Dillard University turned into capitol ground Thursday afternoon when a congressional committee meeting was held in the Lawless Memorial Chapel. Led by US representative Maxine Waters, D-Calif, the meeting was brought together to highlight the housing issues and needs in the Gulf Coast region. Opening up the meeting with greetings and thanks, President Marvalene Hughes hosted the gathering of many government officials, New Orleans residents and questioning natures. While the noise varied from rude comments, booing and amens, the meeting lasted nearly five hours as Louisiana officials addressed their issues, concerns and future plans.
Waters, chairwoman of the subcommittee on Housing and Opportunity community, presided over the issue on what has been accomplished in the city and what needs to be done for residents to be provided with the necessary finances for housing. Along with Waters, U.S. Representatives from Texas, New Jersey, Missouri, Illinois and New Orleans joined her on the panel. Waters commented mostly on the Road Home Program, the largest housing program the nation has ever seen.
“The program is so focused on trying to reduce fraud that it’s not allowing it to move as fast,” said Waters.
The panel that faced the U.S. representative panel included Governor Kathleen Blanco,
Mayor Ray Nagin, and City Council at Large Oliver Thomas. Blanco addressed the status and flow of the Road Home Program, stating that it is an investment that will more than pay off for this city. When she discussed the process of the program, the statistics did not seem to add up to many local residents. Out of over 108,000 applicants, only 782 cases have been helped.
Blanco said that by the end of February, there should be 2300 completed applicants, 7,000 next month and no less than 10,000 completed applicants per month after March. The angered crowd showed doubt to these goals after still not receiving a affordable housing plan or housing loans.
Nagin was referred by some residents as just another joke when he spoke upon public housing in the city.
“Nagin has done nothing about housing because he’s too worried about downtown and Bourbon Street,” said an Iberville apartment resident.
But despite the nonstop back-talking, Nagin kept his back to the crowd and discussed what actually needs to be done in the city.
“It’s not when the levees broke, it’s what happened after the levees broke,” said Nagin. “Why would we be struggling 18 months later………we’re still waiting,” he continued.
The Housing Authority of New Orleans and the Department of Housing and Urban Development faced rude discretions also due to violating civil rights of the thousands of families who have yet to return to public housing complexes. The chairman of HANO, Donald Babers, said the agency has had trouble locating former tenants.
“Of 978 phone calls made by HANO staff, 76 were unsuccessful,” said Babers. “Less than one fourth of the calls made resulted in contact.”
New Orleans, which had 5,100 families living in public housing before Katrina, now has roughly 1,200, while HUD announced in June that it would demolish the city’s four largest developments to make way for modern communities that combine market rate rentals and subsidized housing.
The hearing also brought up the issues of the rebuilding of levees, new funding programs and new revision plans. As the chairwoman and the other representatives opened their ears in the hearing as well as their eyes in a city tour, they began to accept the challenges that were given to them to get the city back on the right track, housing-wise.
Emanuel Cleaver, D-N.J., said he felt embarrassed that the United States has failed New Orleans and treated the residents different from the victims of 9/11.
“After all that has been said and done, more has been said than done,” said Cleaver.
Judy Biggert, R-Ill., was appalled at the uncompleted city and the actions from funding and housing program. She said that if there is no housing, there are no businesses and there are no jobs. And this will turn the city into a spur that no one wants to be apart of anymore.
After the hearings, all opinions were expressed, issues were acknowledged and decisions were thought upon. According to Times-Picayune, Rep. Maxine Waters plans to introduce legislation next week to protect Gulf Coast public housing agencies from cuts in low-income housing vouchers that Republicans say will result from a recently enacted spending bill. The hearing brought a louder voice to New Orleans as far as public housing and better funding programs and it could become an even louder voice for the Big Easy.