Escalation and Agitation

CJPEETE Wall on Washington   CJPEETE 2810 Choir Robe

Click the photos to see more photos of CJ Peete, taken in 2006.

After the fiasco at City Council this week when this group disrupted the proceedings and were met by stiff security, the affordable housing folks are trying to get a bit more organized going into next week. At a meeting yesterday led by housing advocate, Bill Quigley, a plan was outlined for next week’s strategy as they fight to stop the demolition of The Big 4 housing projects in New Orleans.

Sunday, Dec. 9th: March to Ray Nagin’s House . . . all the way to Texas?

Monday, Dec. 10th: 9 am : Press Conference Protest at City Hall.
10 am: Stagger (not storm) into the Housing Conservation District Review Committee (in Safety & Permits) which is scheduled to hear the case of residents and give final consideration before issuing the necessary permits for demolition for Peete, Cooper and Lafitte.

This room, where the HCDRC is held, is very small. It’s going to be ugly. Knowing the sketchy background of the HCDRC, these public housing advocates ought to go see if these buildings haven’t already been demolished. The group plans to ask for denial and/or deferral of the matter. At best, they are hoping for a no action or lack of a quorum.

Having attended too many of these train wrecks, I wonder how Super Mario, the Chair of the Committee, (Nelson Savoie) plans to get out of this mess. Maybe they will kidnap Nelson. Someone at the meeting today called the HCDRC, “a rubber stamp committee”. I am thinking they may pull it from the agenda on a technicality.

Tuesday, Dec. 11th: Preparation and training for a larger mobilization organized by Defend New Orleans Public Housing.Org. The AFL-CIO plans to go into the D.C. Court to stop demolition of St. Bernard. Look for a press conference.

Wednesday, Dec. 12th: Barbara Jackson is in charge of galvanizing people at River Gardens to get them to show up at the protests later in the week. Barbara’s going to have to promise that they will make it home in time for their soaps. Apparently, the insurgents need to inflate their numbers by gathering up people who already have some pretty nice public housing. You would think that these residents would actually support the demolition of the gulags.

Thursday, Dec. 13th: Day of Action: Mass mobilization of protesters at Lafitte. The plan is to deliberately block the I-10 exit ramp.

Friday, Dec. 14th: Catholic Charities Day. After a busy few days of insurrection, this must be the day the group talks about genocide. Inevitably, it comes up in all their discussion. They equate the demolition of public housing and building new ones as a violation of Human Rights. Are they saying that thousands of people have been systematically murdered by the government by keeping the projects closed?

Saturday, Dec. 15th: Whomever is not yet in jail, protest at St. Bernard.

Jump in Front of Bulldozers: Some cursory thought was given to Plan B. If the HCDRC approves the demolitions, these folks plan to send a message to those contracted to do the demolitions that they will be met with the same level of hysteria. They plan to stand in front of the bulldozers.

The rest of this post is more detailed background information for the serious reader . . .

The Bad Element of Public Housing is Not Always the Residents

Slated for demolition are C.J. Peete, St. Bernard, part of Lafitte, and part of B.W. Cooper, currently referred to as ‘The Big 4″. Housing projects are mere microcosims of actual streetscaped neighborhoods. While I agree with saving some of the old buildings because of their historical and architectural strength, the spacial element is only part of it. I don’t think anyone in New Orleans wants to make this same mistake again in redevelopment because the situation in the projects had made them the center of Pre Katrina Violence. We’ve seen many shootings already in the projects which are open. Notably, our violence, in general, hasn’t abated since the projects were closed, so it’s not just the configuration to blame for the bad element that gives the projects a bad name.

Senate Bill 1668: Trying to make sure it’s right.

Senate Vitter’s successful block of Senate Bill 1668 this week was largely due to the lack of definitive language in the bill regarding the density of the newly built housing replacing the ‘Big 4’. There is some concern that the bill also lacks any language regarding economic support programs/obligations for those in public housing which would have been funded by the Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act, aka GCHRA. Even the use of percentages dictating a ratio of subsidized and market rate housing might not be enough to ensure the developments are truly mixed. (Market Rate issue is discussed further under HUD Transparency.)

Senator Landrieu is trying to dismiss much of Councilwoman Head and Senator Vitter’s concerns in wording but this is the same woman who failed to get these same people evacuated in short order as water began to rise when the levees broke. She ignored calls from people like myself who called pleading for her to push for the National Guard to be deployed to drop water and food on Monday after the storm. Based on that mistake, I tend to trust the people closest to the problem today for direction.

