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"Poor people, disabled people, people of color are not welcomed back to New Orleans"

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  • "Poor people, disabled people, people of color are not welcomed back to New Orleans"

    Activists paint grim picture of struggling city

    AMY GOODMAN: We're joined by two guests in the studios here at the PBS TV station WLAE. Bill Quigley is a law professor at Loyola University and the director of the Law Clinic and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola. We’re also joined by Tracie Washington, the director of the NAACP Gulf Coast Advocacy Center. And we welcome you both to Democracy Now! It’s very good to have you with us. Well, you have been listening to some of what the residents and the evacuees, your neighbors, your friends, your family have been saying since Katrina hit. Tracie Washington, you have been dealing with housing a great deal. Can you talk about the situation?

    "Poor people, disabled people, people of color are not welcomed back to New Orleans"

  • #2
    New Orleans population whiter, smaller post-storm

    NEW ORLEANS, June 7 (Reuters) - The population of the New Orleans area declined by 39 percent and became whiter, older and richer in the months after Hurricane Katrina mauled the city, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated on Wednesday.

    The number of residents in Orleans Parish, the district including the city of New Orleans, fell by 64 percent to 158,353 people in the six months to January 1, 2006, from 437,186, a bureau report said.

    The greater New Orleans metropolitan area saw its population fall 39 percent to 723,830 in the last three months of 2005, from 1.2 million before Katrina's rampage in August, the bureau said.

    As the population fell, the racial balance also shifted sharply, it said. The proportion of blacks in the city and surrounding metropolitan area dropped to 22 percent of the population from 37 percent before the storm. Whites grew to 73 percent of the population, from about 60 percent before.

    The population of New Orleans is changing from day to day as the city and U.S. Gulf Coast recover from Katrina, which hit New Orleans on Aug. 29, killing more than 1,500 in Louisiana.

    Some those who left the city have returned since January, and city officials and analysts say families are moving back at a brisker pace over the summer as they prepare for a new school year in the fall.

    Greg Rigamer, of planning and consulting firm GCR & Associates, estimated that the current population of New Orleans city was about 220,000, or half the pre-storm level, and would rise to about 250,000 to 275,000 by the end of the year.

    Census Bureau researchers estimated the median age of metropolitan-area residents rose to 41.6 years from 37.7 before the storm, while the average household income rose to $64,122 from $55,326.

    Many Latino day laborers have moved into the area, where tens of thousands of homes are being repaired -- or torn down. Poorer former residents, often black, were dealt the worst blow, although 80 percent of the city flooded. Many homes were destroyed and others will have to be demolished, state officials say.



    • #3
      NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 7 -- Public housing officials decided Thursday to proceed with the demolition of more than 4,500 government apartments here, brushing aside an outcry from residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina who said the move was intended to reduce the ability of poor black people to repopulate the city.

      Residents and their advocates made emotional, legal and what they called common-sense arguments against demolition at the housing authority meeting. "The day you decide to destroy our homes, you will break a lot of hearts," said Sharon Pierce Jackson, who lived in one of the now-closed projects slated to be razed. "We are people. We are not animals."

      She and others questioned why the Department of Housing and Urban Development would destroy affordable housing in New Orleans, saying it is essential to the city's recovery.

      C. Donald Babers, the federally appointed administrator running the Housing Authority of New Orleans, did not respond to that question in tersely approving the demolitions.

      Previously, HUD officials have said the old projects should be cleared out to make way for less dense, modern housing. But those new developments, to be constructed in partnership with private investors, would probably include far fewer apartments for low-income residents and would take years to complete. An unresolved lawsuit on behalf of residents charges that the demolition plan is racially discriminatory.

      "This is a government-sanctioned diaspora of New Orleans's poorest African American citizens," said Bill Quigley of Loyola University's law school, who is representing the displaced. "They are destroying perfectly habitable apartments when they are more rare than any time since the Civil War."

      The divide over public housing may be the most prominent skirmish in the larger battle over the post-Katrina balance of whites and blacks in New Orleans and how decisions on rebuilding shape the city's demographic future.

      Before Katrina, the Census Bureau pegged the city's racial breakdown at about 67 percent black and 28 percent white. A more recent study conducted for the Louisiana Recovery Authority estimates that the city, still well under half its pre-storm population, is 47 percent black and 43 percent white.

      When Katrina struck, more than 5,000 families, nearly all of them black, were living in New Orleans public housing, and a couple of thousand more units were vacant or uninhabitable. The waiting list for housing had 8,250 names.

      Since the storm, most of the complexes have been closed, some surrounded by fences and razor wire. About 1,100 units were occupied as of July, according to HUD figures.

      To repair the hurricane damage at the four largest complexes in question would cost $130 million, according to HUD figures. Residents and their attorneys say that those cost estimates are bloated and that many units now unavailable could be reoccupied with a little cleaning or minor renovation.

