08
Nov
07

Down to the Wire: Preserving Public Housing in NOLA

In contrast to the rather frivolous tone of the RP lately, the struggle to preserve and re-open public housing in New Orleans continues.  The movement has linked up with broader efforts to pass S.1668 in Congress, as the 5,000 units of public housing are a key part of the compromise phased development of affordable housing in the legislation.  While S.1668 remains stalled due to partisan shenanigans, public housing’s future hangs in the balance, as tireless activists both try to push forward S.1668 and stymie HUD’s looming efforts to demolish the buildings. 

Timing is of the essence right now in the struggle to provide adequate, needed and frankly, compensatory affordable housing in New Orleans: We entered the fall and the S.1668 advocacy battle knowing that we were up against HUD’s timeline to demolish the buildings. 

A couple things in our favor to preserve PH:

1) A partial re-opening of 5 of the original brick buildings of one the most contested shuttered public housing complexes, St. Thomas, as part of the overall transformation of the development into River Garden.  These buildings were preserved for historic purposes when the rest of the site was demolished; the developer subsequently has created 37 affordable units within them. 

This naturally begs the explicit question: if a mainstream private developer sees fit to rehab and re-use these buildings as part of the new “mixed-income” community of River Garden, then what’s wrong with the equivalent developments proposed for demolition?  You might be inclined to invoke the classic argument against “concentrated poverty,” noting correctly that 37 low-rise units are of a different magnitude than the 500-1,500 in the four contested developments.  Public housing advocates like myself then point out that initiatives like S.1668 enable an outcome very similar to this one at St. Thomas/River Garden, only with humane and sensible phased re-development that includes an immediate re-opening to relieve the crises of homelessness and lengthy affordable housing waiting lists. 

(I would like to thank my more stalward Marxist public housing advocate-allies for supporting S.1668, acknowledging that this is a generous compromise on their part, as they have worked tirelessly to re-open all 5,000 units immediately, without concession to neoliberal mixed-income solutions that will ultimately reduce the overall proportion of affordable housing in the city.)

2) The New Orleans City Council has endorsed S. 1668, and tireless advocacy for the bill continues, including print ads, faith-based endorsements and on-going lobbying at the Congressional level. 

3) Legal obstacles to HUD’s demolition plans are thrown up at every turn (see link in the first paragraph).  I can’t follow these chain of events very easily, but it does appear that bold and indispensable civil rights attorneys like Bill Quigley and Tracie Washington are working with residents to formally block HUD’s efforts as best they can at every turn, with restraining orders, etc.  Right now demolition is planned for November 28, though it’s not clear if that date will be honored.  I personally wouldn’t be surprised if HUD knocked the buildings down in the dead of night at some undisclosed date, and I doubt I’m not the only person to think that.   HUD/HANO’s possible illegality also undermines the agencies’ efforts here, though not much, given the Administration in which they are sheltered.

Things working against us:

Can I just say the neoliberal capitalist structure that’s freed us – and our governments – to abdicate our responsibility to the poor, including providing our most basic right to adequate shelter, and leave it at that?  No?  Ok, well, how about…

…Sen. Vitter’s and City Councilwoman Stacy Head’s efforts, among others, to block S. 1668 from advancing?

…the resources and relative power of HUD to proceed as desired, despite all our best efforts?

…the general public antipathy towards public housing?

To say that we’re fighting an uphill battle would be an understatement.

By now, you all know the drill: Support S. 1668 and let your people know that you want to see public and affordable housing remain in the *new* New Orleans! 

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1 Response to “Down to the Wire: Preserving Public Housing in NOLA”


  1. 1 cero
    November 15, 2007 at 2:27 am

    OK so I amended my post slightly again. 😉


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