“Fair and affordable housing is a basic right for . . . all Americans.”
U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-New York)
The concept expressed in Congresswoman Velazquez’s statement above is so clear, so universal, so reasonable and valid to us that we are here scratching our heads trying to figure out why it has taken local leaders the better part of 10 years to publicly admit that the city’s poorest residents deserve a decent, affordable place to live in New Orleans.
Actually, what we are trying to figure out is why they didn’t shout from the rafters when they saw the affordable housing crisis coming down the track like a freight train with whistles blaring and lights ablaze. When the rest of public housing across New Orleans was razed after Hurricane Katrina, it was replaced with fewer units positioned in mixed-income developments (because some folk apparently prefer their poverty the same way they like their orange juice— deconcentrated).
Of course, we know that “deconcentration of poverty” is little more than a euphemism for “relocation”. Now rather than live in or near the city’s center, many poor, mostly Black New Orleanians have been sent out to New Orleans east and beyond to use Section 8 vouchers instead being able to rent on the newly redesigned units on the sites of former housing developments.
Then barriers (punitive and unforgiving rules and regulations) that prevented those who needed affordable housing the most from returning to the former sites of the St. Bernard, the St. Thomas, the Lafitte, the B.W. Cooper, etc., were put in place.
We call it “housing crisis by design” because the powers that be had to have known that soon poor, working folk would not be able to find a decent place in this city to call home without paying, in most cases more than one-third and in many as much as half of their income. Of course knew all too well. Maybe, it was a part of the plan all along. We know that in the wake of Katrina certain interests in New Orleans did not want to see poor people, especially poor Black people, return. Upending public housing was certainly a means to that end. Do you think people don’t know what has happened?
But poor Black people came back home anyway. And now, in many instances, the very folk who ensure that our tourist-driven economy moves every day like a well-oiled machine can’t even afford to live here. And that is sinful.
To tell the truth, what we really want to know is whether—after no longer being able to feign surprise at this critical matter—local leaders, including those associated with the HousingNOLA initiative and especially elected and appointed officials with the City and the local housing authority, are looking for a pat on the back or “great job, guys” or anything that remotely resembles praise for the recently announced plan to address the local affordable housing crisis.
We sure hope the answer to that is “NO”!
So here is the basic plan as we understand it: 3,000 new affordable housing units by 2018 (a full two years from now) and another 2,000 more (a total of 5,000) by 2021 all accompanied by talk of refurbishing and renovating former Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) scatter sites.
We are troubled by a plan to “grow” and “increase” affordable housing when we ALREADY have what is supposed to be affordable housing that is being rented at rates the poor can’t afford.
Plans are nice and necessary, but what about affordable housing NOW, right NOW? What about a plan to just do what is right?
This crisis is so severe and has been ignored and even ignited for so long that a five-year or 10-year plan should come second to taking exigent steps to address the problem post-haste.
What about some fair and practical solutions such as mandating that those folk making near six-figure salaries living in the former sites of housing developments move out and make room for the people for whom public housing is intended. Surely, their incomes can bear the weight of market-rate rent in some new posh, downtown high-rise clearly constructed for people of means—and plenty of it—because unlike poverty, folk love their prosperity as concentrated as possible.
How many of the units in these new mixed-income developments on the sites of former housing projects are filled by market-rate renters or empty because those who would benefit from subsidies are turned down because of arduous and capricious rules.
So no, we’re not at all excited by plans to have 5,000 affordable housing units available in five years when there are two-bedroom apartments in the former Iberville Housing Development (artfully renamed Basin-Bienville Apartments) being leased NOW for the astronomical cost of $1,500 a month.
Some confederate monuments may very well be coming down here, but rents in New Orleans keep rising to the peril of the poor.
We’re not thrilled to hear about plans to refurb rundown scatter sites located God knows where when there are beautifully renovated public housing units that have—much like everything else in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina—been gifted to private entities for personal gain.
We see the old school buildings and other sites across the city being transformed right NOW into high-dollar condominiums to create welcoming, safe environs for gentrifiers and new New Orleanians even as natives and long-time residents are pushed and priced out of neighborhoods their family’s have called home for generations. So, sorry if plans to renovate scatter sites don’t make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Maybe we are too naïve and pragmatic in our thinking. Forgive us (or not) if that is the case, but we say there are solutions that can happen far more immediately than some proposal to refurbish run-down scatter sites across the city, starting with making the current housing stock affordable and available for the people who need it most.
Yes, how about we make housing units built with public money and tax credits on the sites of former housing projects accessible and available for the people that need it most.
It just seems ridiculously odd and incongruous to us that we have to wait two to six years for folk to afford a decent place to live in New Orleans, but can issue 72-hour notices to force the homeless under the Pontchartrain Expressway to vacate or else.
To be sure, there is more than a housing crisis in New Orleans. There is a crisis of conscience.