      At Thursday's meeting, attended by about 40 public housing representatives and advocates, Stephanie Mingo, who had been a 43-year resident of the now-closed St. Bernard project, blinked back angry tears as she spoke during her allotted three minutes. "You are hurting people. You are killing people," she said. "I don't know how y'all can sleep at night."

      The meeting, the last of a series of required "consultation meetings" with residents, appeared to be a formality. Babers thanked each person for his or her comments but made none himself. Nor did he answer any of the questions put to him. Residents called the process a sham.

      HUD spokeswoman Donna White said public comments from the meetings will be reviewed by HUD in Washington, which can accept, reject or change the demolition plan.

      The plans for redeveloping public housing in New Orleans resemble efforts in recent years in cities across the country. In response to critics who have said some of the old complexes deteriorated because they concentrated and isolated the poor, the replacement developments are typically less dense and only partly devoted to subsidized housing.

      But in post-Katrina New Orleans, the idea of demolishing units that might be rehabilitated, and replacing them with fewer units, infuriates advocates of the poor.

      They point to the former St. Thomas project in the city, which was originally designed to house approximately 1,500 families. Its demolition, in 2002, has been followed by the construction of 296 apartments, 122 of them for low-income families. When the project is completed, it is supposed to have 1,100 new residential units, but critics say far too few of the poor displaced by the demolition will ever be able to live there.

      State Rep. Cedric Richmond (D) scoffed at the underlying logic of the new developments, saying it is audacious to blame residents' misery on the concentration of poverty in New Orleans. At a similar meeting last month, he said: "It was always concentrated. Because you can't get people to make beds and clean hotels if you educate them well and they expect a decent pay."

      New Orleans to raze public housing


      • #4
        Hurricane Katrina forced out New Orleans's poor residents, and developers don't want them back:

        It's well over a year since the levees collapsed and billions of gallons of water flooded into New Orleans, trashing the city and displacing several thousand residents, most of them black and poor. Many may not return. For Hurricane Katrina produced acres of empty real estate that are being eyed up as a promising opportunity for corporate developers. Mayor Ray Nagin wants the new New Orleans to be "market driven". The Episcopalian Bishop of Louisiana thinks differently. Once a conservative, he was rebaptised with dirty water. He now speaks for many in condemning the mayor's words as "a blow against the poor and needy", and says developers threaten "the soul of the city".

        Last August two-thirds of New Orleans was under water. In low-lying areas - such as the lower ninth ward, where many of the city's musicians originate - almost no reconstruction work is being done. Insurance companies won't cover new buildings unless the levees are reinforced to withstand another big storm, and the government won't cough up the $30bn-plus the work is expected to cost. So the powers that be are effectively abandoning the lower-lying areas, offering precious little hope of return to the Katrina diaspora spread over the south. A city that had a population of nearly half a million has been reduced by 300,000. Some are whispering that this is a way of rebalancing the city's ethnic mix, which has been majority black for some time.

        Dr Courtney Cowart, who runs the Diocese of Louisiana's disaster relief team, escaped from the shadow of the World Trade Centre on 9/11. She cannot help but compare the government's response to both tragedies, noting that nothing like the financial commitment made to New York is being offered to New Orleans. The Big Easy, disliked by conservatives because of its reputation for debauchery, is in danger of being ignored.

        Debauched and religious. In this most Christian of cities, the churches are forming powerful alliances with local community groups to spearhead the fight against mammon. For this is a place where the language of the Bible seems to have daily application. Those who experienced the scale of this disaster wouldn't think the Bible's apocalyptic literature fanciful. They have lived it. Outside the shell of an old Baptist church in the lower ninth, a scruffy piece of board is scrawled with the prophecy from Ezekiel in which dead bones are reformed into living human form. "Can these dry bones live?" is the question.

        In the increasingly lawless central district, the resurrection is given a hedonistic inflection through the tradition of the second line. The first line is the sombre procession to a funeral. The second line is the exuberant, jazzy, band-led, umbrella-popping return. Most Sunday afternoons, thousands gather to dance their way through the wreckage, reclaiming the streets for music and laughter.

        Last month I watched as the second line jigged down Washington Street and came to rest outside one of the city's social housing projects, declared out of bounds by the civic authorities. The music intensified. A huge number of the projects are fenced off, even though many received only superficial damage. It's surely no coincidence that some are in areas of prime real estate. Residents were evicted at gunpoint during the storm and have not been allowed back.

        Mark Twain said there were only three cities in the US with any real culture: Boston, San Francisco and New Orleans. What a tragedy if this once-great city is to be saved from the waters only to be destroyed by developers set to rebuild another generic US metropolis, designed for profit and not for people.

        Betrayal of the Big Easy


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