In what can only be viewed as another racist outrage against Hurricane Katrina survivors—especially those who are still displaced two years after the collapse of the levees—the Bush administration has passed a law calling for the demolition of 5,000 public housing units in New Orleans. They are now scheduled to be demolished on Nov. 19.
Many activists see the destruction of perfectly sound, affordable housing as another indication that the federal government is working hand-in-hand with the big real estate developers and some local and state officials to systematically push out the majority working-class, African-American population—making way for more luxury housing and condominiums for rich, affluent whites.
Along with the real threat of demolition, other developments related to this racist gentrification conspiracy include the privatization of schools, which has led to the massive layoffs of thousands of public school teachers; the lack of health care, especially for the poor; an alarming increase in the homicide rate in the Black community; and more police brutality.
The greatest devastation during Katrina took place in the Lower Ninth Ward, where the majority Black families lost their homes to flooding. To this day these families have been denied insurance coverage and governmental assistance to rebuild.
Progressive forces have called for a national day of protest against this demolition on Nov. 13 in a number of cities, especially where Katrina survivors have relocated. The New Orleans’ Public Housing and Right of Return Movement stated in a recent press release, “We oppose these plans not only because they are a clear violation of Human Rights but also for the corruption involved at every step.”
The statement goes on to say: “This corruption includes local officials’ ties to the federal government’s Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Jimmie Thorns, a businessman and close friend of Judge Ivan LeMelle, the federal judge that approved demolition, recently received a sweetheart $500,000 appraisal consulting contract from the HUD-controlled local housing authority.”
Since Katrina hit, the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) and HUD have only reopened 1,600 public housing units. According to HANO’s records, HUD has approved plans to demolish four major housing developments: Lafitte, St. Bernard, B.W. Cooper and CJ Peete. HUD and HANO have leased the soon-to-be-empty lots to private developers for 99 years to build mixed housing, “mixed” meaning luxury and low-income housing together.
The current 4,600-plus public housing units in these four areas alone will be reduced to less than 750 units—an astounding 82 percent decline, according to HUD. The cost of redevelopment is estimated at $762 million, which does not include any current housing subsidies for low income families. Those subsidies come to about $1,000 per family per month, or $100 million so far.
Although the demolition is set for Nov. 19, there is a legal challenge to push this date to Nov. 28 to allow more time for activists from around the country to travel to New Orleans and participate in direct protests against this blatant injustice.
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