Over the whole issue, I’ve just been shaking my head and having trouble coming up with anything else to say. Lots of folks are writing, ranting, and protesting over the demolitions of the St. Bernard, Lafitte, C.J. Peete and B.W. Cooper housing projects. Protests have been held, calls made, meetings held and attended. And the demolition has already started:
The only visible plan is to tear down the buildings. There
is no concrete plan for housing, redevelopment, anything. (See Update below. Also check out Editor B’s and Alli’s comments on the Lafitte plan.) The goal is to tear down Those Buildings. And then what? When will there be housing? And for whom? Another River Garden? A few dozen or so people and companies making money and nothing else changing but the pastel color of the walls in view? This is not about “improving the lives” of the black women, children and older people who lived in Those Buildings because if it were about them, people would be housed and helped before anything was torn down. The mincing noises about “failed” housing, the “horrible” conditions (asserted by people who often have the least experience in or with these projects–and no, they were not utopias but people did live there and did their best to make what they had work), The Drugs, the walls, wiring, etc.–all a fucking ruse to cover up the real goal and meaning–to eliminate Those Buildings that remind us of society’s and our city’s multiple human, humane and economic failures; the fear of being held accountable for throwing people away; people blamed for being thrown away by others then exiled and what homes and neighborhoods and communities they knew and had demonized and demolished to “help” them defeat the social ills they are held down by and under that they are also blamed for; the delusion that money, resources, education, status and hope trickle down from luxury apartments and condominiums built so fast you can see their Section 8 future and yet another future insistence that the way to solve housing and poverty problems is to tear down buildings and move people, black people, women, out of sight. Those making decisions in the open and in the dark–including Shelley Midura, Stacy Head, Ray Nagin, David Vitter, Alphonso Jackson and the usual few dozen local moneyed minions from hell–talk out of both sides of their mouths and all their assholes and then are shocked when the people they are cleansing from the cityscape object, fight, yell and make it damn clear they see through the faked compassion and reason to the real heart of it all–we don’t want you, go away, at least until we need someone to clean the floor and wipe the shit off Great-Grandma’s ass.
Something fishy in rush to demolish-–Lolis Eric Elie
Christmas Presents for New Orleans, From HUD: Bulldozers for the Poor, Huge Tax Credits for Wealthy Developers–Bill Quigley in Counterpunch
Republican interests are clearly not served by the return of all African-Americans to New Orleans. Louisiana was described before Katrina as a “pink state”–one that went Democratic some times and Republican others. The tipping point for Louisiana Democrats was the deeply Democratic African American city of New Orleans. Immediately after the hurricanes struck, one political analyst said “the Democratic margin of victory in Louisiana is sleeping in the Astrodome in Houston.” Tiny turnout by African-American voters in New Orleans in recent elections has led white Republican interests to calculate immediate new political gains. Demolition of thousands of low-income African American occupied apartments only helps that political and racial dynamic.
But no one will say openly that African American renters are not welcome. Supporters of the destruction of thousands of apartments have come up with a series of stated reasons for their actions, but it clearly looks like political gain and economic enrichment for contractors, lawyers, architects and political friends are the real reasons.
Reduction of crime was supposed to be the main reason for getting rid of thousands of public housing apartments–yet crime in New Orleans has soared since Katrina while the thousands of apartments remain shut.
Every one of the displaced families who were living in public housing is African-American. Most all are headed by mothers and grandmothers working low-wage jobs or disabled or retired. Thousands of children lived in the neighborhoods. Race and class and gender are an unstated part of every justification for demolition, especially the call for “mixed-income housing.” If the demolitions are allowed to go forward, there will be mixed income housing–but the mix will not include over 80 percent of the people who lived there.
This absolute lack of any realistic affordable alternative is the main reason people want to return to their public housing neighborhoods–or be guaranteed one for one replacement of their homes. Absent that, redevelopment will not help the residents or people in the community who need affordable housing.
HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson has his own reasons for pressing ahead with the demolitions. HUD has approved plans to turn over scores of acres of prime public land to private developers for 99 year leases and give hundreds of millions of dollars in direct grants, tax credit subsidies and long-term contracts. One of the developers described it as the biggest tax-credit giveaway in years.
There may be crime in the projects after all–even if the residents are gone. Consider the following examples.
Investigative reporter Edward T. Pound of the National Journal has uncovered many questionable and several potentially criminal actions by HUD in New Orleans. Pound reported that HUD Secretary Jackson worked with, and is owed over $250,000 from an Atlanta-based company, Columbia Residential. Columbia Residential was part of a team that was awarded a $127 million contract by HUD to develop the St. Bernard housing development. Columbia was also awarded other earlier contracts for as yet undisclosed amounts under still undisclosed circumstances.
Pound also discovered that a golfing buddy and social friend of Secretary Jackson was given a no-bid $175 an hour “emergency” contract with HUD within months of Katrina. The buddy, William Hairston, was ultimately paid more than $485,000 for working at HANO over an 18 month period.
A review of the dozens of no-bid contracts approved by HUD in New Orleans shows millions going to politically connected consultants, law firms, architects, and insurance brokers.
UPDATE: from “The Big Four.” The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, 16 Dec. 2007, A14.
Units: 1,436 on 52 acres.
Top residential count: 1,436 families.
Residents when Katrina hit: 1,015 families.
Units temporarily opened: None
Plan after demolition: Build 624 mixed-income units in rwo phases; reduce density from 28 public housing units per acre to 12 mixed-income units per acre. Small retail complex, with apartments above commercial space, and a community center. Two charter public schools envisioned.
Developer: Bayou District Foundation, comprised of Columbia Residential of Atlanta; the Baton Rouge Area Foundation; and the Fore! Kids Foundation of New Orleans.
B. W. Cooper (formerly Calliope)
Built: 690 units built in 1942. An additional 860 units built in 1954.
Units: 1,474 on 55 acres.
Units temporarily reopened since Katrina: 261.
Residents when Katrina hit: 1,015 families
Plan after demolition: Build 660 mixed-income units in two phases; density to be reduced from 27 public housing units per acre to 12 mixed-income units per acre. No commercial development planned.
Developer: KBK Enterprises of Columbus, Ohio, and the B. W. Cooper Resident Management Corporation.
C. J. Peete (formerly Magnolia)
Built: 723 units built in 1941. An additional 680 units added in 1955 were later torn down.
Units: 723 on 41-1/2 acres.
Residents when Katrina hit: 144 families.
Units temporarily reopened since Katrina: None.
Plan after demolition: Build 460 mixed-income units in two phases; reduce density from 45 public housing units per acre to 11 mixed-income units per acre. An 18,000-square-foot community building but no commercial development.
Developer: Central City Partners, which is made up of McCormack Baron Salazar, a national real-estate developer, and KAI Design and Build of St. Louis. They will work with the New Orleans Neighborhood Development Collaborative.
Built: 1941 with 896 units in 77 buildings.
Units: 896 on 28 acres.
Units temporarily reopened since Katrina: None currently. Work is under way to reopen 94 units.
Top residential count: 896 families.
Residents when Katrina hit: 865 families.
Plan after demolition: Build 1,500 mixed-income units on the Lafitte site and surrounding neighborhood, including 600 home ownership units.
Developer: Providence and Enterprise (PDF), both nonprofit agencies.
[This is my favorite because of the expansiveness, the inclusion of the surrounding neighborhood in the plan and the home ownership units.]