Promises, Promises

5,000 units of public housing are to be razed in New Orleans, and there doesn’t appear to be any firm plan to ensure that the residents of those units are guaranteed spots in the new housing units that are planned but not yet underway.

Smells fishy to me.

The announcement, made by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso R. Jackson, provoked strong criticism from low-income tenants and their advocates, several of whom noted that thousands of public housing apartments had been closed since Hurricane Katrina. But local officials have for months said they do not want a return to the intense concentrations of poverty in the old projects, where crime and squalor were pervasive.

I agree in principle that this might be a great opportunity to break up the concentrated poverty of the old housing units with mixed-income housing. New York’s public housing is mixed-income and has been more or less free of the problems endemic to some of the massive low-income public housing blocks in other cities. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the buildings are just so damaged that they simply have to come down.

But follow-through has never been the strong suit of the Bush Administration. Without a rock-solid commitment to house every last resident of the projects who want to return, I look at this plan with a very jaundiced eye.

His announcement appeared to heighten the fears of many displaced tenants that they would be pushed out in favor of higher-income families.

“Right now, we feel it’s not the time to start huge building projects because there are lots of people who are displaced as we speak and need a place to stay,” said Lynette Bickham, who was evacuated from the St. Bernard project. “We’re going to continue to fight for our homes.”

This month, former residents began demanding the right to return, setting up a tent city outside the St. Bernard project, the largest of the developments. Local and federal officials refused to open the developments, saying they were unsafe.

Mr. Jackson outlined the first official plans for the projects since the storm, and they were incomplete. He did not specify how many units in the new developments would be set aside for public housing or whether there would be units for all the low-income residents who had such housing before the storm. Planning for the new developments, which are to be financed by bonds, tax credits and federal housing money, has not begun, he said.

Mayor C. Ray Nagin responded to Mr. Jackson’s announcement enthusiastically.

The proposed demolitions have renewed a debate about the future of the city’s enormous poor population, most of which remains displaced.

“I think the people who’ve been planning the recovery process never wanted poor people to return to the city in the first place,” said Lance Hill, the director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University. “And they haven’t made it easy.”


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2 comments for “Promises, Promises

  1. RachelPhilPa
    June 15, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    They don’t want poor people. They don’t want people of color. They don’t want any population that tends to vote Democratic. They want to turn NOLA into a nice, white, Republican stronghold.

  2. mia
    June 15, 2006 at 10:18 pm

    i think it’s important to note how low of a priority subsidized housing is all over the nation. here in washington state, housing is a precious commodity that people wait YEARS for. the section 8 wait lists, for example, are 3-5 years long. Shelter Plus Care, another HUD program that provides housing subsidy provided the participant does an equal or greater dollar amount in supportive services, also has a long wait list.

    i work in housing. the problem as i see it is the deprioritization of services for people in poverty, all accross the board. yeah, the Katrina situation sucks. but the reality is, people all over this country are experiencing similar housing emergencies and prolonged homelessness, without the press coverage. the root issue is the fact that this great capitalist nation has not determined housing to be a basic human right. framing this as a race issue only, sidesteps a large part of the overall problem: this is a status issue. this society is patriarchal and Calvinist in its root philosophies, and as such has little interest in doing any structural change that will alter the welfare state model. it is a bandaid approach that denies any responsibiltiy towards enacting change, or altering the entrenched (and profitable) elements of oppression.

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