April 29, 2007

Eugenics in New Orleans

Back in January, I described the manner in which poor - and predominantly black - residents of New Orleans were on The Short End of the Reconstruction Stick as the city struggles to rebuild itself in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Initial federal plans called for the demolition of more than 4,500 St. Bernard Parish public housing units and their replacement with about 800 mixed income units, less than half of which would be targeted to those with low incomes. In the midst of the most severe housing shortage ever seen in The Big Easy, the federal government was moving forward with plans to replace less than one-eleventh of the units it was prepared to raze.

Although attention has been drawn to this issue, four months later, the Crescent City remains at less than half strength. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, speaking at a rally organized to demand answers about the disbursement - or more appropriately, the lack thereof - of billions of dollars in federal aid that remains tied up by the Louisiana Recovery Authority, got it right when he declared, "I see the Saints are back, the basketball team is back, the white-top tablecloths are back and Mardi Gras is back. But 250,000 people are not."

Adding insult to what is already substantial injury, it was also reported this week that $854 million in foreign aid offered to the U.S. by other nations was so mishandled by the federal government that only a fraction of it has actually been used for aid and rebuilding:
Allies offered $854 million in cash and in oil that was to be sold for cash. But only $40 million has been used so far for disaster victims or reconstruction, according to U.S. officials and contractors. Most of the aid went uncollected, including $400 million worth of oil. Some offers were withdrawn or redirected to private groups such as the Red Cross. The rest has been delayed by red tape and bureaucratic limits on how it can be spent.

In addition, valuable supplies and services - such as cellphone systems, medicine and cruise ships - were delayed or declined because the government could not handle them. In some cases, supplies were wasted.

Worse still, a solution to the apparent impasse over re-opening New Orleans public housing - which is, by and large, safe enough for occupancy - remains in limbo. Surprisingly, while no one from the Louisiana Congressional delegation has taken the initiative, Representative Maxine Waters of California has sponsored H.R. 1277, the Gulf Coast Hurricane Housing Recovery Act of 2007, which declares a right of return for former public housing residents wishing to come back to the homes they left, and establishes a minimum of 3,000 units to be re-opened.

The bill has passed the House of Representatives and been referred to the Senate, but it appears that neither of Louisiana's two Senators, Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, are working to advance the legislation. (As of April 29, 2007, neither Landrieu's website nor Vitter's lists Hurricane Katrina recovery as a major issue on which the Senators are active.) While it is likely that there are some who view the devastation wrought by Katrina as a chance to build a "better" New Orleans, and it is irrefutable that the housing projects in question were poor and crime-ridden, the fact remains that failure to rebuild or re-open sufficient housing will further displace thousands of people who have already been homeless for more than a year. As I wrote earlier:

HUD spokesman Jereon Brown may genuinely believe that "People deserve better than this," but when he says, "If they could just be patient. A mixed-income neighborhood can better attract businesses and better schools," he reveals an arrogance it is difficult to imagine being applied to more affluent elements of Louisiana society.

While there has been little public comment on the status of H.R. 1277, the group Color of Change recently distributed a letter stating its belief that the inaction of Landrieu and Vitter can be described thusly:

Race and class seem to explain Landrieu and Vitter's refusal to step up. Some have expressed a desire to see a "richer" and "Whiter" post-Katrina New Orleans, and many of them have a great deal of political influence. From what we can tell, Senator Vitter is playing to those interests by ignoring this legislation – but as a senator for all Louisiana residents, it's his responsibility to ensure that everyone who wants to come home can - not the just the wealthy, privileged, and White. Insiders tell us that Senator Landrieu is being cautious for the same reason: that she doesn't want to offend "moderate" supporters who have a similar vision for New Orleans.

I would be only too happy to report that the conclusions contained in the Color of Change letter are erroneous, and that there are perfectly good reasons why efforts to provide housing to the poorest and economically weakest residents of New Orleans are not being vigorously pursued. Unfortunately, neither Landrieu nor Vitter has made more than passing statements regarding the plight of the homeless New Orleans poor, and the continued and significant discrimination faced by black families seeking housing only make those conclusions more credible. Both senators ostensibly represent the whole of Louisiana, but keeping their most needful constituents from returning to their homes is social engineering at its worst, and little more than eugenics.

1 comment:

LanceThruster said...

I was hoping some sort of pilot program could have been quickly implemented that would combine the best aspects of speed, affordability, and function. Container housing meets those needs in different degrees. Framework could be put in for multiple, multi-level, and raised units. This being particularly suited for avoiding possible recurring flood damage while at the same time providing a shaded carport or covered family or storage area below. Temporary workers could be brought in and have their units relocated when the ready for permanent residents to take over. As some of the following links show, many of the styles can easily be adapted to keep a familiar quality to neighborhoods while adding modifications that will help prevent future property loss.

Displaced families/residents could start working on their units at their current locations and have them trucked and installed when most convenient, allowing for the least disruption with school scheduling, the logistics of relocation and getting used to the new environment and, the morale boost of being part of such a pioneering program. Such unique communities might increase tourist interest as well. The availability of these cargo containers also facilitates the process and makes another regional connection in such a world-renowned shipping port as New Orleans. I would hope that the restoration project Brad Pitt has involved himself with will consider some of these options. I’ve unfortunately have never been to New Orleans but look forward to the day that I can do so after she has recovered much of her glory. It has long been known for the uniqueness and friendliness of its inhabitants. They should certainly come first over those interested solely in profiteering.

Some marvelous examples of cargo container housing design: