[News] HUD to New Orleans' Poor: "Go F(ind) Yourself (Housing)!"

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jun 19 14:37:09 EDT 2006


http://www.counterpunch.org/quigley06192006.html

June 19 , 2006

Bulldozing Hope


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?

Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and 
professor at Loyola University New Orleans School 
of Law. You can reach him at <mailto:Quigley at loyno.edu>Quigley at loyno.edu

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 
<http://www.justiceforneworleans.org>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, 
<http://www.nesri.org>www.nesri.org.]


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