Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New Orleans City Council to Vote Thursday on Demolition of 4,000 Housing Units


Contact: Mayaba Liebenthal, 917-385-5472 Kali Akuno, 510-593-3956
WHERE: Steps of City Hall
WHEN: Thursday, December 20 2007, 9:30 AM


New Orleans City Council will vote to continue the displacement of Black and working class families Thursday when it rubber stamps the demolition of almost 4,000 desperately needed apartments. The City Council plans to conduct a sham meeting. They will go through the motions of the required public comment, but their vote is already determined.

Council members engaged in ongoing discussions with residents and advocates have plainly stated their position: There will be a vote on Thursday. There will be no moratorium. They will approve demolition of all the developments.

“We finally cleaned up public housing. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” Senator Baker’s comment shocked the nation in 2005. Thursday New Orleans first majority white city council in over 30 years will vote to execute this blatantly racist vision.

Not only does this racism halt the democratic process, but there are serious conflicts of interest, misrepresentation of facts, lack of consultation with the public and a pending federal investigation of HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson. The Council’s deliberate disregard of these factors makes their vote illegitimate.

New Orleans already has a homeless population in excess of 12,000, and by March there will be more than 50,000 families evicted from closing FEMA trailer parks. The only legitimate solution is to reopen all available housing now.

“The City Councils vote to demolish in the midst of the ever-growing housing crisis is an egregious violation of human rights. It is beyond callous, and can only be seen as malicious discrimination. It is an unabashed attempt to eliminate the Black population of New Orleans.” said Kali Akuno, of the Coalition to Stop the Demolition.

The Coalition stands by it’s positions that HUD/HANO end all demolition attempts, reopen all existing housing, begin building new housing on property cleared decades ago, guarantee one-for-one replacement once resident input controls renovation, and revoke the illegal contracts made under Jackson.

Housing projects will be demolished, a majority of City Council confirms

by Gwen Filosa
Wednesday December 19, 2007, 11:59 AM
Staff writer

The New Orleans City Council appears poised to approve the demolition of the city's "Big Four" housing complexes despite continuing protests, with four of its seven members signaling approval.

Council members Jackie Clarkson, Stacy Head, Shelley Midura all said in interviews this week they will approve the demolition permits in a vote scheduled for Thursday. And a representative of Council President Arnie Fielkow, who asked not to be named, this morning confirmed his intent to vote for demolition.

Two other members -- James Carter and Cynthia Willard-Lewis -- declined to preview their votes. The remaining member, Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, could not be reached for comment.

In approving the demolition of federally financed public housing units, the Council finds itself in a new, powerful and controversial role. HANO wanted to begin demolition of 4,500 units on Dec. 15, but a state judge agreed with the Loyola Law Clinic's attorneys that the council must approve the permits first for each of the four sites slated for the wrecking crews: Lafitte, C.J. Peete, St. Bernard and B.W. Cooper.

Though highly public protests from activists continue this week, some council members nonetheless stood firm in their support for tearing down the aging and often delipadated complexes to make way for new, mixed-income developments.

"I'm going to vote to support redevelopment of the projects in the city," said Midura. "I'll be voting to support the path that most effectively reforms and reopens public housing. That path requires a demolition permit."

Head agreed.

"Redevelopment requires demolition," she said, adding that the "overwhelming majority" of her constituents want Peete and Cooper transformed into mixed-income neighborhoods.

Midura's district includes the Lafitte development, which has been shuttered since Katrina struck, forcing out 865 families, while Head's district includes both the C.J. Peete and B.W. Cooper. The St. Bernard development, closed since Katrina, is within Cynthia Hedge-Morrell's district.

Clarkson said New Orleans would be ill-advised to try and stop HUD's plans for redevelopment.

"This is our opportunity to do it," said Clarkson. "We need to provide better housing than before Katrina. By going along with HUD, we get an opportunity to spend their money on our people. We do it better for the poor people and better for the city. It's a win-win."

Fielkow has made public statements recently supporting mixed-income housing, but stopped short of promising a vote for demolition. A representative of his confirmed this morning, however, that he plans to support the demolitions.

Cynthia Willard-Lewis, in a prepared statement, said only that she has met with public housing residents and others to "find common solutions to these difficult problems."

Clarkson, the at-large councilwoman, recalled that her former district included the Fischer, which has been transformed from a high-rise tower and barracks-style apartments to modern-day housing, including a "senior village" on the West Bank.

"We did not displace the poor, and I plan to make sure we don't," said Clarkson. "We don't have to build a whole bunch of supply if there's no demand."

