Archive for March, 2008


Housing Market Fallout Further Threatens New Orleans Recovery

As the housing market goes to complete sh*t, Gulf Opportunity (GO) Zone tax credits intended to spur housing development in the Gulf rapidly are losing value for investors, threatening to stall already precarious housing recovery in New Orleans and across the region.

Homeowners are not the only one at risk in our crashing housing market.  Renters looking for affordable homes in redeveloping areas like New Orleans (and other urban areas seeing a complete shutdown of the last few years of affordable housing construction) face a serious shortage of housing opportunities. 

Across the nation, affordable housing deals are crumbling as investors, hurt by the economic downturn, lose interest in purchasing tax credits and lenders pull out of projects. But nowhere is the situation worse than in Louisiana, where Congress created an extra $168 million in tax credits after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita — nearly 20 times the state’s regular annual allocation of tax credits — to spur the development of 27,000 affordable and mixed-income housing units. All of the Gulf Opportunity Zone tax credit projects must be ready for occupancy by the end of 2010, which means developers can’t afford to wait until the market improves for tax credits.  

This further dampens the economic recovery of the city, as workers continue to be shut out of the area, and industries and sectors limp along without those necessary workers.  On and on the cycle goes. 

The rosy, mixed-income futures of those large former public housing sites that are already becoming zones of rubble?  Not so promising either:

In the New Orleans area, about 31 of 77 projects have not yet closed on their financing, and may find it more difficult to make the numbers work. Those projects, including the replacements for the public housing developments that are being demolished, represent about 46 percent of the 9,779 units that are on the drawing board for the five parishes that make up the New Orleans area. 

Congress is working on some corrective legislation, and, I’m thrilled to see, calling for HUD Secretary Jackson’s resignation.   I know we’ve only got about 8 months to go of Bush et al., but maybe they could throw in some articles of impeachment with that resignation request. 

Of course, Jackson’s more than welcome to take his $100,000 portrait home with him.  He does deserve a souvenir of his important accomplishments of the last few years. 

This spring, keep an eye out for abandoned construction projects and tent cities coming soon to your community!


The Reality-Based Community

Clinton/Obama supporters on the internet:

Since your descent into abject hackery, Petey, your reading capacity has diminished a great deal. But thanks for shoving words in my mouth, you fucking prick.

Clinton/Obama supporters on the ground:

Obama/Clinton volunteers San Antonio March 4 08 (click to enlarge)

Photo by author taken March 4, 2008 in San Antonio, TX.


Tent City U.S.A.

After 7+ years of Bush, our economy is in the worst shape since the Depression.  Tent cities are even in the public consciousness.  These developments point to the consistent, callous pattern of government neglect and abdication of responsibility under the Bush Administration, who, along with a GOP-led Congress, put into overdrive the worst trends of three decades of government devolution. 

Take my favorite example of New Orleans, where a flourishing Tent City should come as no surprise to anyone following post-Katrina recovery trends.  One of the worst travesties of the destruction of public housing in New Orleans is the grossly inadequate replacement of subsidized housing units in the proposed mixed-income developments.  Only one proposal – Lafitte – includes one-for-one replacement, in part because one of the development partners, Enterprise Community Partners, knows first hand the success of this model from past public housing renovation in Seattle.

A significant number of developer/do-gooder transplants to New Orleans hail from affluent cities like Boston, New York, San Francisco and Seattle, which tend to have highly competitive, sophisticate and activist affordable housing development sectors.*  They bring these high-capacity models of affordable housing development with them to New Orleans.  Yet, several fundamental problems in New Orleans impede their replication. 

Obviously, all cities have unique socio-political cultures and different demographics.  That New Orleans is a distinctive place in the nation cannot be overstated.  Second, the political economy of New Orleans was weak prior to the storm, and is in tatters now.  Most of the non-profit and civil society actors in the city are trying to fill a serious void left by the financially eviscerated city government.  Third, and most problematically, the massive displacement of the poorest and most vulnerable, the overall whitening of the population, and a corresponding shift to a more conservative, middle-class urban politics, makes alive and well the spirit of Rep. Baker’s (R-Baton Rouge, LA) comment

“We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.”

This spirit is driving local and national decision-making behind affordable housing development in post-Katrina New Orleans. 