HUD, Transparency and Market Rate Rent Vouchers

New facilities have opened up along MLK. What is the occupancy rate? HUD is not forthcoming with updated information for the public regarding the reimbursement rate for Sec. 8 for New Orleans residents. As you recall, when rental rates spiked immediately after the storm, HUD raised the voucher amount to meet the market rate. So the term ‘Market Rate’ is not a definition that could require developers to create a true mixed environment.

The plans for the new housing should be made accessible to the public. The lack of transparency on HUD’s part is adding to the anger of many involved in the process. Portions of places like CJ Peete have been empty for years and years. So language per the GCHRA legislation replacement as ‘one-to-one’ could actually increase the functioning number of subisidized units to higher than those inhabited pre-Katrina. This benefits the money handed to developers. It’s warped.

Today, rental rates are leveling out a bit as more houses are repaired. As drug crime continues to plague some areas, like Dumaine St., the rates are bottoming out to nothing and good residents couldn’t be paid enough to live there.

Based on the many “Section 8 Welcome” signs I see, it’s now pretty desirable to landlords in areas like Mid City. Despite this plea, many units are still for rent. Many homes remain unoccupied. The last number I could find for rental vouchers was $980. Did this increase actually push the rental rates up in the City?

Do we really have a housing shortage? After all, we keep tearing down perfectly good houses.

Ultimately, WWLtv reported Friday, the majority of folks are happy to see these gulags of poverty go away forever. In fact, I know someone who grew up in St. Bernard. He said he can’t wait to see it torn down. It makes him sick.

BGR’s Report on Public Housing Redevelopment

14 Comments so far

  1. mikesmiley (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 8:35 am

    Holy crap!

  2. Jack Ware (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 9:31 am

    Good post; extensively researched as usual. The one thing you didn’t mention that my mind always comes back to is the fact that the last I heard (which wasn’t very long ago at all) there are nearly 400 public housing units available in the open Projects that are unoccupied. I keep hearing the chorus of anyone that qualifies for public housing could move into one of them in short order. They are apparently ready to go. That does seem to conflict with the Duncan Square thing, but I would think it would be good for the “Don’t tear our shit down” crowd to have homeless people living in tents right outside City Hall in “Camp Nagin”.

    I also like that you made a point to note that crime has not really been lessened by the closing of the projects. The Freret Community is a huge proponent of “Owner Occupied” property for the simple reason that it makes you more vested in your community; however, this puts them squarely against Section 8 and causes some internal conflict for some of my neighbors.

    As a side note, I was speaking with a friend in Minneapolis who just received a letter saying that she is eligible for Road Home money of some sort up to $4000 to move back to New Orleans. The problem is that she would have to be back living in New Orleans by February 1st. To me that says, the only people who will be able to take advantage of that are people with no job, no lease, and no other responsibilities that are sitting around waiting for someone to bring them back. So, I’m wondering if that’s really who resources should be spent on given the city’s current state. She brought up the more prosaic point of whether the city is focused on attracting renters or home owners back to the city. If they want people to come back and buy property then giving them less than six weeks to get back isn’t going to work for them. There are lots of houses for sale, it would be nice if they could be sold to people who want to come back…allowing those who want to leave to go… while not taxing the already (arguably) insufficient rental market…seems like a win/win.

    If we’re going to talk about defining “Market Rate” then we have to talk about defining the equally abstract term “Affordable Housing”.

  3. termite (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 6:22 pm

    just watched the news. i have a grand idea!

    everyone who wants public housing so badly – should leave their comfy homes (mr. quigley included) and move across the street from these lovely sites.

    come on! put your money where your mouth is!

    Geaux Saints!

  4. termite (unregistered) on December 10th, 2007 @ 6:23 pm

    oh, and for the record.

    i lived across from one. so i know. :)

  5. mominem (unregistered) on December 11th, 2007 @ 2:41 pm

    I guess there was no battle of Park Island Bridge Sunday.

  6. Sally Stevens (unregistered) on December 12th, 2007 @ 6:00 pm

    Yeah, Support HUD and the Disaster Capitalist Complex! Forget about your neighbors and fellow citizens, subscribe to the same old privileged rhetoric, may be you’ll benefit too – at the expense of the lives and livelihoods of the not-so-fortunate as y’all – but I wouldn’t count on it, cuz when they get done with the poor, y’all are next – I’m embarrassed to be living in the same city as folks who would post such such narrowed-minded racist drivel –
    Washington and LaSalle, where the Magnolia public housing project is located, is considered worldwide as one of the most important neighborhoods in the history of American music and culture. A place where the creative activities of some of New Orleans most socially and economically marginalized citizens gave rise to the birth of rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll. A place where Mardi Gras Indians come in from east and west and north and south to sacred ground in an intensely spiritual celebration to honor St. Joseph. A place where the Dew Drop Inn launched the careers of so many internationally renowned performers, performers who dominated the music sales charts for a decade and placed New Orleans into the forefront of the nation’s creative vanguard.
    What have y’all contributed??? Stop patting yourselves on the back as so smart and let others live –

  7. Laureen (unregistered) on December 12th, 2007 @ 8:51 pm

    It is most people’s understanding that there are plans to redevelop these into mixed income like River Gardens which has proven successful. Also, I agree with saving some of buildings on the streetscape. Actually, LaSalle and Washington has been known only as one of the bloodiest corners in the City in recent history.

