article written by attorney Bill Quigley, only 60 low-income families live there.

St. Thomas was redeveloped under HUD’s Hope VI program. The contract went to Historic Restoration Inc., a real-estate developer that specializes in turning historic structures into luxury apartments. From the very beginning, not even one-third of River Gardens units were slated for low-income residents.

The destruction of the Desire housing development in favor of “New Desire” is very similar. There were 1,800 units but the new development will have a little more than 400 units set aside as affordable housing.

Vitter is hypocritical in the area of “defending” democratic rights, when he says: “First, the bill would stop the HUD/HANO redevelopment plan dead in its tracks, voiding all of the contracts and agreements presently in place and establishing a moratorium on demolition and redevelopment. Work could only happen once a brand new, bureaucratic consultative process with former and prospective residents was performed and a whole new redevelopment plan was developed and approved.”

His “new” New Orleans, a city for the wealthy and white—where the culture of the oppressed Black masses will be exploited as a draw for the new inhabitants—has no room for the poor or Black people. It is a city that has less than half of the 14,000 public-housing units that were available in 1996.

It is right in line with James Reiss, the wealthy white head of the Regional Transportation Authority, who stated in January 2006, “Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically.”

However, one cannot plan a meal from chickens not hatched. The people of New Orleans, especially the oppressed Black people and allies, are determined to fight back. Along with the Jan. 25 and 26 actions and a national poster awareness campaign, a Green Ribbon Campaign has been organized to demand: The Right of Return for the Black majority to New Orleans, Affordable housing for all—Stop the demolition of public housing Now!, Pass Senate Bill 1668—The Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act of 2007, and Stop the police and government harassment and brutality against peaceful protests.

Go to http://www.peopleshurricane.org for more information on how to support SB 1668.

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