The Coalition To Stop Demolition held a press conference at City Hall yesterday to implore the City Council and Mayor to say no to public housing demolition.
At a press conference today on the steps of City Hall, The Coalition To Stop Demolition sent a clear message to the Mayor and the City Council: just say no to the demolition of public housing in New Orleans.The Coalition is “made up of local public housing residents/organizers, housing advocates, local and national organizations,” according to their press release today.”We implore the City Council to take the right step, to be on the right side of history, so we can bring our people home,” said Martin Suber of Peoples Hurricane Relief, one of the Coalition’s members. “Stand with the people against the nefarious HANO/HUD.”
The demolitions were originally scheduled to begin last Saturday, December 15. The Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), which the Bush Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) took over in 2002, wants to demolish the Lafitte, St. Bernard, C.J. Peete and B.W. Cooper public housing complexes These have been almost totally vacant since Hurricane Katrina displaced over 5000 families from them, because HANO/HUD has barred them from returning to their homes, even though they had valid leases.
HANO/HUD want to spend $760 million to demolish 4500 low income housing units at the four complexes, and replace them with “mixed income” housing that would result in only 740 low income units, an 82% loss.
The council is scheduled to vote on the demolition issue at its weekly meeting this Thursday. After the Coalition successfully filed a lawsuit last week, contending that a city code mandates that the City Council must vote vote on all public housing demolition permit applications, the council was forced to take up the matter. Previously it refused to act on it, in part because the City Attorney incorrectly stated that it did not have the legal authority to do so.
At the press conference, the Coalition stated that it’s goals are: “1) No demolition until 1 for 1 replacement is guaranteed; 2) resident participation in redevelopment planning.”
“If they’re going to spend over $700 million for this, the people who used to live there should end up no worse off,” said Bill Quigley, the public housing residents’ legal advocate, and a professor at Loyola University School of Law. Quigley also said that Maxine Waters, a Congressional representative from California, who sponsored legislation there to ban the demolition of public housing in New Orleans, was contacting City Council members today to “help work this out.”
Last Friday Congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid sent a letter to GW Bush, urging a 60 day moratorium on the New Orleans demolitions, so that there was time to reach a more just resolution of the matter.
That position was supported at the press conference by Robert Horton of the group Critical Resistance, a former resident of the St. Bernard complex. Horton cautioned about demolishing public housing buildings in haste and without a well thought out plan, “HANO has a history of knocking down buildings and leaving the ground empty. A development on Imperial Drive they took down has been a vacant lot for 15 years.”
Malcolm Suber criticized city leaders for refusing to consider the Coalition’s positions. “They’re looking to the plans of the developers to gentrify our city and make it a majority white city,” he said. A story in today’s New York Times reported that only 53,000 African Americans voted in the city’s last municipal election, compared to 113,000 in the 2006 mayoral election. The result in this year’s vote was the election of the first majority white City Council since 1980.
Suber explained the national perspective of such changes: “There’s a concerted effort by the capitalist class to deny infrastructure for poor people, to let the market determine everything. We have to reassert our right to basic services.
“They’re using New Orleans as an experiment to privatize schools, cut bus services, and knock down public housing. That’s what we’re against, and that’s what we’re fighting today, and that’s why people have come from all over the country to support us.”
Bill Quigley took the New Orleans Times-Picayune to task for lack of journalistic competence in a front page story in last Sunday’s edition that faulted the Coalition. “They mostly just passed on HANO/HUD’s propaganda,” he said. “Our job is to stand up and elevate the voices of people who are not being heard.”
As an example, Quigley pointed out the T-P’s bald-faced assertion Sunday of HANO/HUD’s claim that they have hundreds of vacant units available, but that no one is applying for them. “For the past one and a half years,” Quigley said, “HANO/HUD periodically comes out with a statement that it has all kinds of vacant apartments. But when we call up saying we have hundreds of people who want them, they say, we first have to spend 60 days trying to track down the people who last lived there. When we ask for addresses, they refuse to give them out. Why doesn’t the media investigate this?”
Responding to a media inquiry about a claim that the City Council will only be allowing 20-30 minutes of public testimony on the demo issue Thursday, Malcolm Suber replied, “We’re talking about thousands and thousands of peoples’ lives. Every citizen who wants to speak should be able to. If 4500 want to, they should be able to. They should extend the meeting to Friday, or even Saturday if need be.”
Bill Quigley said that whatever the outcome of the council’s vote on Thursday, “the end doesn’t come until justice comes.”
Sharon Sears Jasper, a resident of St. Bernard until displaced by Katrina, and then barred from returning to her home by HANO/HUD, declared, “We’re back again on these steps trying to get our city officials to stop the demolitions, so we can bring our people home. This is a critical time. Get people off the streets. It’s getting cold. People are going to be dying.
“We’re tired of our people suffering. Stop the corruption. We need your help. Stop playing politics with our lives. It’s time for you to say: Stop the Demolition!”
The Coalition is asking everyone to call the City Council to tell them to vote to do just that.
Thursday’s meeting will start at 10 a.m. in the City Council chambers on the first floor of City Hall. That same day a mass eviction at the homeless encampment across the street in Duncan Plaza may be underway.
Tomorrow, Wednesday, December 19, at 8 a.m., there will be a picket to protest ongoing demolitions happening at the B.W. Cooper public housing complex, at the corner of Eratus and S. Galvez
At 10 a.m. tomorrow the Coalition will protest the proposed demolitions at a HANO meeting at 4100 Touro Street.