A Message for Jeanne Nathan on the Housing Issue

Dec 18, 2007 by

A message from Jeanne Nathan. To respond, email [email protected]
Dear New Orleans Citizen,

The debate over demolition of public housing buildings in New Orleans has been cast in either/or rhetoric that has undermined any serious consideration of what is the best way to improve communities that were once home for 4500 mostly working families, many of whom are still scattered far from home.

Using the fear of urban crime and drugs as the banner for destroying over 700 sturdy, well built and well designed bricks and mortar buildings, HUD officials have failed to provide the facts, plans or contracts on which New Orleanians can judge the sincerity or appropriateness of their plans for building mixed income housing in their place.

Violent crime in the city has risen since Katrina, despite the fact that most public housing is vacant, and closed off to former tenants, who were, by the way, leaseholders whose possessions still lie frozen in time in their former homes. Violent crime, most of it perpetrated by teen age males against teen age males is rising nation wide. It is a by product of a drug industry that has replaced disappearing entry level manufacturing, port and service jobs. The abandoned urban public school systems have also failed to educate our youth for the increasing high tech and knowledge based economies.

HUD has spread lies about what tenants do and don’t want; how many new affordable apartments it “plans” to create; about how many affordable apartments are available in the city. Former tenants warn that past promises for new development turned out to be a mirage; that new mixed income communities never deliver the promises of affordable apartments. Vast acreage owned by HUD and ready for new developments lies vacant, waiting for new housing units HUD promised long ago.

Our public officials, long silent on these plans, now seem ready to accept HUD’s lies and public policy on face value without further exploration. Our news media has done little better so far, quoting HUD’s numbers, inaccurate depiction of housing, much of it virtually untouched by the storm, as “flood ravaged and obsolete,” and failing to go beyond the street protests to look at the valid arguments against wholesale immediate demolition of 4500 units of housing.

In today’s New York Times Adam Nossiter quotes a former New Orleanian living in southwest Louisiana as saying she opens her windows to listen to the cows for company at night, missing her city, but finding no neighborhood where she once lived.

Anyone who believes HUD’s claims that tenants do not want to return has turned their back on reality and their fellow citizens.

No one can know all the true facts about the need, alternatives and plans for public housing right now. There has simply not been enough examination of the alternatives. Many of us participated in the three phases of planning after the storm, and learned what participation in planning means. HUD regulations require similar planning involvement by its tenants. Yet, in fact, HUD signed preliminary contracts with developers that required wholesale demolition without such participation, setting up a sham series of noon time West Bank meetings only after the contracts were inked.

In the face of this confusion, many professionals familiar with housing, planning, preservation and social issues are calling for a time out. Rather than vote for demolition, they call on the City Council to vote for a moratorium to allow more careful review of the best ways to perhaps demolish some of the buildings in worst disrepair, others that would open streets through the once isolated developments, renovate units as Historic Restoration Inc. did in five older public housing buildings in the St. Thomas projects that became the River Garden complex, and add features that would attract a wide range of tenants, while offering a real one-for-one opportunity for working families to return to these new developments.

Lets take a few months to dig beneath the surface, get the facts straight, and create a more informed mandate for HUD to follow in creating new housing for former and new tenants.

The citizens of New Orleans, whether tenants, neighbors, or residents anywhere in our city, deserve informed decision making and plans. We talked about a new New Orleans in those desperate days after the storm. Lets not abandon that dream so fast.

We are seeking individuals and organizations to communicate with City Council members on these issues no later than tomorrow, before the Council meeting this Thursday. Please use the email addresses below to contact the council members.

Arnie Fielkow – Council Member-At-Large
[email protected]

Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson –Councilmember-At-Large
[email protected]

Shelley Midura – District A
[email protected]

Stacy S. Head – District B
[email protected]

James Carter – District C
[email protected]

Cynthia Hedge-Morrell – District D
[email protected]

Cynthia Willard-Lewis – District E
[email protected]

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