At the conference I was at in NOLA two weeks ago, in a panel on affordable housing development tenant activists routinely questioned the featured scholars, researchers and developers on the issue of displacement.  It came up over and over again, no matter how strenuously the panelists tried to frame market-based housing solutions as an overall positive for cities and low-income residents.  Cities like Boston et al. are not acting out of any unique urban altruism to retain low-income households, but out of political necessity (votes) and reality (suburban political power and NIMBY-esque zoning + federal funding for cities for low-income populations).  When one of the poorest cities in the country like New Orleans sees a silver lining in Katrina displacing a significant percentage of its neediest tenants all at once – versus the slow trickle generated in other cities in the last twenty years – you can be damn sure the political elites will do everything in their power to keep those folks out. 

They owe a big thanks to the GOP-dominated government we had until 2007, who denied the HUD and Medicaid funds that could have flowed to properly shelter, care for and bring home these families after Katrina.  Actions like this reflect the same spirit behind the massive funding cuts to HUD and HHS Programs and the complete absence of regulation of the housing and homeownership boom that contribute now to rising rates of foreclosures and homelessness nationwide. 

A national pollster at the NOLA conference talked about widespread Katrina fatigue, accompanied by a sense of “we’ve got our own problems now.”  No doubt.  I just hope that as we turn inward to deal with local economic insecurity and crisis, we all remember that post-Katrina New Orleans was never the exception, but the harshest of realities for our country. 


Class, Power & Voting

Because election fever has overtaken my brain, I’ve been neglecting the issues I usually talk about here: poverty, urban development, housing, inequality, and post-Katrina New Orleans. (That my blog readership is way up reinforces the notion that no one likes to talk about poor people.  Sigh.)  So I pass the mike to Prof. Peter Dreier from Occidental College, who I recently saw speak at a conference where he urged those college kids who could afford it to drop out of school this fall and organize voters for the election.

Dreier sums up a great deal of what I’ve been studying these last four years – in the context of class, power and voting patterns. His point of departure is Obama’s re-hashing of the meme about working-class white (WCW) resentment – one I picked up happily as it gave me an opening to embrace the good and bad about my roots. Dreier points out that although WCW racism and prejudices held by all middle- and lower-income social groups exist, it is the institutional power of wealthy whites that perpetuates structural racism and inequality – a system upheld in the voting booth year after year. He writes:

…let’s be clear about the class nature of racial prejudice, stereotypes, discrimination, and disparities. Wealthy whites are more likely than working-class whites to use the race card in the voting booth. Voting statistics reveal that most upper-income whites consistently vote in Republican, not Democratic, primaries, which means they don’t have to vote for black or Latino candidates. And in partisan run-off elections, wealthy whites overwhelmingly vote for Republican over Democratic contenders. [He goes on to sample supply voting data by income categories.]

…in an Obama-McCain face-off fewer wealthy whites will vote for Obama than working-class whites whom affluent pundits are so quick to label as racist. Indeed, we’ve already seen a significant number of blue-collar white voters show their support for Obama in Iowa, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and other states. Yes, white working-class Democrats in economically troubled Ohio favored Clinton over Obama. But in November, most of the blue-collar Democrats, working-class independents, and union members who voted for Clinton — in Ohio and elsewhere — are likely to switch to Obama, not McCain.

It is understandable that most wealthy whites would consistently vote for Republicans, who like low taxes and hate strong unions. But in recent decades, a significant number of working-class whites — the so-called “Reagan Democrats” — have voted for GOP candidates who have done so little to address their bread-and-butter concerns. As Thomas Frank argued in his book, What’s the Matter with Kansas?, the Republicans have successfully used “wedge” issues — abortion, religion, gun control, gay rights, affirmative action, and, of course, the war on terrorism — to persuade some working-class whites to vote against their economic interests.

But the tide seems to be changing.

By focusing on voting behavior and attitudes, however, political pundits deflect focus away from other fundamental concerns. America’s corporate and political rulers have long used racism, ethnic stereotypes, and immigrant bashing to divide working people and weaken their collective power. Manufacturers recruited Southern blacks to act as strikebreakers in Northern cities, and employers warned “No Irish need apply” and resorted to anti-Semitism to pit workers against each other. In hard economic times, scapegoating against blacks and Hispanic immigrants diverts white workers’ attention away from the failure of business and political elites to create enough decent jobs.

