Tuesday, December 9, 2008

NOLA' s St. Bernard Project: 3-3-3 Split Riles Housing Activists

The buzz down here in New Orleans on public housing today is that Mayor Ray Nagin and HUD officials broke ground on a housing development that was formerly the St. Bernard federal housing project. Instead of blocks of large, low-income apartment buildings, the type I saw growing up a block over from the St. Bernard, the new project offers mixed housing.

WDSU reports that it will be one-third low-income housing, one-third affordable or moderate-income housing, and one-third market-rate housing. Video's here.

Housing advocates have frequently complained that the new housing developments will offer fewer homes for the city's poorest residents than available before Hurricane Katrina, possibly displacing thousands of black families with NOLA roots.
... questions remain over whether the historic remaking of New Orleans' four largest developments, combined with other HUD efforts, will provide enough affordable housing.

What's clear is that the politically polarizing redevelopments of the Big Four complexes -- the St. Bernard, B.W. Cooper, C.J. Peete and Lafitte -- will include far fewer public housing units than the massive complexes they are replacing.

That's by design; the developments will morph into mixed-income communities, which by definition disperse the poor to make room for similar percentages of moderate- and middle-income families. The new mix will occupy three tiers of housing, ranging from market rate to highly subsidized.

The strategy aims to end the concentrated poverty that isolated residents and bred crime, joblessness, failing schools and ill health. But housing advocates continue to accuse HUD of running the poor out of the complexes without offering enough replacement subsidized housing, either within the redevelopments or elsewhere, to supply a city in the grips of an affordable housing shortage. Furthermore, in previous redevelopments, the agency has a shoddy record of fulfilling promises of adequate replacement housing for the poor, opponents of the redevelopment say.

"HUD doesn't want poor residents to return, " said Bill Quigley, the Loyola University law professor who represented public housing tenants after Hurricane Katrina in an unsuccessful anti-demolition lawsuit against HUD. (Read full story here at NOLA.com)
The Times Picayune/NOLA.com also provides a map of HUD's planned housing for New Orleans at this link.

The old housing looked like this. See picture below found at the Preservation Nation blog showing St. Bernard mid-demolition.

The protests against demolition of the big four housing projects has been violent and dramatic, as you can see in this video below taken last year when police tasered and pepper-sprayed protesters and kept them from attending a city council meeting about the demolition. The video's intense.

I noticed that many of the protesters seemed to be young white activists who didn't grow up in the federal housing project squalor and recall black people who did telling me that they didn't care about the demolition and questioned why people who didn't even live in New Orleans would scream against it .

The new vision of housing looks like the next picture:

I don't have faith that the housing will be as wonderful as the vision. Also, I have friends who grew up in the St. Bernard, but so far none of them have mourned its demolition or criticized the rebuild. They moved out and onward long ago. You probably don't miss the big four unless you still need a place to live and can't afford rent in the city you love.

Certainly I get the concern about having more housing for the poorest among us, but I've got to tell you, the big four needed to come down. In addition, I don't like the spin some activists put on the demolitions because the big four were scheduled for demolition prior to Hurricane Katrina. Nevertheless, we should question the new housing plans that appear to limit how many in poverty can find safe housing. Zealous gentrification of New Orleans will change the very culture that made the city famous.

Day 9 NaBloPloMo.

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