THE NEW ORLEANS PUBLIC HOUSING DEBATE: MY POSITION AS A BLOGGER, VOLUNTEER, AND A 'NEW' RESIDENT OF THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS
1. I don't have any answers.
2. I do believe that what I witness, photograph and 'perceive', by being in the streets of New Orleans, is directly related to the Urban Institutes findings:
a.Affordable housing needs are even more severe today, particularly for renters. More than half the city's rental housing stock was damaged or destroyed, and rents for the remaining units have risen substantially.
b.Many low-income families who were struggling before they were displaced by the storm have been unable to return to the city because they cannot find an affordable place to live. And those who do return are likely to face severe hardship. (Popkin, Turner, and Burt 2006).
c.Federal, state, and local officials have all expressed a commitment to the safe return and a better future for displaced residents. But without affordable housing options, these commitments cannot be fulfilled, and the redevelopment of New Orleans will be stunted and inequitable.
"It will exclude a substantial share of the city's long-time residents, many of whom are African American. " (emphasis added)
d.The absence of a major segment of the workforce will undermine the recovery of the region's economy. Key workers, including those involved in providing health care, child care, and public education may not be able to return, limiting the availability of services that everyone depends upon for a decent quality of life.
e.And the vitality of New Orleans will be eroded by the absence of families and individuals who played key roles in creating and sustaining the region's unique music, art, and cultural traditions.
Critical Policy Challenges Facing the Greater New Orleans Region http://www.urban.org/publications/901042.html
I am afraid that without more thoughtful planning, brand New Orlean$ will turn into a culturally arid city, that it will become a bizarre tourism caricature of what brought New Orleans its fame and desirability, which I have witnessed happen in many other insta-tourism spots for the masses.
Tourism hot-spots such as Carmel, CA (the locals call it "car-smell' as a result of the ensuing traffic and congestion; Monterrey Bay, when the Aquarium was put in, many of the lower to middle income people were pushed out and the community changed drastically; Amherst MA, where students lower income earners, and farmers, in this 5 college area, are finding it increasingly more difficult to find affordable housing and small stores that meet their needs, near the colleges they attend. The farmers are facing a changing of the culture where they no longer "fit in" and higher taxes which is making it difficult for families to stay in farming. The needs of tourism and the high end tastes of the wealthier 'new residents' have trumped the needs of the students, the farmers and the lower income earners in the area. And these are just a few examples. Sure New Orleans will make the state plenty of money, and the city will pay dearly with its loss of cultural identity over the needs of "tourism" and real estate development.
I believe that there are many viable public housing units in New Orleans that should be used right now to help the displaced and the shocking amount of homeless people. These buildings, if thoughtful planning for the poor, the homeless and the displaced were important to the State and city planners, after a national disaster of this scale, would have been in use by now. I wonder at the callousness that would leave the viable buildings empty for 2 years as the numbers of homeless have increased and people were being paid to stay in formaldehyde ridden FEMA trailers and to "stay out" of the State. It is amazing to walk around this city and see so many empty houses and buildings and so many people on the streets, homeless.
I have photographed the buildings at Lafitte and have been amazed that buildings with such superior architecture are not being saved as historically relevant - and know that much prejudice, anger, and a desire to wipe away as many traces of the "welfare" system as possible play a role in the prevailing political climate.
I understand that the residents of New Orleans were living in a city that was calling out for revitalization and a new future. I understand that the violence that had taken over the city affected everyone from Uptown, the Irish Channel, mid city, the 9th Ward...
And I also know that what I witness in the income poor, primarily Black New Orleanian neighborhoods, post-Katrina 2007, seems through my camera lens and my heart, to be a form of "collective" punishment and oppression.
I don't have the answers. What I do know: more discussion, greater community involvement, and advocating for the homeless, the working poor of New Orleans, the mentally and physically ill, and the displaced is needed.