    Further, if you know anything about the history of our musical culture in this area, that culture was born in Central City far earlier than the when the projects were built. In fact, it could be argued the projects there contributed to the decline of the culture you speak of. No one is patting themselves on the back here. We can be happy when we provide people a much better quality of life than they were left with in the dense projects which are an all-out failure nationwide.

  8. termite (unregistered) on December 12th, 2007 @ 9:02 pm

    Well stated Laureen. (as usual) :)

    No human soul should live in these conditions.

  9. jack Ware (unregistered) on December 12th, 2007 @ 10:14 pm

    Sally, I really do appreciate the emotive sensibility that your opinions come from in the vague sense of the word “home”. And we have in common the support of Leonard Peltier and understand (as far as my background allows) that injustice does happen. However, to follow the musical crux of your argument I think of it in different terms. I wonder how many potentially great musicians the city has lost before they could realize their potential due to their inability to escape the lure of drugs and inevitability of violence and hopelessness that has been the by product of the system they were born into. The warehousing of the poor for all these decades has certainly done more harm than good. Anything beautiful that came out of that system did so in spite of the system, not because of it.

    Furthermore, to frame the situation in racial terms, to me, devalues the civil rights movement as a whole. If anything, this is a class issue. Now, you could say that the poverty is a result of institutional racism but that does not make this a race issue. Were the projects full of poor whites, as they have been at times, I doubt the decision would be any different. So calling me and others on here racists hurts your credibility.

    Sometimes people get so comfortable in prison they fail to see that the things they love about life may be improved when the prison is no longer confining them. How many songs were never heard over the din of this flawed housing system? How many more generations should we allow to be silenced?

  10. Laureen (unregistered) on December 12th, 2007 @ 10:59 pm

    Where does this argument fit within the notion of these housing projects as ‘factories of pain’ in order to ‘nurture’ an ‘artistic culture’ for our larger economic gain? No one who really lives here can stand aside.

    Most professional musicians in New Orleans will admit that they get paid far more to play elsewhere. Louis Armstrong, who started in Central City, did not make it successfully until going on to Chicago. At what point do we acknowledge that our liberal drinking and drug culture in New Orleans is a double edged economic sword against exploitation upon its exportation as freedom from same. Locally, it has resulted in the proliferation of street violence for fierce competition for the drug end of commerce. The Music culture has struggled in its wake.

    Once these talented individuals leave and see what the larger world has to offer with regards to real commerce and social progressivencess, New Orleans has little to offer. The conditions here actually keep them stunted because of this mentality of blanket racism entwined insidiously in this unspoken counter-culture.

    Protesters are holding us back due to a narrow view of the situation and I wonder if it is actually an unsaid attempt to save the “drug culture” for their own benefit, rather than the actual musical/african american culture. We should be wary about confusing the two.

  11. Jack Ware (unregistered) on December 13th, 2007 @ 8:30 am


    “Although some Cooper residents and people who had lived at the shuttered St. Bernard and C.J. Peete complexes before the storm looked on, most of the protesters were people who have never lived in public housing. They represented a cluster of activist groups, including Safe Streets New Orleans and the People’s Hurricane Relief Organization, along with lawyers who have sued to stop the demolitions.”

    From this morning’s story: “Protesters hold up B.W. Cooper razing” in the T-P

  12. termite (unregistered) on December 13th, 2007 @ 9:04 am

    last night on WWL they said the exact same thing 3 times during their report.
    and these are the same people who want change. *but for Gods sake – don’t change anything*

    excellent comment yesterday jack, beautifully written.

  13. Jack Ware (unregistered) on December 13th, 2007 @ 4:59 pm

    Anyone seen the mayor? Seems like with several consecutive days of near-rioting that he might want to make a statement about what’s going on. Even if it was just to encourage people to continue to be peaceful in their protests.

    I’m just sayin.

  14. rickngentilly (unregistered) on December 15th, 2007 @ 12:17 am

    laureen. thank you for hosting this discussion.

    it’s one of the more intelligent ones i have seen on the blogosphere this week.

    take care . rick.

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