Sunday, December 16, 2007

LOST IN THE DEBATE ABOUT THE DEMOLITION OF N.O. HOUSING DEVELOPMENTS: MYTHS AND FACTS - A REBUTTAL FROM BILL QUIGELY, LOYOLA LAW PROFESSOR, ATTORNEY



“Never befriend the oppressed
unless you are prepared to take on the oppressor.”
— Ogden Nash, American poet (1902-1971)




A public relations coup for HANO, HUD, the State, the tourism industry and real estate developers; delivered by the Times-Picayunne. 4 inner front section(s) and a well placed headlined front page center space, above and below the fold of the paper. This is how the article was presented in the times-Picayune Sunday December 16, 2007 edition:

Lost in the debate about the demoliton
of N.O. housing developments is one fact:
There are hundreds of units available right now
FAR FROM FULL


Reading the well formulated and formatted article on the public housing demolition debate with "facts" provided by the government, for the government; was remincent of reading"articles" in papers such as the NYTimes, where we found out later that the "news" was actually government formulated statistics and information meant to directly to influence the public on the 'validity' of the war with Iraq which the government had already decided to engage in.

The articles and supporting articles in the Times-Picayune Sunday coverage on the governments position read brilliantly - flawlessly. The detail and style that went into presentation of the "facts", (i.e. the government, state's, and business's interests) (side of the 'real story') seemed to be presented in a 'homage style' reminicent of the masters of "framing" the public's opinion; Rove, Luntz, and Wolfowitz.

Mention is given sporadically to 'opposing' arguments, which are immediately negated in the following paragraphs.

Although I had prepared a posting on "my perceptions" of the coverage given in the Times-Picayune's "one sided 'pro' government, tourism industry, and real estate development agenda", which was presented by the Times-Picayune as 'facts" - I belive that Bill Quigley, Loyola Law Professor, and one of the attorney's directly involved in this litigation, presents the rebuttal more succinctly than I ever could:




The introduction of contradicting or opposing evidence:


aka - "THE REBUTTAL"


From Bill Quigley:

"Unfortunately, the Times-Picayune today repeated uncritically many of the untruths propagated by HUD and HANO.

Here is a list of Myths and Facts to help people understand the reality. "

--Bill Quigley, Loyola Law Professor, Civil Rights Attorney




MYTHS AND FACTS ABOUT PUBLIC HOUSING IN NEW ORLEANS
Last updated 12-16-07

by Bill Quigley Quigley@loyno.edu


MYTH #1: Federal officials, in partnership with developers, are pushing a plan that will demolish 4500 units of traditional public housing, replacing them with 3343 units of public housing and 900 market rate rental units. Statement in Times-Pic 12.16.2007


FACT: HUD is aggressively working to demolish 4500 units of traditional public housing. HUD and HANO's own numbers state that less than 800 units of traditional public housing will be built by the developers who demolish those 4500 apartments. In order to get to the 3343 number they trumpet, HUD is actually re-counting over 2000 old public housing apartments (in Iberville, Guste, etc) which they have not yet scheduled to demolish. Thus, they are not telling the truth “ they are not replacing the 4500 with 3343 at all, they are replacing the 4500
with less than 800" a 82% reduction in public housing apartments.


MYTH #2:
HUD is not trying to reduce the amount of public and subsidized housing in New Orleans “ it is just working to try to make affordable housing available for all".


FACT: When Katrina hit, New Orleans had over 9000 families on Section 8 subsidized apartments and 7700 public housing apartments, "over 16,000 families.

Now, New Orleans has 1700 families in public housing and 4000 families on DVP vouchers “ 2000 of which are being transferred into Section 8 “ for a total of 5700 families“ around a third of pre-Katrina.



MYTH #3: If HANO and HUD do not start demolition right away, they will lose their tax credits.

FACT: The Louisiana Housing Finance Agency (LHFA) is the agency giving tax credits. The following is an exact quote from the LHFA to Tracie Washington: "The LHFA never required demolition by HANO by any specific date. The LHFA did not set the timeline for demolition or construction. As a matter of fact, the only deadline that LHFA mandated was the deadline for HANO to meet carryover,a deadline required or all tax credit properties, which was accomplished by the execution of the ground lease.

