New Orleans public housing has been on a constant downfall for quite sometime now. Many can’t even remember when these city projects were running efficiently, finding it hard to believe that at one time that was a reality. Former tenants this year sued HANO and the Department of Housing and Urban Development for closing four of New Orleans largest housing projects.
After decades of horrid mismanagement, ramped crime and drug infestation, these eyesores finally have a date with the wrecking ball. Of course, housing developments this large and this old certainly won’t be touched without protest. These protest quickly ignited and representatives and equal opportunists begun to step up.
Now on the flip side, the question is, where do poor New Orleans residents who have a desire to return to the still struggling city and its recovering economy live if and when these developments are demolished? With developers in the city who are certainly more than willing and ready to make significant improvements to this city’s poorest landscapes, traditional New Orleans hardheads are hard for change.
Without a doubt, this struggle has turned into a clear racial and poverty battle. However, what is hard for many to understand is why would any person want to return to such a legacy of decades of unprecedented mismanagement and deplorable conditions?
After Katrina, many things have changed for the better, and this presents a profound opportunity for changes in an already poverty stricken city pre and post Hurricane Katrina. This also will present developers with an opportunity to rectify the historic beauty of these areas in more ways than imaginably possible.
Here’s the vision. The thought of replacing theses housing complexes with mixed income meccas is a novel idea. Though many are a hard head for change, which shows on many levels of government not only in this city, but in the state of Louisiana, from clear bad governance and the penitentiary style public school system, it would be hard to even imagine at this point having mixed housing in place of these projects, however, optimism is real, and this can become a sure reality.
Pre-Katrina, according to the 2000 Census, a predominantly African-American culture driven city in which 67 percent were black, more than half were living below twice the poverty threshold, a daunting statistic that is now an evident post-Katrina reality. Right before the storm even hit the city, according to the Housing Authority of New Orleans, HANO had 7,641 units available, but only 5,146 units were actually occupied leaving 2,485 units unused! Today, two developments have reopened since Katrina with 1,042 units of public housing in use, but not enough according to housing advocates who believe that there is not a thing wrong with the existing projects and much does not need to be done for them to be reopened quickly due to the city’s housing dilemma. The Housing Authority of New Orleans has responded to media that, it is too costly to try and repair what the floodwaters have damaged well over a year ago. Former residents of St. Bernard, Lafitte, B.W. Cooper, and C.J. Peete need to accept the harsh reality of a post-Katrina world. We all know that there is a housing crisis in this city, but that is just one of the insensitive realities that the slow moving city, which sometimes seems to be trapped in a time warp must face. I truly believe that if the mixed income housing plan works as it should, it would present residents who have never been exposed, or even lived in homes around people who may make half or twice as much as them across the street, or a couple of units down. A new mind set and a different way of life is in order. Affordable housing will be available in a variety of income levels to accommodate low income residents, a plan I think is ideal for a city that needs major changes, especially when it comes to the highly visible poverty line in which no one knew how bad it really was until Katrina shed light on it all. But my major concern is that Mayor Ray Nagin, who is under immense pressure due to the housing shortage in his city, will end up ordering HANO to reopen far too many of the existing developments, running backwards in the plan for change and imperative improvement.
According to the Associated Press this past Friday, Nagin recently sent a letter to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, asking Secretary Alphonso Jackson to immediately place a thousand units into service and open an additional thousand units with in 90 days. Nagin also asked that 750 scattered sites, possibly using modular homes, be set up.
This is a true controversy in this city, and change is clearly not going to happen overnight after decades of this way of life for thousands of poverty stricken residents who are eager to “return to normal,” a frightening normal that needs to be off set by a another form and way of living. A vision for the future has been presented by activist for change, but will the hard headed people of this city and the city itself along with state governance accept it, or will the sounds of constant resident protest push the city’s leadership to the edge and they end up reopening theses now historic city nightmares? At this pace, only dawdling time will tell.