[News] HUD to New Orleans' Poor: "Go F(ind) Yourself (Housing)!"
news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jun 19 14:37:09 EDT 2006
June 19 , 2006
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.
HUDs 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 HUDs 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 HUDs 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
doesnt 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 HUDs 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. HUDs 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 HUDs 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 HUDs
actions, they can get more information at
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,
The Freedom Archives
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San Francisco, CA 94110
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