27 December 2007

Here is some interesting and useful information, sent to me by a friend who is in NOLA, about what's happening in New Orleans right now regarding the destruction of housing. Please take an action on behalf of the disenfranchised in New Orleans.

The Ongoing Struggle for New Orleans Public Housing

"We finally cleaned up public housing. We couldn't do it, but God did." Congressman Richard Baker (R-LA), September 9, 2005.

After New Orleans’ floodwaters receded, many local organizations and their national allies identified the right of evacuated survivors of the storm to return and rebuild as a top priority. Remarks like Baker’s were typical in the immediate neoconservative frenzy to use the disaster in order to implement right-wing programs such as privatization of public education and healthcare, construction of new prisons and immigration detention facilities, elimination of labor laws, and of course, closure of public housing developments.

The current situation for New Orleans' public housing is evolving rapidly, but one thing is clear – the demolition of some buildings is imminent, and in fact, already begun. For background information, please read on further below, but check it out – right here, right now, here’s what we’re asking of you:

The Coalition to Stop the Demolition calls on our national and international allies to support our demands, which are as follows:

1.    No demolitions – reopen the existing units and rebuild dignified housing at former public housing sites.

2.   Guaranteed one-to-one replacement for all public housing residents.

3.   All available public housing units should be made available for the homeless and those likely to face homelessness from the pending loss of rent vouchers and trailer recalls.

4.   The Federal government needs to suspend demolition until they complete their own investigation of Housing and Urban Development head Alphonso Jackson regarding the illegal no-bid contracts he awarded to his cronies.

5.   Rent control (at pre-Katrina rates) to provide deeply affordable housing so that all will be able to return to the city.

6.   Stop the privatization and gentrification of the city.

Concrete ways that you can support those demands are as follows:

1. Come down and help! We need for as many people who are able, particularly Black and other oppressed people, to come to New Orleans to assist with making art and banners, helping with outreach, coalition-building, and base-building, and engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience in line with the resident council’s principles (see below) and the Coalition’s pledge of resistance statement (see www.peopleshurricane.org). To engage in this initiative, we ask that you contact the Coalition at action@peopleshurricane.org.

2. Pressure Senator Vitter! We need to continue bombarding US Senator David Vitter with calls, faxes, and emails demanding that he support the Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act (Senate Bill 1668) and allow the bill to move from the committee to the Senate floor for a vote.

3. Demand action from that committee! We need to get all members on the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, where 1668 is currently stalled, to move it to the Senate floor. See below for a contact list of committee members.

4. Pressure Senator Mary Landrieu! Now that prominent members of her party have come out against the demolitions, we must push her to demand that the Federal government, via President George W. Bush and the Justice Department, suspend the demolitions at least until the federal investigation of Jackson is complete.

5. Make media and get the word out! We need to reframe the struggle to stop the demolition based on the demands of the Coalition. To this end we need everyone to

a. Write letters to the editor for your local news outlets,
b. Blitz the major newsprint, TV, and cable media networks and demand that they cover the issue
c. Write articles on the issue based on the Coalition’s demands and post them to as many listserves, blogs, and websites as you possibly can.

Topics to cover include connecting the New Orleans struggle to what’s happening in your community; the violence used to try and silence and suppress dissent at the City Council hearing on the 20th; and the recent letters and statements from Pelosi/Reid, Edwards, Obama, Clinton, and Mayor Nagin’s letter to Alphonso Jackson.

Finally, we need some financial resources to carry out this work. Some of the specific things we need resources for include:

1. The "Stop Da Demolitions" Mixtape made by Sess 4 – 5, Nuthinbutfire Records, and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement for the Coalition the Stop the Demolition. We need $1,400 to produce and print 2,000 CD's for youth outreach and education.

2. We also need resources to help with transportation, food, and accommodations for both residents and volunteers.

3. We need resources the cover the Coalition's cell phone expense. If any individual or organization is able to donate a phone and cover its bill, that would be ideal; currently the Coalition is using our members' private phones, which is not sustainable over the long term.

4. We need resources to cover printings of outreach materials (flyers and posters).

5. Finally, we need materials to produce banners and other mobilization props.

Donations can be made out to the Mississippi Disaster Relief Coalition (MDRC) and mailed to P.O. Box 31762 Jackson, MS 39286. Please indicate on your donation "Coalition to Stop Demolitions". All donations are tax-deductible.

The vacant promises of mixed-income housing, solutions to growing homeless populations, and of disaster recovery assistance are not new, nor are they unique to New Orleans. As governments and corporations value people based not on their inherent humanity and dignity, but rather, on their level of participation in the market economy, we see and hear of folks from Oakland to New York, Miami to Los Angeles, and across the whole hurricane zone from North Carolina, across the Gulf South, and throughout Mexico, the Carribean, and Central America struggling for homes, clamoring to rebuild, fighting for community. Though the spotlight for these issues, laid bare by Katrina, is so often on New Orleans, we guarantee that if you look for it, you’ll find disasters in your neighborhood, your community, your city.