I believe there is a 'rush" by the State and the US government to push these demolitions through - (like fencing off the homeless in "tent city" even though the State contract has not been awarded for the demolition and the demolition work isn't slated to begin until March).
I also understand that the Holiday Inn would like to have a better view for their guests on their terraces. That the people who come to Saints games and other events at the SuperDome don't want to see the homeless as they are partying and tailgating before the game or walking by with their kids to get to the Super Dome.
I believe that what makes New Orleans unlike any other city in the U.S which I have lived in, are, primarily, the Black New Orleanian populace. No doubt about it. The Black New Orleanians whom I have met and engaged with (whether in depth or in the briefest exchanges), have touched my heart through social qualities that seem unique to this area and this particular group of New Orleanians:
Genuineness: brought to interactions and conversations (not exclusive - even with strangers!)
Politeness: so rare in our "rude", "me" first , "get outta my way", society.
Kindness: to strangers - my interactions with people who are kind make me a better person.
Presentness in conversations: My experiences in New Orleans have shown me that there are people who do care about others, strangers, their neighbors, and their communities. That there are people who will sit on their step or their chair and make it a point to wave to me as I drive by or walk by. There are people who 'want' to know how I am doing and when they ask me they are prepared to take a few minutes to find out.
Family values: Wow. Family is so very important in New Orleans. For all of New Orleans legendary debauchery, it is family and community that surrounds the city and creates an element (for the most part) of "tolerance of other" and tolerance and even encouragement of eccentricities that make an individual unique and vibrant. I have been welcomed by many Black New Orleanians, since being in New Orleans as 'family'. Oddly, I have been welcomed by only 1 Caucasian family. (One would think this is odd as I am Caucasian by birth - that I would be welcomed more by people of my own race. This has not been the case in New Orleans - if anything I am felt to be 'foreign' by people of my own 'race' and embraced by a people who may not have the same colour skin (a simpleminded marker) than I. I believe this is due to the social/communal qualities that are so rare and precious, which are found in my opinion, primarily in the Black New Orleanians I have met). It seems that up until the levee failures and Katrina/Rita in New Orleans, the greater 'culture' was not measured in trust funds and 401k's. Even though the distribution of power and money seemed to have flowed primarily to and within the minority race in the city.
Commmunity oriented: I have learnt that being a 'part of' a krewe, a family, a community, a neighborhood, a church family, etc., has been an integral part of the culture for generations. I am impressed and swept up in community activities as I have never been as a single woman, before coming to New Orleans.
Faith oriented: I have met and helped as a volunteer, some of the "worst off" since the levee failures and Katrina. And the 'worse off', (in the city of New Orleans) almost without exception, in my experiences in mid-city, 'Uptown - Garden District", Broadmoor, Upper 9th and Lower 9th, have been Black New Orleanians, who seem to make up a disproportionate amount of the working poor and poor. This is the population in the city of New Orleans who is in the greatest need. They are are the population who suffered the worst effects of the flooding and who continue to suffer, many in the faith that they will be delivered by God and Jesus if they just hang on another day.
The deep and abiding faith I have encountered in the Black New Orleanians whom I have met is not the faith of evangelical preaching, Biblical passage quoting, and 'witnessing'. I have come to know the faith of a people who have known, who have borne, the burdens of hard ship and oppression, tribulation, and suffering. It is that faith of those who have also experienced the fruits of faith through family, community, miracles and blessings, especially since the flooding and the levee failures.
In my short time in New Orleans, I have met hundreds of people of "faith" who are walking testaments to the power of believing in God, community, and the inherent goodness of life and each other.
In my humble opinion -- I don't claim to understand the complexities of societies, cultures, demographics, politics, racism, classicm, prejudice, or city planning. I am only a volunteer, one of many, with one opinion among many, exercising my free speech rights - - I believe what is at stake here, as the Urban Institute stated in the above quotes, is an integral part of New Orleanian culture, through economic inequities and social injustices.