Although working-class white Americans may harbor racist sentiments, they do not control the major institutions that are responsible for America’s racial divide, including the economic forces that sometimes pit white, black, and Hispanic working families against each other for jobs, housing, and decent schools.

in every sphere of American life — income, hiring, promotion, housing, the quality of public schools, college attendance, treatment by the criminal justice system, media portrayals, and others — race remains a divisive issue. While upper-middle class pundits may get some smug pleasure out of pointing to racial prejudice among America’s white working-class voters, they would be more accurate if they looked up, rather than down, the economic ladder to identify who really has the power to prop up, or fix, the institutions that turn bigotry into discrimination.

It’s worth reading the whole thing. This is where my worries flare up that current Clinton supporters – should she not get the nomination – will fall for the “Maverick McCain” meme rather than supporting Obama/the Democratic nominee. We cannot let that happen.


Only 1 in 10 Americans find it problematic that women are held to a higher standard than men

From a CBS “Oppression Olympics” poll, insipidly titled “Gender Matters More Than Race” (My emphases, of course):

Voters are slightly more likely to say that a woman candidate faces more obstacles than a black candidate when it comes to presidential politics even as they see racism as a more serious problem for the nation overall, according to a new CBS News poll. Thirty nine percent of registered voters said a woman running for president faces more obstacles while 33 percent said a black candidate does.

When it comes to the 2008 presidential election, voters say Hillary Clinton has been judged more harshly because of her gender than Barack Obama has because of his race. Forty two percent said Clinton has been judged “more harshly� and six percent said she has been judged less harshly because of her gender. Twenty seven percent said they think Obama has been judged “more harshly� because of his race while 11 percent said he has been judged less harshly.

Still, racism is seen as a bigger problem for the nation in general. Among all adults surveyed, 42 percent of respondents said racism is a “serious problemâ€? in the country compared to just 10 percent who said…sexism [is a serious problem]. Twenty three percent said both are serious problems.

…all groups said they are more offended by racist remarks than sexist ones.

More voters admit their unwillingness to vote for a woman. Nearly one in five voters says that all things being equal, they would rather vote for a man.

Moral of the story: It’s hard out here for a lady, but spare us your tears.

Aren’t polls so helpful and informative??


Interlude: Reactions to Obama’s speech from around the web

Obama’s Philly speech is here.  My initial thoughts on the audacity of his campaign are here. 

Initial reactions from around the web are coming in.  I agree with Melissa at Shakesville about the absence of reaction to Wright’s comments about Clinton.  She links it to complaints (like mine) about elitism, and I’d only add that sexism is infused in this elitism, as the worlds of politics, academia, and other high status professions are often the worst arenas for gender inequity and (white) male privilege.  Feministing commenters continue the debate about the absence of addressing sexism in Obama’s speech.

I also agree with Jeralyn at Talk Left that this speech will ameliorate unsettled Obama supporters and not work with those already disinclined to support him.

Finally, I don’t have the same reaction to his speech as Riverdaughter, but she raises a good point about his passive references to the use of race during the campaign.  Obama’s use of vague and passive language like she points out has bugged me to no end this campaign, as his phrases like “the forces of division” remind me of Bush’s framing of geopolitical conflict as the war between good vs. evil.  The rest of the speech was strong and direct, so let’s knock off the insinuations, Obama. 


Obama’s Speech I: Movements v. Elections

The full transcript of Obama’s Philadelphia speech on race this morning is here. 

Throughout this campaign, I – a Clinton supporter – have found myself relating more personally to the foibles of the Obamas.  I’m supporting Clinton for a number of reasons I’ve elaborated on previously, but I’ve often felt it was a real shame she and Obama were running at the same time, because I’d have enjoyed vigorously campaigning for him.  My personal resistance to Obama has to do with a) an elitism and arrogance I associate with the highly educated worlds in which we both orbit, b) the disingenuous notion that he is not like other politicians, and c) the problematic conflation in his campaign of movement building with electoral politics.  But there is a great deal more to the man and his candidacy that attracts me than these three strong negatives.  His speech this morning on “the contradictions” inherent in “the people that are a part of [him]” illustrates perfectly that he, more than some of his most vociferous supporters and surrogates, understands (or at least acknowledges) the messy work involved in fighting for social inclusion and positive social change. 

