Maybe I am just that stupid

I am no angel. I have done things in my life that I regret. I have never Murked someone, (for the non-New Orleanians, that’s the local word for murder, used usually by actual murderers-maybe someday I’ll write about how I learned that word) but I have done things and said things that I regret. I consider myself well rounded and have been around the block. I’m not a suburbanite that only ventured into the city to shop at Canal Place.

So here we go again. Why in the world would anyone that is a tax paying, God fearing American want to live in a New Orleans Project?

18 families are suing HANO and HUD, accusing the two government agencies of keeping low-income black families from returning to New Orleans. One resident, who has lived in the projects for 30 YEARS, says she wants her apartment back because it’s affordable to her.

Say what? Someone was living in those dumps for 30 YEARS and they want to move back? What the hell have we become as a people? I always thought the idea of the projects were to ASSIST people in getting to a better life. These places were not built for people to live almost their whole lives in them. And they want to go back? Say what?

Look, I understand the displaced want to come home. I understand that the projects were home to a lot of New Orleanians. But I don’t understand the following:

 Expecting low-rent for your entire life
 Wanting to live in a run-down, drug infested neighborhood that are havens for gangs
 Not wanting to improve ones “life path”

Everyone who has returned to this city knows nothing is easy about the Big Easy anymore. Making it through the day sometimes is an accomplishment. Getting back and finding somewhere to live and work isn’t the easiest thing but it can be done. Do a search for housing, like I did 5 minutes ago, and you’ll find over 60 apartments for rent under 800$ in the New Orleans area. Now is this low-income housing? Not sure on that one, no one seems to be able to tell me what the cut-off line is, but I know that 800 bucks for a 2br shotgun (non-flooded in Esplanade Ridge area) isn’t over-priced. I was paying that before the storm for a house that got ruined.

Now since OUR MAYOR, C Ray Nagin has all but disappeared since his re-election, I’m going take the lead on this one and speak to all the displaced of the former projects.

“Folk’s, I want you all to know that I feel for everyone of you who lost part of their lives to Katrina. And I want you to know that we as a city will do everything in our power to get you back to this city as soon as possible. But you gotta work with us, not against us. We as a city, white, black, asian, hispanic, whatever, cannot re-open the projects as they were before the storm. I have been in the projects before and after the storm and I cannot let any of you live like that again. I could not sleep at night knowing that I allowed you to go back to a place where you feared for you and your children’s lives. Projects where we basically lost two generations of children because of the density that we put you in. We will not allow any government to put all the poor in one place. It doesn’t work and we learned our lesson. We are going to tear down EVERY so called project in this city and rebuild better, less dense, more open low income housing for everyone who wants to come home. Not just black New Orleanians, but for all New Orleanians. We’re going to get you back home and it’s going to be a BETTER home.”

I think that works. Or maybe I am just that stupid.

15 Comments so far

  1. Craig (unregistered) on June 27th, 2006 @ 8:21 pm

    You’re not stupid. You just live in a different world — where desire for upward mobility is assumed. That’s not the case in the projects, just as it’s not the case in parts of the old Rustbelt or some other subcultures in this country. The assumption is more “You’re born, you exist, you die. Someone else is in charge and is trying to keep you down. You can’t win. Don’t get above your raising. You get what you get by either toeing Da Man’s line or taking it from someone who has it (depending on which set of beliefs your people adhere to).”

    I’m not saying that’s true for everyone, since the projects have bred plenty of very upwardly mobile, inspired and very accomplished folks. But when someone lives in the projects for 30 years, it says a lot about their dreams, their assumptions of what life should be and their lack of belief in themselves. And, unfortunately, about what they believe society/gubmint “owes” them. To a degree, it’s the self-esteem movement gone nuts — but there’s nothing for them to have self-esteem about.

  2. AyUaxe (unregistered) on June 28th, 2006 @ 3:11 pm

    Did you hear the low income housing protestors marching on Audubon Place yammering about how they wanted their low income housing to be there or on St. Charles Ave?! When you’re rewarded with free stuff and lots of media and political attention for having nothing and doing nothing, one could easily become convinced that they merit anything they make enough noise about–that’s how it’s been working for all necessities, so why not for anything? There shouldn’t be any special low-income housing built. If you can’t earn a wage to afford to live here or are unwilling to rehab housing that’s available and affordable, get the H out. Don’t need nor want ya.

