Homes for the Holidays

The big controversy raging in our city these days has to do with the planned demolition of five shuttered housing projects to make room for planned multi-level-income housing. No one is neutral on the subject and everyone has “the truth”.

We need housing for the poor. The test of any society is how it takes care of its poor. We have to get the homeless out of the parks and off the streets. Demolish those projects and you will multiply the number of homeless in New Orleans. Save those buildings.

Those projects were breeding grounds for crime and violence. They provided sanctuary for drug pushers and a haven for gangs. We do no favor to the poor of our city when we relegate them into the saddest accommodations on the planet where they will be victimized by the ruthless and terrorized by the ungodly. Tear down those buildings.

The New Orleans City Council is on the spot and has to make the ultimate call. Citizens on both sides of this issue are bombarding council members with emails, phone calls, letters, and visits.

One council member shared some of the emails she is receiving with the Times-Picayune, and they were printed in Sunday’s edition.

Beth Pesses is a nurse at Charity Hospital. “For 32 years I have served the poor in our community. I have wiped their tears, bandaged their wounds and prepared their bodies for the morgue. Very few people have more empathy for the poor in our society than Charity nurses. But the housing projects are not the answer… The combination of asbestos, lead paint and violence are three community health issues that nurses are interested in on an international level. But nurses need their leaders to back them up. We need our leaders to stand up to those who are demanding, some through violent means, to reopen these unhealthy environments. We look to our leaders to use their knowledge and expertise to make the RIGHT decision and not just the most popular one.”

Erin O. Stopak is with Talbot Realty Group. “My wife and I are very politically active New Orleanians, and understand y’all are in a ‘no-win’ situation in regard to the tear down of public housing units. Whatever or however you choose to vote will anger somebody. Please know that myself, family, and friends all want what is best for the future of this city, and most importantly fair to former public housing residents displaced by Katrina. PLEASE DO NOT BLOCK THE TEARDOWN OF ANY PUBLIC HOUSING UNITS!!!!!!!! Katrina was a horrific event, but has given us the chance to rebuild our city correctly, and break the cycles of poverty (which) trapped so many of our residents for generations.”

Then, two on the opposite side of the issue.

Anne Gibbons lists herself as a cartoonist and illustrator in the Bronx. “I urge you to do all in your power, and then some, to prevent the demolition of public housing in New Orleans. I have contributed financially to relief efforts after the devastation wreaked by Katrina and by our government’s abysmal response, and have paid attention with horror to how the victims of Katrina have been treated. I am a member of the National Cartoonists Society, an organization that plans to have a gathering in New Orleans in May…. What a farce that will be if the homes of thousands of New Orleans residents have been demolished to eliminate poor and working people from the city they helped to make great. I will not attend if this public housing is demolished, and I will urge others not to as well.”

Makes me wish I had kept my membership in the National Cartoonists Society current–I dropped out six or eight years ago since I was never able to participate in its meetings and now they’re coming here!–so I could speak out to the NCS membership against this type of rant. We appreciate what Ms. Gibbons has done for our people, but don’t need this kind of threat to take her meetings elsewhere if we don’t do things her way.

Dr. Caroline Jean Acker is an associate professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “Destroying public housing will increase homelessness, and result in the permanent displacement of thousands of families. The apartments are structurally sound, and the cost of repairing and retaining these units is much less than the cost of demolishing them and reconstructing a fraction of their number. YOU HAVE THE POWER TO STOP THESE DEMOLITIONS!”

A small argument with her opening statement. Destroying public housing will not increase homelessness beyond what it is, since no one is living in these developments slated for destruction. If demolition would put them “on the streets,” then they are already there.

The front page of Sunday’s Times-Picayune announces that thousands of housing units are available right now and are “FAR FROM FULL” (the headline). The claim that if we tear down all the old housing developments in New Orleans, displaced public housing residents will have no place to live is not valid, the paper says. Even though much of Washington believes it and judging by some of the letters the city council members are receiving, people around the rest of the country accept that as gospel also. Tain’t so, evidently.

The newspaper lists a number of resources available to our poorest, mostly voucher programs that would work throughout the city.

Two paragraphs from the article give a sample of the points being made:

“In the private sector, landlords have offered more than 500 apartments eligible for federal vouchers, which in many cases cover 100 percent of the rent through a program set up after the 2005 hurricanes.”

“And while the rhetoric has planted a perception that the scheduled demolition of the aging complexes is a result of Katrina, in reality it stems from a national policy shift launched well before the flood. Demolition of public housing in New Orleans has been going on for years as federal officials have sought to improve housing for the poor.”

The reporters point out that prior to Katrina, lawsuits from residents and their advocates complained not about the ongoing demolition, but about the sorry living conditions inside the developments. These complexes were erected in the 1930s and 1940s and were suffering from all the defects ancient buildings encounter. Defenders of the poor–and let’s all join that group–were complaining that the poor were being warehoused in dilapidated, inaccessible buildings.

It’s grossly unfair to characterize one side of this debate as anti-poor people.

Large cities across America that have gone through these growing pains all have their own testimonies of the gut-wrenching decisions that had to be made, as the poor were uprooted from public housing where they and several generations of their family had lived. Slums were destroyed and people eventually found other housing. Only later did they look back and give thanks for the tough decisions government leaders had made to force them out of those ghettoes and into decent housing.

Right now, some of our Baptist leaders are hard at work with the City of New Orleans and a shelter known as the New Orleans Mission to provide emergency housing for the homeless of New Orleans through this winter.

One final point.

Would it cost less to repair these housing developments than replace them?

HUD (the U. S. Housing and Urban Development, which along with the Housing Authority of New Orleans runs all these projects) says making the bare minimum of repairs on four of the worst developments slated for demolition would cost $130 million. But doing everything necessary to bring them up to code would cost $745 million. Demolishing them and redeveloping the area as planned will cost $150 million less than that.

HUD says that prior to Katrina, much of HANO’s inventory was already obsolete and in need of substantial repair. Furthermore, “the inappropriate design and layout of the projects contributed to a sense of isolation and the persistence of crime.” It was just that–the squalid conditions–which led to HUD’s takeover of the housing agency in this city in 2002.

You’ll not hear that from a lot of those wishing to make political capital off the plight of the poor in our city. But it’s the other side of the story.

Pray for our leaders as they wrestle with these tough decisions.

1 thought on “Homes for the Holidays

  1. Sat. Jan 5

    Good morning Bro. Joe:

    Thank you for your phone call on Friday and your concern for Trey. We heard from him via e-m Friday afternoon late. He and his men are safe. It was a dry run, and we think it was a result of so many righteous men and women praying for their safety. He said they will try again. Again, thank you.

    You asked me to fill you in on our lives. Don’t know if this is the place to do that or not so please send me your e-m address or let me know if this is okay.

    We are fine just busy with life. Working six days a week cuts into our lives and restricts us from much more other than family and church. The Lord is good and we thank Him for His blessings.

    Again, thank you for your concern for Trey. May the Lord continue to bless you and Mrs. Margaret. We love you all, Marjorie & Tom

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