Thursday, June 15, 2006

Razed Expectations

Calliope (Post-Katrina)

I have a really bad feeling about the news that four New Orleans housing projects are now slated for demolition. I don't have any illusions about the problems of the projects, but when I was researching the long piece in LfNO about the Desire projects, I got pretty familiar with the extremely bad history of broken promises about public housing. I won't recap all of that here, but, it's depressing and enraging.

The projects that will be razed are St. Bernard, Lafitte, C.J. Peete (Magnolia, spawning ground of the Cash Money empire), and Cooper (Calliope, pictured). The HUD honcho is quoted in the T-P saying:

We're making the president's vision a reality with an innovative plan which will reopen nearly half of the city's public housing but also bring about a renaissance in public housing neighborhoods. Rebuilding and revitalizing public housing isn't something that will be done overnight. Our redevelopment represents a major step forward. Sadly, not all residents will be able to return home in the near future.

Sure, sure. Guys like this have been talking about major steps forward for decades. What distresses me about it is that people in public housing, obviously, have few resources, and maybe even fewer advocates. The only politician speaking up for them is William "Cold Cash" Jefferson, probably the least effective elected official in America right now. It seems to me hardly anybody else cares what happens to these people. For all the righteousness and rage in post-Katrina New Orleans, I don't hear a whole lot about making sure the most defenseless citizens aren't victimized and tossed aside yet again.

Maybe I'm wrong, maybe it'll all work out this time. I certainly don't have any easy solutions. But reading about this just gives me a sinking feeling.

The T-P story did have this bit about the Desire projects, the first updated I've heard.
HUD has run the city's public housing authority since 2002, after years of rampant mismanagement and corruption took its toll on the complexes and their residents.

By late 2005, HANO, directed by a one-person board of commissioners who is appointed by HUD, was making headway in its far-reaching renovation of public housing complexes. Desire and Florida in the 9th Ward were pastel-colored rows of townhouses and shotgun-type homes.

"Katrina made a bad situation worse," Jackson said. "A massive redevelopment effort was under way when the hurricane hit."

Today, Desire -- renamed Abundance Square -- and Florida are vacant, muck-stained neighborhoods. Desire was a Hope IV project, part of a federal grant program that transforms public housing into mixed-income housing.

"The developer of Desire has indicated a strong desire to bring it back online as a development," Keller said. "They are working with the insurer right now to get funds available."
I drove around Desire and Florida in October, last time I was in New Orleans. The pastel-colored housing looked pretty desolate. I'm pretty sure Desire flooded big-time. We'll see if this "strong desire" to do something there ever materializes.


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