  3. Cathy (unregistered) on June 28th, 2006 @ 4:04 pm

    For 5 years I worked with a family literacy program that provided services to adults seeking their GED and pre-k education for their 3-4 year old children. The three program sites were located in or in the area directly adjacent to public housing projects in the city and primarily served those residents. I wondered about many of the same issues you raised and learned a lot in the process:

    The majority of public housing residents do work, but work in low-paying (min. wage), go nowhere jobs. The annual income for min. wage full-time work is about $10K a year, or $850/month, so a $800/month apartment is far from affordable.

    Welfare, now known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), provides limited assistance to single mothers (I never knew a single dad to receive this assistance). This is not a lifetime gig like it was prior to 1996, and the assistance is meager at best: approx. $140/month cash for a family of 3.

    Home is where the heart is, baby. It would have been nice if those families living in projects had moved up and out but it didn’t happen and now they are communities of families, friends, and business owners (legal and otherwise). They may not be pretty but they are the only support system some people have in this city. There were federal housing programs in the 1960s that were meant to provide low income housing outside of the projects and they did – in Jefferson Parish, to whites only (wish I could cite program name – that grad school paper drowned along with the computer).

    Look, most residents of public housing would like to move on, but can’t due to financial limitations and fear of the unknown. My two cents…

  4. Dan F (unregistered) on June 28th, 2006 @ 5:53 pm

    Cathy your two cents are worth the same as mine. I could not find that info and you are right about the minimum wage situation. That is not enough to live on with children.

    That being said, I stand by my statement that we cannot reopen the projects in their current state and the state of the city.

    Might be cold blooded but it my be time to overcome that fear of the unknown. And the only way I know to do that is to confront it.

  5. G *itch (unregistered) on June 28th, 2006 @ 7:24 pm

    Cathy, thanks for your comments. I was about to write something similar until I saw your 2 cents.

    And there are no stats to find, Dan–just multiply $5.15/hour by 40 to see what the weekly before-taxes wage is.

    Dan F, I would agree that the projects are too damaged to safely house people in if anyone at HUD or the city or anywhere would actually say what the damage is or give estimates. So far, all the powers-that-be do is repeat that the buildings–brick buildings, mind you, that have withstood decades of abuse (from the elements and people), storms, etc.–are “too damaged.” With a city 80% full of houses gutted or to be gutted and redone, miles of housing that needs mold treatment, new electricty, etc., this makes no damn sense. I’m supposed to believe that those brick buildings are damaged beyond repair but 100-year old wood houses that lost chunks of roof and sat in water for 2+ weeks are okay? It sounds like a scam to me. HUD has wanted to clear and tear down the projects for years and years. They couldn’t do it humanely or legally. Katrina gave them the excuse they wanted/needed.

    When you make minimum wage, low-income housing is what you need. And if folks want those who earn minumum wage to “earn a wage to afford to live here or…get the H out” try supporting a living wage so they CAN afford to live in the city. Like people ask to be poor, like poverty is moral turpitude rather than (yes, Virginia) a lack of money. The same attitude that has left the majority of former New Orleanians poor and under-educated…….

    And the assumption that all people in the projects are loafers, drug users and dealers and babymamas is divisive, inaccurate and smacks of prejudice.

  6. Dan F (unregistered) on June 28th, 2006 @ 7:52 pm

    G *itch (sorry made me take the B out to allow your post for some reason)

    I hear you on not getting enough answers from the powers that be. That is the case in too many things to mention, like just where we can/should rebuild with services? but that’s another post for another day.

    Brick is brick, bottom line. But inside is mortar, sheetrock etc (all very old). As I said, I’ve been in some of these before and after. No one should live in them. I don’t care what color they are. The ones I saw (and maybe they did pick the worse ones, I wouldn’t doubt it) were unliveable. This coming from a guy who was homeless for 6 months and I would’ve stayed on the streets before living in one of these.

    No one is assuming that EVERYONE that lived in the projects before were all loafers, dealers,users etc. I should have made it clear as Cathy did that the majority, a big majority are good citizens that worked hard for most of their lives.

    I am not against low-income housing. I am against the government concentrating all low income PERSONS in one area. In my view, and maybe it’s a wacked view, but all that does is concentrate on KEEPING the poor locked away from everyone else and keeping them poor. This city will be DOOMED if we repeat the mistakes we made before.