The date slated for demolition was chosen by HUD/HANO.

HANO set up its own schedule/timeline, which was approved by the LHFA Board so that the states tax credits would not be at risk. The LHFA Board is requiring that HANO meet its own deadlines since if the housing units that are due to come online do not do so in a timely manner, the tax credits will be lost to the detriment of other housing developers who could have gotten their developments up and running and Louisianas citizens waiting to return to safe, affordable homes.



Tracie also asked the following questions in writing to which the LHFAmade the following responses in writing.

Q: If HANO does not commence demolition by December 18th and the LHFA
takes back the tax credits, can HANO reapply for the credits next year?


Response of LHFA: The allocation of the credits to the HANO
projects has already occurred. No recapture would occur unless there is a
material change in the Project Schedule that would authorize the Board to
recapture the credits.


Q: Has the LHFA granted tax credit extensions since
Katrina? If so, how many? Have any of these extensions been premised on a
firm deadline for the commencement of demolition?

Response of LHFA: yes, the LHFA has granted tax-credit extensions
since the hurricanes. I'll have to check on the number. Other than
HANO, no extensions have been premised on a firm deadline for the
commencement of demolition.


Q: Currently, HANO is being sued by its clients, the residents of New
Orleans public housing. Is this external lawsuit ground for an
extension that is not contingent upon demolition?

Response of LHFA: There is no statutory requirement under Section
42 of the Internal Revenue Code to preclude flexibility here.



MYTH #4: Surveys of residents show they want demolition.

FACT: The survey asked residents whether they wanted brand new homes or to move back into their old apartments “a false choice". HUD and HANO have consistently refused to guarantee residents one for one replacement of public housing apartments so everyone can move back in.

Of the 4500 being demolished, less than 800 will be public housing subsidized apartments “a reduction of 82%.

The survey did not ask the real question: "Are you in favor of returning to your apartment or do you want to wait until they are torn down and new houses are built and take a chance that you will be one of the lucky 18% who gets to move back?

It doesn't take an expert pollster to figure out the results of that question.



MYTH #5: There really is no housing problem, it is just outside agitators who are making it seem like New Orleans has a housing problem.

FACT: In December 2007, the national research group POLICYLINK issued a report FEWER HOMES FOR KATRINA'S POOREST VICTIMS “An analysis of subsidized homes in post-Katrina New Orleans".

The report concluded that HUD and HANO have only approved resources to restore a third of the pre-Katrina stock of subsidized homes in New Orleans.

The full report is available online at:

http://www.policylink.org/documents/nola_fewerhomes.pdf

Those supporting demolition also fail to acknowledge opposition among the faith community to demolition: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/81803_92874_ENG_HTM.htm

Public housing residents have received threatening phone calls promising that if they show up at protests, their housing assistance will be revoked. Many others are still in Houston, Atlanta and other places and cannot join the protests.



MYTH #6: People do not want to come back to New Orleans. There are hundreds of vacant empty subsidized apartments just waiting for people to move in no one wants to take them.

At various times over the past 2 years, HUD and HANO have proclaimed that they had hundreds of vacant traditional public housing units ready to be occupied but people just did not want to come home.

Each time, these numbers were revealed to be false numbers and gross overstatements. For apartments which actually are made available, the delays in filling those much fewer apartments were because of bureaucratic guidelines and dysfunction at HANO.

HANO first offers the available apartment to its previous occupant (who is also told that they can wait for the mythical promised new apartments) a process that usually takes 60 days; then the apartments are offered for a period of time to a select list held by HANO; only after that entire process are they offered to the displaced people from other developments.

FACT: HANO is recognized as perhaps the most dysfunctional public housing program in the US & HUD has been running it for years. Most of the already overworked and underpaid pre-Katrina HANO staff were let go and the few current employees are terribly overworked.

