[News] New Orleans - Bulldozers for the Poor, Huge Tax Credits for Wealthy Developers

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Dec 4 12:13:09 EST 2007


December 3, 2007

Christmas Presents for New Orleans, From HUD

Bulldozers for the Poor, Huge Tax Credits for Wealthy Developers


On the 12th day before Christmas, the U.S. Department of Housing and 
Urban Development (HUD) is planning to unleash teams of bulldozers to 
demolish thousands of low-income apartments in New Orleans. Despite 
Katrina causing the worst affordable housing crisis since the Civil 
War, HUD is spending $762 million in taxpayer funds to tear down over 
4600 public housing subsidized apartments and replace them with 744 
similarly subsidized units--an 82% reduction. HUD is in charge and a 
one person HUD employee makes all the local housing authority 
decisions. HUD took over the local housing authority years ago--all 
decisions are made in Washington DC. HUD plans to build an additional 
1000 market rate and tax credit units--which will still result in a 
net loss of 2700 apartments to New Orleans--the remaining new 
apartments will cost an average cost of over $400,000 each!

Affordable housing is at a critical point along the Gulf Coast. Over 
50,000 families still living in tiny FEMA trailers are being 
systematically forced out. Over 90,000 homeowners in Louisiana are 
still waiting to receive federal recovery funds from the Road Home. 
In New Orleans, hundreds of the estimated 12,000 homeless have taken 
up residence in small tents across the street from City Hall and 
under the I-10.

In Mississippi, poor and working people are being displaced along the 
coast to allow casinos to expand and develop shipping and other 
commercial activities. Two dozen ministers criticized the exclusion 
of renters and low-income homeowners from post-Katrina assistance: 
"Sadly we must now bear witness to the reality that our Recovery 
Effort has failed to include a place at the table ... for our poor 
and vulnerable."

The bulldozers have not torn down any buildings yet and New Orleans 
public housing residents vow to resist. "If you try to bulldoze our 
homes, we're going to fight," promised resident Sharon Jasper. 
"There's going to be a war in New Orleans."

Resident resistance is being expanded by allies from a coalition of 
groups who see the destruction of public housing without one for one 
replacement harming all renters and low-income homeowners.

Kali Akuno, of the Coalition to Stop Demolition, explains why many 
people who do not live in public housing are joining residents in 
this fight. "In the past two years, New Orleans has faced a series of 
social crises that have struck a blow to our collective vision for a 
more just and equitable city, not simply one that is more inviting to 
elites. Yet none of these crises has been as uniquely urgent as this. 
What is at stake with the demolition of public housing in New Orleans 
is more than just the loss of housing units: it destroys any 
possibility for affordable housing in New Orleans for the foreseeable 
future. Without access to affordable housing, thousands of working 
class New Orleanians will be denied their human right to return."

A federal court has refused to stop the scheduled demolitions. 
Residents offered evidence to show the three story garden-style 
buildings were structurally sound and pointed out that the local 
housing authority itself documented that it would cost much less to 
repair and retain the apartments than demolish and reconstruct a 
small fraction of them. The New York Times architecture critic 
described them as "low scale, narrow footprint and high quality 
construction." HUD promised to subject plans for demolition to 100 
days of scrutiny--yet approved demolition with no public input in 
less than two days. The court acknowledged some questions about the 
fairness of the process but concluded that if the demolitions turn 
out to be illegal, residents can always recover money damages later.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that requires one for 
one replacement of any public housing demolished, but Senator David 
Vitter (R-La) has stopped the Senate version cold.

The Institute for Southern Studies reports that the Gulf Coast 
Housing Recovery Act, S. 1668, sponsored by Sen. Mary Landrieu 
(D-La.) had the support of the entire state's delegation and the U.S. 
Department of Housing and Urban Development -- until September, when 
HUD and Vitter suddenly withdrew their backing. There's been much 
speculation over Vitter's sudden about-face on the measure, 
especially since he's been reluctant to disclose his objections in 
much detail.

The Congressional Quarterly Weekly offers partisan politics as one 
explanation for his actions:

"...[P]olitical experts say the senatorial flap is not unexpected, 
given Louisiana's rough-and-tumble politics and Vitter and Landrieu's 
chilly relationship. Landrieu is up for re-election next year and has 
emerged as the GOP's top target among incumbent senators, in part 
because of the state's rightward shift in recent elections.

"The fact that Mary Landrieu is widely identified as the most 
vulnerable Democrat coming into the next election cycle, you 
certainly don't want to give her big victories in helping the state," 
said Kirby Goidel, a professor of political science at Louisiana 
State University. "He probably feels safe enough to hold it up as 
long as it's not too obviously political and he has some 
policy-related cover. He's a pretty hardball political player."

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 

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.

What is scheduled to happen in New Orleans is happening across the 
United States. It is just that New Orleans offers a more condensed 
and graphic illustration. The federal government is determined to get 
out of housing all together and let the private market reign. A 
report of the Urban Institute confirms that in the last decade over 
78,000 low-income apartments have been demolished by HUD.

That is why locals are receiving support and solidarity from 
residents and housing advocates in Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, 
Minneapolis, and New York.

Destruction of housing for the working poor is also a global scandal 
as corporations and governments push entire neighborhoods out. In 
India, traditional fishing villages destroyed by the tsunami are 
being forcibly moved away from the coast and the land where they 
lived is being converted to luxury hotels and tourist destinations. 
The International Alliance of Inhabitants, which opposes the 
demolitions in New Orleans, points out poor people's neighborhoods 
are also being taken away in Angola, Hungary, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia, 
Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

Poor and working people in New Orleans and across the globe are 
living on property that has become valuable for corporations. 
Accommodating governments are pushing the poor away and turning 
public property to private. HUD is giving private developers hundreds 
of millions of public dollars, scores of acres of valuable land, and 
thousands of public apartments. Happy holidays for them for sure.

For the poor, the holidays are scheduled to bring bulldozers. The 
demolition is poised to start in New Orleans any day now. Attempts at 
demolition will be met with just resistance. Whether that resistance 
is successful or not will determine not only the future of the 
working poor in New Orleans, but of working poor communities 
nationally and globally. If the U.S. government is allowed to 
demolish thousands of much-needed affordable apartments of Katrina 
victims, what chance do others have?

Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola 
University New Orleans. Bill is one of the lawyers for displaced 
residents. You can contact him at <mailto:Quigley at loyno.edu>Quigley at loyno.edu.

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