HUD reducing deeply subsidized elderly and disabled housing in NOLA by 68%

Just so we’re clear. 

PolicyLink has released a brief analysis of HUD’s plans to replace subsidized housing for extremely low-income households, those making 30% of Area Median Income ($15,9k).  This includes many households in New Orleans with minimum wage employees working full-time (40h) per week in the service and hospitality industries earning just over $12,000 per year.  Overall, HUD plans to replace about one-third of the 12k pre-storm units.  Separate from the overly villified and spotlighted public housing developments, which face a 59% net loss, less than one-third of the deeply subsidized housing specifically set aside for seniors, the disabled, and low-wage workers will be rebuilt.  Check out the graph on page 3 to see the comparative reductions in public housing, scattered site housing, and supportive/senior housing.

I’m deliberately preying on the cultural distinctions we make between the worthy and unworthy poor here, a false dichotomy, not least in the reality of neighborhood composition.  I’m doing this because I know the assumptions we all make about who lives in public housing, including the assumptions held by public housing residents themselves about their neighbors.  But I want to make clear that the housing specifically built to enable our grandmothers or disabled relatives – those we can’t or won’t care for, or those who, like us, seek independent living that meets their needs – to live on their own is also being destroyed by the federal government in New Orleans, whether by deliberate and corrupt demolition choices, or because of a willful and callous lack of reinvestment to bring these properties back on line.

I originally wrote this post last night, only to have my blog crash.  It was much more personal and rhetorical, if no less strident.  I linked to this very personal and clear post from kactus, about her experience as a mother, disabled woman, and community member in public housing, and I wrote about my own experiences growing up visiting family in South Boston public housing.  I wrote about eating corned beef and cabbage on tv trays at my grandmother’s, and how I thought tv trays were the coolest thing ever.  I wrote about how excited I was on these visits to cross the pedestrian bridge over the 2 lane road in front of the projects, and I distinctly remember the snazzy leather Members Only type jacket my 80s mustached dad was sporting on these visits.  I remember the specific language my grandmother used to describe her home, words like “rubbish” instead of trash, which went into the “incinerator” chute outside in the hall, and how our visits were in the “parlor” versus the living room.  I remember playing with my cousin Clare’s new Easy Bake oven during one of many Christmas’s visiting her and her sibs and parents and grandmother in the notorious D St projects, which went through phased redevelopment around that time, starting from the back towards the street, per the insistence of the residents, who knew that the housing authority would be more likely to prematurely stop development once improvements were visible from the street.  I remember more recently my aunt, who raised 5 kids and not a few grandkids at D Street on AFDC and worked her way up from a clerk to a property manager at the Boston Housing Authority, complaining that the redevelopment of D Street failed to reflect some of the daily realities of how people lived, for example, in its awkward placement of utility hookups that made it difficult for families to do their laundry.  And I wrote about how, more recently, the M.A.S. listened to 2 of my cousins his age laugh about how they shoveled some snow at D Street one winter, only to receive a check from Housing for their services several weeks later. 

In 2005, my uncle gave up the McCormack property that once belonged to my grandmother, an apartment we had in the family for over 40 years.  My cousins still live in other developments in Southie.  And my many cousins and aunts and uncles who have moved out to the suburbs continue to battle problems of poverty, including poor health and healthcare, addiction, homelessness, and insecure housing tenure.  Last night, before my blog crashed, I asked, whose quality of life are we talking about when we debate the ills of concentration and the benefits of dispersion, and the pathologies of public housing and the problems of poverty?  We’re talking about my family, my cousins, my aunts, my uncles. 

I’m sure glad they don’t live in New Orleans. 


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