Thursday's council meeting likely will draw crowds of activists, who have argued the old buildings, many of which date back to the 1940s, should be rehabbed and reopened.

The Coalition to Stop the Demolitions, an umbrella group for scores of activist groups opposing HANO's redevelopment plans, sent out instructions on protesting Thursday's vote via an e-mail, which speculated that the council vote will fall along racial lines.

"At least three of the white city council members are going to vote against us," the email by Kali Akuno said. "The third black council member, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, is definitely a critical swing vote."

Akuno told his supporters that Fielkow "might vote in favor or abstain in order to not lose favor with" black constituents.

Clarkson, the at-large councilwoman, said last week that tearing down and redeveloping the Lafitte complex would "save Treme and rebuild the neighborhood better than before."

The Lafitte plan, by nonprofit developers Providence and Enterprise, calls for "one-to-one" replacement of the 865 public housing units, unlike the plans for redeveloping the other three complexes, which may include far lower numbers of public housing units.

"I consider that the compromise," said Clarkson, of the Lafitte plan.
Gwen Filosa can be reached at or (504) 826-3304.

1 comment:

tel said...

This is what can be in New Orleans. Give public housing residents an opportunity to live in decent, safe housing. As far as Secretary Jackson is concerned, he has a long career of public service promoting minority and woman contracting. At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Jackson has taken HUD from last in minority and women contracting to first among all federal departments. Now he is accused of these allegations, wonder why??

A Welcome Development
Some Residents of Old SE Public Housing Are Back, This Time as Homeowners

By Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 18, 2007; Page B01

Harold Thomas lived through the good years, the bad ones and, eventually, the ignominious death of the dilapidated and crime-ridden Frederick Douglass Dwellings in Southeast Washington.

Today, he is a part of the housing development's rebirth.

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Harold and Linda Thomas, with their son, Godtheson, now own a home at Henson Ridge in Southeast Washington. (Lois Raimondo - The Washington Post)

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It was 1958 when the then-17-year-old Cardozo High School football player moved into the public housing complex with his grandmother and siblings. It was "the best house we had ever lived in," he says. Families left their front doors unlocked. On sultry nights, Thomas and his buddies slept on the grass to cool off. The women sat on their porches in their slips, trying to catch a breeze.

Forty-one years later, Thomas was among the last of the Frederick Douglass residents to vacate a complex that had been deemed uninhabitable, where the few remaining occupants lived behind triple locks, conditioned to duck inside at the sound of gunshots and intimidated from moving about outside by feuding drug gangs. "Chaotic" is what his beloved home had become, Thomas recalls.

This month, the 66-year-old Thomas moved anew into Frederick Douglass, now renamed Henson Ridge and redeveloped by the D.C. Housing Authority into a handsome collection of three-story townhouses built along landscaped cul-de-sacs. The 600-unit, $122.4 million development in Ward 8's Congress Heights neighborhood was funded with public and private money and launched by a $29.9 million grant from Hope VI, the federal program designed to replace distressed projects such as the Frederick Douglass and Stanton Dwellings with mixed-income communities.

Thomas returns as a first-time homeowner, fulfilling a longtime dream by applying his federally funded voucher -- which previously subsidized his rent at Frederick Douglass -- to a mortgage at Henson Ridge. He will still pay only 30 percent of his yearly income for housing. The development is the first of the Housing Authority's half-dozen Hope VI projects that uses homeownership vouchers.

Today, housing authority and city officials are scheduled to announce the kickoff of the sale of the remainder of the homeownership units in Henson Ridge, where prices run from $298,000 for a two-bedroom, 1 1/2 -bath townhouse to $332,500 for a four-bedroom, 2 1/2 -bath home.

Of the 600 units at Henson Ridge, 280 are rental units (three per townhouse). They already are occupied. Former Frederick Douglass or Stanton residents are in 213 of them.

The other 320 units are designated for homeownership, with 100 reserved for returning residents such as Thomas; 110 for families whose income is less than 80 percent of the Washington area's median income, which is $94,500 for a family of four; and 110 for market-rate buyers.

Henson Ridge, across Alabama Avenue SE from a shopping center that includes a new Giant that is Ward 8's only full-service supermarket, a bank and a hardware store, has 90 homes left for sale, spokeswoman Dena Michaelson said.

Michael Kelly, executive director of the D.C. Housing Authority, said 22 former residents have bought homes at Henson Ridge. Under rules created by former residents engaged in the transformation of the complex, returning renters must have a clean police record and a history of timely rent payments.

Home buyers such as Thomas had to attend a yearlong class on homeownership. There were sessions on creating monthly budgets and maintaining a property, plus job training and job counseling services