Continue reading ‘Obama’s Speech I: Movements v. Elections’


Spring Forward, Fall Back


I am sitting at Sound Cafe in the Marigny in New Orleans.  I have a full disposable digital camera in my free conference bag that contains two very depressing photos of the partially demolished St. Bernard housing projects in Gentilly.  I am drinking iced tea and enjoying the 60-ish degree breeze coming through the open door on my last evening in NOLA.

This post is dedicated to Professor Zero, who recently meme’d me for my “excellent coverage of New Orleans.”  After being gone for six months, I have been out of the loop here, and her shout out and this recent trip are signals of my renewed involvement in recovery through ’08.

This visit I was in the Marriott on Canal on the edge of the French Quarter.  I have stayed in the Quarter once before, but at a smaller Holiday Inn on the northern (?) / upriver edge of the neighborhood, not quite in the heart of things.  Until I rented a car today, I did not leave the FQ/Central Business District/Warehouse District areas, taking dinner the last two nights in upscale spots like Luke and Herbsaint, and spending yesterday afternoon walking around the Quarter, dropping in and out of clothing boutiques. 

As you might imagine, the trip started to feel like a vacation, not only because of my own activities, but because the streets and Jackson Square and restaurants and my hotel lobby were crowded with tourists.  On this trip I particularly feel the loss of never having visited the city before the storm, because these neighborhoods’ weekend vibrance left me wondering if this was what this area was like prior to Katrina.  I’ll never know.  All I know is that wandering around yesterday, I felt better about my post-professional relationship with the city, meaning that I could see myself returning here just for pleasure after my work here ends.  Disaster recovery work is so emotionally draining that I was not sure I’d ever find peace with the city.  Yesterday I found myself thinking how fortunate I was that I knew well many of New Orleans’s neighborhoods, so that if I did come back for a vacation, I would not be confined to the charming yet touristy FQ.

This morning a colleague picked me up and took me out to the airport to pick up my rental car.  3 minutes up river from my FQ hotel is a multi-block tent city of homeless folks living beneath the highway.  And I was back in the New Orleans I’ve come to know through my work.  My 24 hour vacation was over.

Continue reading ‘Spring Forward, Fall Back’


The T continues to exceed expectations

…of its inability to deliver services, that is…

Ridership continues to decline, while the use of public transportation continues to grow nationwide.


The Gulf Coast in the news today

First, let’s thank NY Gov. Spitzer for reminding us of Vitter’s sexual indiscretions.  Both men rule on platforms of fighting vice. I say, if we’re going to oust Spitzer, let’s make sure Vitter’s sitting beside him in the back of the Lincoln Town Car as they both get the hell out of town.

(As an aside, check out this pro-legalization of sex work piece from Cara at The Curvature.  Brings up some great points re: women’s rights and gender equity.)

I hear MS has a primary today?  But let’s not overlook this little nugget from The American Prospect (registration), summed up at Racewire:

Mississippi’s Black labor groups are organizing alongside the state’s growing immigrant population to fight for driver’s licenses for all residents.

Throughout the 1990s more immigrants arrived looking for work. Some guest workers overstayed their visas, while husbands brought wives, cousins, and friends from home. Mexicans and Central Americans joined South and Southeast Asians and began traveling north through the state, finding jobs in rural poultry plants. There they met African Americans, many of whom had fought hard campaigns to organize unions for chicken and catfish workers over the preceding decade.

It was not easy for newcomers to fit in. Their union representatives didn’t speak their languages. When workers got pulled over by state troopers they were not only cited for lacking driver’s licenses but also often handed over to the U.S. Border Patrol. Sometimes their children weren’t even allowed to enroll in school.

As someone who’s had the honor to work occasionally with activists for Latino immigrants and African-Americans in the Gulf Coast since Katrina, it’s thrilling to read news like this.  The AFL-CIO unions are named specifically in the Prospect piece.  From what I’ve seen of their work the international and some of the locals are really making an effort to bridge long-standing divides and build strong coalitions in the post-Katrina Gulf Coast.  

This is great news. 

Finally, here’s a round-up of links to the UN’s comdemnation of human rights abuses via the racially and economically discriminatory plans to demolish much needed public housing in New Orleans.  The UN treats post-Katrina government failures as the ultimate example of enduring racial discrimination and inequity in the U.S.:

The UN Committee calls for adequate, affordable housing in Katrina-affected areas, and also for the remedying of housing conditions in racially segregated areas across the country.

Right on.