As human rights lawyer Bill Quigley wrote recently, “What is scheduled to happen in New Orleans is happening across the United States. It is just that New Orleans offers a more condensed and graphic illustration. The federal government is determined to get out of housing all together and let the private market reign. A 2007 report of the Urban Institute confirms that in the last decade over 78,000 low-income apartments have been demolished by HUD. That is why locals are receiving support and solidarity from residents and housing advocates in Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and New York.

“Destruction of housing for the working poor is also a global scandal as corporations and governments push entire neighborhoods out. In India, traditional fishing villages destroyed by the tsunami are being forcibly moved away from the coast and the land where they lived is being converted to luxury hotels and tourist destinations. The International Alliance of Inhabitants, which opposes the demolitions in New Orleans, points out poor people's neighborhoods are also being taken away in Angola, Hungary, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.”

Here’s what we can share with you about the struggle in New Orleans: African-American residents and their allies are particularly concerned that plans to rebuild the city will eliminate African-American neighborhoods. A brief overview of the events in the first year after the flood shows the deep urgency and validity of these concerns.

1). In October 2005, thousands of renters faced eviction based upon notices attached to the doors of their apartments, despite the fact that they had been evacuated.

2). On Christmas Eve 2005, the City of New Orleans announced it would begin demolishing homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina -- without notifying homeowners. Community organizations were concerned that many families had not yet retrieved their salvageable mementos and belongings and many were still in disputes with FEMA and their insurance companies.

3). In April of 2006, the Sierra Club released results of their study of FEMA trailers having dangerously high levels of formaldehyde. In July, FEMA announced that they would conduct their own testing. But it wasn’t until December of 2007 that testing actually began; the results are expected sometime in early 2008. Meanwhile, many internally displaced people living in trailers are sick; unfortunately, their way out is that FEMA announced in November 2007 that all 50,000+ trailer residents will be evicted by May of 2008.

4). In July 2006, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it would demolish 5,000 of the 7,700 public housing units in New Orleans. Within months of the storm, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson asserted that New Orleans would never again be as African American as it had been. As many homeowners lost everything, many public housing residents' homes sustained no damage but were boarded up. 

Since then, things have continued to accelerate. A federal court has refused to stop the demolitions. A class action filed on behalf of 5,000 public housing residents was thrown out of court. Public housing residents offered evidence showing that the buildings were structurally sound and that the local housing authority itself documented that it would cost much less to repair and retain the apartments than demolish and reconstruct a small fraction of them. The New York Times architecture critic described them as “low scale, narrow footprint and high quality construction." The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that requires one for one replacement of any public housing demolished, but Senator David Vitter (R-La) has effectively killed the Senate version.

Reduction of crime was supposed to be a major reason for destroying thousands of public housing apartments--yet crime in New Orleans has soared since Hurricane Katrina, with over 200 murders in 2007 alone. The real crime related to public housing is coming from Alphonso Jackson, who is currently under federal investigation to determine the extent of his involvement with rigging bids to redevelop New Orleans’ public housing to enrich himself and his friends.

HUD has approved plans to turn over acres of prime public land to private developers for 99 year leases and give hundreds of millions of dollars in direct grants, tax credit subsidies and long-term contracts. This is the biggest tax-credit giveaway in years. Until the investigation is concluded, it is inappropriate to move forward with any of these illegally awarded, no-bid demolition and rebuilding contracts.

Current Situation
On December 20, 2007, New Orleans’ first majority white city council in over 30 years (elected in large part due to widespread disenfranchisement of African American New Orleanians) voted unanimously to execute Senator Baker’s blatantly racist vision of “cleaned up” public housing. When former residents of public housing and their allies arrived to attend the meeting and testify, they found the chambers already packed with people in favor of the demolitions. Those most affected by the plans were shut out of the meetings, and when they expressed their legitimate anger and frustration that they not be allowed to participate, several of the handful who had made it inside were attacked by police and security guards and shocked with Tazer guns before being brutally ejected from the chambers and arrested. Meanwhile, outside City Hall, police tazed and pepper sprayed the crowd who was trying to attend the meeting, sending five people to the emergency room and arresting fifteen more.

Video of these events can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMBWAXfGsc4

"The City Council’s 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.

Not only does this halt any semblance of a democratic process, there also are serious conflicts of interest, misrepresentation of facts (such as a Times-Picayune article on the Sunday before the vote), a lack of consultation with the public, and the pending federal investigation of Jackson. The Council's deliberate disregard of these factors – not to mention holding their meeting behind locked doors, and during business hours – makes their vote illegitimate.

Despite the repression and coerced and discriminatory vote, the struggle to stop the demolitions and the human right to housing in New Orleans continues. The Coalition to Stop the Demolition is moving without pause to the next stage of the struggle and is calling on everyone to stand with us in this fight.

