Blow against ethnic cleansing in New Orleans

The Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) agreed Dec. 14 to postpone demolition of three public housing projects pending a hearing before City Council. Opponents of the demolition had filed a suit contending the Council’s consent was required by the city charter. Work crews were to start demolition over the weekend in a plan to replace 4,500 public housing units with “mixed-income, mixed-use” development. “We knew the law, HANO knew the law, maybe they forgot it,” said civil rights lawyer Tracie Washington. Demolition at a fourth complex, BW Cooper, continued because the Council had approved its demolition four years ago.

On Nov. 1, the Council passed a resolution to support a congressional bill calling for one-for-one replacement of public housing units. The plan seen by HANO and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calls for faster redevelopment and a reduction in the number of public housing units.

HUD says some 3,000 New Orleans public housing families remain scattered across the country, and social workers say the number of homeless people in the area has doubled to about 12,000. (AP, Dec. 15)

On Dec. 13, protesters gathered outside City Hall, opposite a park where homeless people are living in dozens of small tents. Protesters chanted “Stop the demolitions now!” (NYT, Dec. 14) That same day, two were arrested attempting to block demolition of the BW Cooper project. The two occupied one of the buildings scheduled to be bulldozed, draping two handmade banners from the side before police intervened. The banners read “Reopen now,” and “No demolition.” (AP via the Houston Chronicle, Dec. 13)

At a Dec. 6 hearing, police blocked the side door of the City Council chambers to keep former housing project residents out as others chanted “No demolition” outside. Civil rights attorney Bill Quigley, who was standing by the door, was arrested and received a citation for disturbing the peace. “We live in a system where if you cheer or chant in a city council, you get arrested,” Quigley said. “But you can demolish 4,500 people’s apartments and everybody seems to go along with that. That’s not going to happen.” (WDSU, New Orleans, Dec. 6)

See our last posts on the struggle in New Orleans.

  1. ethnic cleansing in New Orleans
    So let me get this straight … New Orleans had some public housing built in the areas of the city that were the lowest, and therefore the most drastically affected by the flooding. From an urban planning perspective, this is land which should never be put any to residential use.

    Now, when they refuse to rebuild the same housing in the same area .. it’s called ethnic cleansing? That’s absurd. Why not call it, “sensible”?

    1. Because it’s ethnic cleansing.
      As the text states, these projects are not to be replaced with wetlands to protect the city from flooding, but with new housing—only this time for “mixed income” residents. So this is pretty blatantly about changing the class and racial make-up of New Orleans.

      Furthermore, as we wrote nearly a year ago when the plans were first unveiled:

      New Orleans’ low-lying African American sectors like the Lower Ninth have been urban residential areas for two centuries or more. The vast areas of coastal mangroves destroyed in recent decades to make way for (mostly white) suburbs and shopping malls were far more critical to protecting the city from storms sweeping in from the Gulf. Yet nobody is talking about restoring these wetlands. In the immortal words of Chuck D: “Did you ever ask yourself—Why is that?”

  2. Clash in New Orleans council chamber
    From AP, Dec. 20:

    New Orleans council approved the demolition of 4,500 public housing units despite the public outcry outside on Thursday.

    The council’s decision followed hours of public debate and clashes by some protesters with police.

    Chemical spray and stun devices were used on dozens of protesters in New Orleans who tried to forces their way through an iron gate at City Hall.

    Police arrested some people as they tried to establish order.

    The protest started after the seating capacity of 300 was reached in the council chambers. People began chanting and calling for the council to reject plans by the Department of Housing and Urban development to demolish the housing projects.

    From the Times-Picayune, Dec. 20:

    Mayor Ray Nagin didn’t attend the six-hour City Council meeting over the fate of public housing, but he held a 5 p.m. news conference to compliment the council members for approving the demolition of the four largest developments in New Orleans.

    The Council voted 7-0 to approve demolitions at B.W. Cooper, St. Bernard, Lafitte and C.J.Peete.

    “The decisions made today were ones of compassion, courage, and commitment to this city,” said Nagin. “This is an incredible day. You heard lots of pain today. The City Council in its wisdom has come up with a solution that will allow us to move forward, to hold HUD accountable.”

    “There’s still one more step,” said Nagin, adding that HANO and HUD must obtain their demolition permits from the city’s office of safety and permits. “We’re going to make sure that before those permits are issued” that HUD complies with the council’s conditions.

    There seems to be some confusion as to whether plans to demolish BW Cooper (formerly Calliope) was previously approved by the City Council or only the project’s governing council. Perhaps some New Orleans activists can clarify this for us…

  3. Ethnic cleansing in action
    This says a lot about the vote. From the New York Times, Nov. 20, 2007:

    Whites Take a Majority on New Orleans’s Council
    NEW ORLEANS — In one of the clearest signs yet of Hurricane Katrina’s lasting demographic impact, the City Council is about to have a white majority for the first time in over two decades, pointing up again the storm’s displacement of thousands of residents, mostly black.

    In local elections on Saturday, a veteran white politician, Jacquelyn B. Clarkson, defeated an African-American candidate, Cynthia Willard-Lewis, by 53 percent to 47 percent, in a contest for an at-large Council seat decided largely along racial lines. In addition, substantially more whites than blacks appear to have voted. Ms. Clarkson will become the fourth white member on the seven-member Council.

    The total number of votes cast in the election — 52,614 — was sharply down from 113,000 in the election for mayor in May 2006. The low number called into question recent optimistic estimates that the city’s population had attained as much as two-thirds of its prestorm level, which was about 450,000.

    In the 2006 election, many of those displaced by the hurricane voted absentee or drove into New Orleans to cast ballots. That vote from elsewhere appears to have been largely absent on Saturday, over two years after the storm.