The phones do not get answered, messages are not returned, mail goes nowhere. Public housing residents, particularly those displaced outside of New Orleans, have extremely difficult time communicating with HANO. It is very difficult to get in touch with HANO and to cut through the bureaucratic mazes to get back “ but people continue to try.

Don't just take the residents word about these problems - consider the statement by a private landlord in a December 9, 2007 letter to the editor of the TP:

Dealing with the Housing Authority of New Orleans' Section 8 Department is an unprofitable prospect. They rarely answer the telephone, return messages, answer emails or even read their postal mail. When you do speak to someone, the staff and case workers are rude and obviously
overworked.

HANO's accounting department is a mess. Staffers deposit funds to the wrong accounts, in incorrect amounts and fail to provide a basic level of documentation and accountability.

The HANO inspection process is a joke. The standards vary from inspector to inspector, and many criteria for immediate failure are petty and unsupported by national building codes¦ Nathaniel Phillips - New Orleans

Example #2:
On December 11, 2007, HUD released a fact sheet stating that there were 300 public housing units that remain unoccupied. HUD Fact Sheet available at:

http://www.hud.gov/news/neworleansfact.cfm

Four days later, in the Times-Picayune, December 16, 2007, HUD stated they had 162 move-in ready apartments.

Example #3: In December 2006, HANO announced that it had a list of hundreds of 'key-ready' apartments for people to move into but no one wanted to come back.

In January 2007, HUD investigators determined that there was no such list and that the key ready apartments did not exist.



MYTH #7: HUD and HANO have given full and fair consideration to all points of view and have consistently told the truth.


FACT:

Example #1: On the one year anniversary of Katrina, HUD promised in writing:

"After the Hurricane, HANO reoccupied approximately 1,000 units at Iberville, Guste, Fischer, and River Garden (formerly St. Thomas) where damage was limited. HANO and HUD have identified another 1,000 units that were not materially affected by the hurricane and are working to temporarily reoccupy the vast majority of these units by the end of September 2006."

See http://www.hud.gov/news/katrina05response.cfm


As of today, it appears that HUD and HANO have brought about 1700 units online “16 months past their September 2006 promise".

Example #2:
HUD promised that once HANO submitted its application for demolition, HUD would take 100 work days to carefully consider the application and make an independent determination of whether demolition of 4500 HANO apartments was legal.

HANO submitted their completed application for demolition on September 20, 2007. HUD approved it September 21, 2007.



MYTH #8: It would cost much more to repair these apartments than tear them down and start over.

FACT: HANO's own insurance company documents prove that, right after Katrina, cleaning and repairing CJ Peete apartments could be done for less than $5000 per apartment. HANO's own documents right after Katrina also documented that the cost for repairing and modernizing
apartments would be far less costly than demolishing and rebuilding.

Only after HUD announced that the buildings were coming down (a decision by HUD that HANO did not participate in nor even know was coming) did well-paid consultants go back and re-work the numbers.


MYTH #9: This is all just about progress.

FACT: Nationally recognized investigative journalists have written three major articles documenting FBI investigation into corruption between HUD and HANO. Local media have given these corruption investigations little coverage at all. Contrast how much coverage is given to corruption charges against local politicians and ask why corruption at this higher level that directly impacts New Orleans is getting such soft treatment.

See the latest article at:
http://news.nationaljournal.com/articles/071214nj1.htm


MYTH #10: Residents of public housing just want to go back to the bad old days of failed housing.


FACT: Residents of public housing know the problems of public housing better than any drive-by critic. They also know the lack of alternatives better than any critic.

There would be no $750 million for this project without the suffering of thousands of families who lived in public housing.

Many non-residents want public housing down, just so they can say something is happening in New Orleans. Lots and lots of consultants, developers, friends of public officials and others are set to get an awful lot of money. If a couple of thousand poor families are worse off
well that is regrettable but that is the price of progress.

Residents ask only that they not be worse off after everyone else gets their part of the $750 million. Either guarantee them one for one replacement of public housing in the new construction or use the money to fix the apartments back up and let them come home.

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