To successfully engage in the next stage of struggle, a concrete understanding of where the movement now stands is in order. While the shameful vote of the City Council approving demolitions was a temporary set back, our movement was able to force the council and Mayor C. Ray Nagin to make some critical concessions to several of our demands. These include:

• An expansion of the replacement units
• An expansion of the HANO Board from one to three people
• More resident inclusion in the “redevelopment” planning process
•  Thorough public documentation and review of all redevelopment plans, particularly their financing plans
• Federal guarantees for resident vouchers

The movement was also able to force several prominent national politicians and presidential candidates to respond and put pressure on George Bush to halt the demolitions and to live up to his September 2005 promises to rebuild New Orleans and confront the racism and poverty that underlined the catastrophe. These figures included John Edwards, Maxine Waters, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barbara Lee, Barack Obama, and most recently, Hilary Clinton.

While the concessions offered by City Council and Mayor Nagin are fairly significant, they do not provide sufficient protection guarantees for public housing residents, and more importantly, they do not concretely address the escalating housing crisis presently afflicting the city. What the concessions in effect attempt to do is give political cover to Nagin and the council through a fa├žade of progress and false promises of home ownership and inclusion in the “ownership society” of Bush’s American Dream. What they offer in reality, however, is further legitimacy to the neoliberal Gulf Coast reconstruction program of the Bush regime outlined by neoconservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundationand administered through government institutions and agencies at every level, including the neo-colonial city administration of Mayor Nagin through his “free market recovery” policies.

If the concessions are administered, rents in the city will continue to skyrocket, homelessness will immediately escalate, more and more working- and middle-class Blacks will be forced out and further exiled, and the city will become irreversibly whiter.New Orleans already has a homeless population in excess of 12,000, and by the end of May, there will be more than 50,000 families evicted from closing FEMA trailer parks in the hurricane-affected region. The only legitimate solution is to reopen all available housing now.The Coalition to Stop the Demolition seeks to stop these calamities and asks you to join us.

For more background information, check out these links:

This Is My Home– a compelling video about why public housing must be saved and restored – go to: http://www.advancementproject.org/ourwork/other-initiatives/hurricane-katrina/video1.php

Info Packet compiled by the Advancement Project: http://www.advancementproject.org/ourwork/other-initiatives/hurricane-katrina/information-packet.php

Public housing: Rooting the struggle in past reconstructions –article linking past and present struggles: http://www.sfbayview.com/News/Editorial/Public_housing_Rooting_the_struggle_in_past_reconstructions.html


Resident Principles for Guiding Action

I. All actions should be non-violent.
II. There should be no weapons or drugs at any actions, and no alcohol or drug or weapon possession at any action.
III. No destruction or defacement of resident property.
IV. No coalition meetings without resident knowledge and input 
V. No media without residents or resident knowledge.
VI. Focus on defending public housing and affordable housing in the city for all.

Federal Government Contact Information

George W. Bush - 202-456-1111
Alphonso Jackson, Secretary of HUD - (202) 708-1112
Mary Landrieu, US Senator, (D-LA) 202-224-5824; Fax: 202-224-9735
David Vitter, US Senator, (R-LA) - (504) 589-2753, DC Office (202) 224-4623

Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee contacts – demand that they approve Senate bill 1668:

Senator David Vitter: New Orleans Office (504) 589-2753
Senator Christopher Dodd (202) 224-2823
Senator Tim Johnson (202) 224-1638
Senator Jack Reed (202) 224-4642
Senator Charles Schumer 202-224-0420
Senator Evan Bayh (202) 224-5623
Senator Tom Carper (202) 224-2441
Senator Robert Menendez (202) 224-4744
Senator Daniel Akaka (202) 224-6361
Senator Sherrod Brown (202) 224-2315
Senator Robert Casey (202) 224-6324
Senator Jon Tester (202) 224-2644
Senator Richard Shelby (202) 224-5744
Senator Robert Bennent (202) 224-5444
Senator Wayne Allard (202) 224-5941
Senator Michael Enzi (202) 224-3424
Senator Chuck Hagel (202) 224-4224
Senator Jim Bunning (202) 224-4343
Senator Mike Crapo (202) 224-6142
Senator John Sununu (202) 224-2841
Senator Elizabeth Dole (202) 224-6342
Senator Mel Martinez (202) 224-3041

New Orleans Mayor and City Council Contact Information

Mayor Ray Nagin – 504.658.4900

Arnie Fielkow 504.658.1060 afielkow@cityofno.com

Jacquelyn Clarkson 504.658.1070 jbclarkson@cityofno.com

Stacy Head 504.658.1020 shead@cityofno.com

Shelly Midura 504.658.1010 smidura@cityofno.com

James Carter 504.658.1030 jcarter@cityofno.com

Cynthia Hedge-Morrell 504.658.1040 chmorrell@cityofno.com

Cynthia Willard-Lewis 504.658.1050cwlewis@cityofno.com


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