    Instead of focusing so hard on brick projects, why doesn’t the city government work with the poor on all of this blighted housing in the area. Hell give it too someone and see what they can get done. With all this Clinton-Bush, Gates Fund money floating around, you can’t tell me that a single mother with two children wouldn’t benefit more by putting money into a stand alone home then sending her and those children back to the St Bernard projects.

  7. G Bitch (unregistered) on June 29th, 2006 @ 12:52 pm

    In such a chaotic, tense time (including a slow increase in pre-Katrina racial tensions), all words need to be chosen carefully. I feel ya, Dan. Too few good ideas have been applied. If HUD and the city provided all/much of the materials, yes, the working poor could rehab blighted housing but we’d also need some middle-class folks in there, too, or poverty would again be concentrated, just in different parts of town.

  8. Dan F (unregistered) on June 29th, 2006 @ 1:36 pm

    I’d take one and rehab it- I guess Im middle class

  9. J Dugan (unregistered) on June 29th, 2006 @ 3:39 pm

    Not stupid, but rather misinformed, frankly. I’ll not rehash the realities of public assistance and poverty wages, as that has been covered admirably, but there are a number of assertions and conclusions you’ve made about public housing in New Orleans and in general that are dramatically inaccurate.

    Firstly, none of the projects here are high density. They are in fact low density, which is a significant part of the problem. They have a large footprint for the provided living space which serves to further balkanize the units in the interior from surrounding neighborhoods and services. This is a drawback, but not greater in kind than medium or high density housing. Given a limited fund, it’s always a tradeoff.

    Secondly, failure to maintain the structures, which is what you’re talking about before the storm is a problem, but frankly it is less of a problem with fifty year old masonry structures than anything they’d be replaced by today. Building new structures with a 15 year life span only exacerbates maintenance and there is no public will or purse to rectify this. Originally this money was supposed to be budgeted in tandem with middle and upper class housing incentives, to wit FHA mortgage subsidies and the mortgage interest tax credit. Those programs are stronger and better capitalized than ever, but strangely, the poor have been left behind. This is a programatic problem not a problem with these buildings.

    Thirdly, renovation costs, given the nature and durability of the buildings is dramatically less than demolition and new construction especially when considering the final product.

    Fourthly, the utopia you speak of in channeling the mayor would be delightful, but unfortunately, it’s never going to happen. There is no money. No one anywhere in this country is building true new public housing. The system has been gamed to create public/private partnerships as developer welfare. Federal tax subsidies fund the project in exchange for token low income units. These low income units sunset after ten years and convert to market rate housing. It’s the Atlanta model, which has reduced public housing in that city by half in fifteen years forcing the poor further and further afield from the city core. You don’t even need to go further than the River Garden developments to see the failure of HOPE IV, and your dispersal model has been tried for over 35 years with scattered site models with no effect.

    The problem is, these people are poor, and we don’t treat the poor very well these days. We demonize them and patronize them to rationalize not spending any money on them. Tearing down viable, durable housing stock is no solution in a time where housing is desperately needed.

  10. J Dugan (unregistered) on June 29th, 2006 @ 3:41 pm

    Oops, that should be “mortgage interest tax deduction”.

  11. Dan F (unregistered) on June 29th, 2006 @ 6:26 pm

    You know what? I still say tear them all down and put the freakin Katrina Kottages on them. Fuck give’em away. Whatever. But all this BS about demonizing and patronizing the poor is just that- BS. Hell after this WE ARE ALL POOR.

  12. J Dugan (unregistered) on June 30th, 2006 @ 1:47 pm

    Well, gee, I’m terribly glad I took the time to explain the actual facts to you. As you don’t seem interested in letting them intrude on your rant, I’ll trouble you no further. Carry on.

  13. Dan F (unregistered) on July 1st, 2006 @ 12:28 pm

    JD, it’s not that. I read your comments more than once to get a grasp on it. My main point, and I’ll be the first to admit that it may not be a fair point, is that these projects did not work before so what makes us think re-opening them the same way would make it better? With the city overall in a pretty bad place, re-opening them would probably make the projects a worse place to live right now.

    My post isn’t meant to change someone’s opinion, it’s just my opinion and others including yourself are welcome to post on anything any of us write.

  14. Laurie (unregistered) on July 2nd, 2006 @ 2:00 pm

    “Teach a man to fish he’ll be able to eat the rest of his life!”

    Teach a man to become dependent on others he loses his autonomy!


  15. G Bitch (unregistered) on July 14th, 2006 @ 3:07 pm

    Teach a man that others are beneath him and he cannot develop solutions for anyone but himself.

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