FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Tightening the Noose Around New Orleans

by BILL QUIGLEY

Odessa Lewis is 62 years old. When I saw her last week, she was crying because she is being evicted. A long-time resident of the Lafitte public housing apartments, since Katrina she has been locked out of her apartment and forced to live in a 240 square foot FEMA trailer. Ms. Lewis has asked repeatedly to be allowed to return to her apartment to clean and fix it up so she can move back in. She even offered to do all the work herself and with friends at no cost. The government continually refused to allow her to return. Now she is being evicted from her trailer and fears she will become homeless because there is no place for working people, especially African American working and poor people, to live in New Orleans. Ms. Lewis is a strong woman who has worked her whole life. But the stress of being locked out of her apartment, living in a FEMA trailer and the possibility of being homeless brought out the tears. Thousands of other mothers and grandmothers are in the same situation.

Renting is so hard in part because there is a noose closing around the housing opportunities of New Orleans African American renters displaced by Katrina. They have been openly and directly targeted by public and private actions designed to keep them away. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) just added their weight to the attack by approving the demolition of 2966 apartments in New Orleans.

Despite telling a federal judge for the last year and a half that approvals of public housing demolition applications take about 100 working days to evaluate, HUD approved the plan to demolish nearly 3000 apartments one day after the complete application was filed. HUD says the 3000 apartments are scheduled to be replaced in a few years with up to 744 public housing eligible apartments and a few hundred subsidized apartments.

Unfortunately, HUD’s actions are consistent with other governmental attacks on African American renters.

After Katrina, St. Bernard Parish, a 93% white adjoining suburb, enacted a law prohibiting home owners from renting their property to anyone who is not a blood relative. Jefferson Parish, another majority white adjoining suburb, unanimously passed an ordinance prohibiting the construction of any subsidized housing. The sponsoring legislator condemned poor people as “lazy,” “ignorant” and “leeches on society”–specifically hoping to guard against former residents of New Orleans public housing. Across Lake Ponchartrain from New Orleans, the chief law enforcement officer of St. Tammany Parish, Sheriff Jack Strain, complained openly about the post-Katrina presence of “thugs and trash from New Orleans” and announced that people with dreadlocks or “chee wee hairstyles” could “expect to be getting a visit from a sheriff’s deputy.”

HUD’s actions are also bolstered by pervasive racial discrimination in the private market as well. The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center has documented widespread racial discrimination in the metro New Orleans rental market and in the states surrounding the gulf coast.

HUD told a federal judge a few days “the average time [for the process of reviewing applications for demolition] is 100 days.” They did suggest that the process could be expedited in the case of New Orleans. So it was. Instead of reviewing the details of demolishing 3000 apartments and considering the law and facts and the administrative record for 100 days, HUD expedited the process to one day.

HUD and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO, which HUD has been running for years) argued passionately that residents displaced from public housing (referred to once in their argument as ‘refugees’) are financially “better off” than they were before. This echoes the Barbara Bush comment of September 5, 2005 when she said, viewing the overwhelmingly African American crowd of thousands of people living on cots in the Astrodome, “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this – (she chuckles slightly) this is working very well for them.”

HUD announced approval of demolition of 2966 units of public housing in New Orleans – 896 apartments at Lafitte, 521 at C.J. Peete, 1158 at B.W. Cooper, and 1391 at St. Bernard. A few buildings on each site will be retained for historical preservation purposes.

New Orleans had a severe affordable housing crisis before Katrina when HANO housed over 5000 families. There was a waiting list of 8000 families trying to get in. HUD and HANO together did such a poor job of administering the agency that there were about 2000 more empty apartments that had been scheduled for major repairs for years.

The continuing deceptions by HUD and HANO have been shameless. Since Katrina, HUD has continued to act out both sides of a charade that the local housing authority is making decisions and HUD is waiting on local actions. Yet, the decision to demolish was announced by the Secretary of HUD in DC over a year ago. But in the year since then, HUD has continued to tell a federal judge that any legal challenge to demolitions was premature because HANO had not even submitted an application to HUD for their careful 100 day evaluation. This is while a HUD employee runs the agency, commuting back and forth to DC each week. HANO even announced they would have 2000 apartments ready for people in August of 2006–a deadline not met even in September 2007. HANO later announced to the public that they had a list of 250 apartments ready for people to return only to admit in writing weeks later that no such list existed–nor were the phantom apartments ready.

The list of untruths goes on.

HUD would not agree to delay the demolition of the 3000 apartments until Congress finished reviewing legislation that would give residents the right to return and participate in the process of determining what kind of affordable housing should be in place in New Orleans.

And so HUD’s actions help further restrict the opportunities for African American renters in New Orleans. Adjoining white suburbs do not want African American renters back. HUD does not want them back. The local federal judge has refused to stop the demolitions.

But the mothers and grandmothers and their families and friends are still determined to return and resist demolition. One sign at a recent public housing rally summed it up. “We will not allow the community we built to be rebuilt without us.”

Odessa Lewis, despite her tears, said she is not giving up. She and other public housing residents promise “we did not come this far to be turned back now. We will do whatever is necessary to protect our homes.” Thousands of African American mothers and grandmothers are the ones directly targeted by HUD’s actions.

Forty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr., said “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” societyWhen profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” We can add sexism to the list, particularly in the fight for the right of public housing residents to return.

The fight of Ms. Lewis and others on the gulf coast shows how much we need a radical revolution of values.

BILL QUIGLEY is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He can be reached at Quigley@loyno.edu.

 

Bill Quigley teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans and can be reached at quigley77@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
Dave Lindorff
Right a Terrible Wrong: Why Obama Should Reverse Himself and Pardon Leonard Peltier
Laura Carlsen
Bringing Mexico to Its Knees Will Not “Make America Great Again”
John W. Whitehead
Nothing is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey: the Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Mike Whitney
The Trump Speech That No One Heard 
Conn Hallinan
Is Europe Heading for a “Lexit”?
Stephen Cooper
Truth or Twitter? Why Donald Trump Is No John Steinbeck
Binoy Kampmark
Scoundrels of Patriotism: The Freeing of Chelsea Manning
Ramzy Baroud
The Balancing Act is Over: What Elor Azaria Taught Us about Israel
Josh Hoxie
Why Health Care Repeal is a Stealth Tax Break for Millionaires
Kim C. Domenico
It’s High Time for a Politics of Desire
Shamus Cooke
Inauguration Day and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
More and More Lousy
David Swanson
Samantha Power Can See Russia from Her Padded Cell
Kevin Carson
Right to Work and the Apartheid State
Malaika H. Kambon
Resisting the Lynching of Haitian Liberty!
January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump, It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail