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Back in October and November of last year, I did a lot of talking about some business in St. Bernard Parish, a Parish near New Orleans. You can find my previous update and links to all my writing on this topic here.

In a nutshell, St. Bernard is 81.6% white, and the housing is mostly single-family homes. Some developers are trying to build apartments that will be more affordable to low-income individuals, a group in that area in which blacks are overrepresented. Well, white city leaders have a PROBLEM!!! with this, and have gone to great lengths to prevent the building of this affordable housing, including lengths of dubious legality, which can be found at my link above.

So construction on the apartments finally started, but then:

A roiling battle over four mixed-income apartment buildings in St. Bernard Parish reached a boil Friday, with Parish President Craig Taffaro ordering a halt to construction after the developer’s attorneys forced the case out of a state judge’s hands and back into federal court.

Within hours, however, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan called foul, ordering parish officials to “purge themselves of contempt” by today at 5 p.m. or begin paying $25,000 per day in fines, then $50,000 per day after Tuesday.

For some reason, Taffaro had ordered this halt “three days after the Parish Council repealed two ordinances that restrict mult-family and rental properties.”

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development fair housing enforcement officials have said they would block federal money coming into the parish — and possibly to Louisiana as a whole — if the parish did not rescind the ordinances. HUD officials said the laws discriminate against African-Americans who are disproportionately in need of such housing in the New Orleans area.”

People, what the hell is going on here?

“The blight eradication program, if not done correctly, can become a poor-person eradication program,” said Lance Hill, the executive director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research, a race relations center based at Tulane University.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu intends to eliminate “10,000 broken-down properties” in three years. Guess who doesn’t have enough money to repair Katrina-damaged homes. Guess whose homes are slated to be eliminated.

August 29th is the anniversary of the levees breaking.

NOLA Femmes are counting down to the anniversary with a photos series intended to “depict the state of New Orleans neighborhoods in the 5th year post-Katrina.”

All the photos are taken by New Orleans women, and they are excellent. Please check out the project here.

An abandoned house in New Orleans 5 years after Katrina

Photo by maringouin.

A damaged house abandoned after Katrina, still vacant 5 years later.

Photo by maringouin.

Don’t trust the MSM reporting on Haiti!

To start, here’s a great article: New Orleans’ Heart Is in Haiti

Many New Orleanians have roots in Haiti, and their revolution lent inspiration to our city. The 500 enslaved people from the parishes outside New Orleans that participated in the 1811 Rebellion to End Slavery (the largest armed uprising against slavery in the US) were directly inspired the Haitian revolution.

…Now, just as after Katrina, the media is eager to demonize and criminalize the victims as “looters.”

…Author Naomi Klein reported that within 24 hours of the earthquake, the influential right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation was already seeking to use the disaster as an attempt at further privatization of the country’s economy. The Heritage Foundation released similar recommendations in the days after Katrina, calling for “solutions” such as school vouchers.

…Our Katrina experience has taught us to be suspicious of the Red Cross and other large and bureaucratic aid agencies that function without and means of community accountability. In New Orleans, we’ve seen literally tens of billions of dollars in aid pledged in the years since Katrina, but only a small fraction of that has made it to those most in need.

Al Jazeera critiques the United States’ weird decision to use the crisis as an opening to militarily occupy Haiti:

Contradicting MSM and US government accounts:

“There are no security issues,” says Dr. Evan Lyon of Partners in Health, reporting from the General Hospital in Port-Au-Prince in Haiti…

This quote comes from the Democracy Now! story: Doctor: Misinformation and Racism Have Frozen Recovery Effort at General Hospital in Port-au-Prince.

From the INCITE! Blog:

Right now, there are many people, organizations, and governmental agencies mobilized to provide immediate aid relief and rescue operations in Haiti. However, there tends to be more readiness to donate supplies and money in the “immediate” time when things are very chaotic and before we know what the conditions are on the ground and have identified the long-term re-development needs as articulated by those most impacted. The long-term vision is critical because, when the dust settles and the big international relief organizations have left, people’s lives will still be devastated, and the need to rebuild will still be there.

…As many of us work to figure out appropriate strategies to support the people of Haiti, it’s important to note that the people most vulnerable–namely, women, LGBT folks, people with disabilities, incarcerated people, children, and elders–can experience a slower unfolding of specific crises that are consequences of the original disaster and the social conditions that preceded the disaster.

Here are the words of Jay Smooth where he calls Haiti a “country of heroes” (also note his links for information and donations):

Ooh, this is getting a little heavy. Well, on a lighter note, isn’t it refreshing that cruise ships are still docking on private, guarded Haitian beaches?

Sixty miles from Haiti’s devastated earthquake zone, luxury liners dock at private beaches where passengers enjoy jetski rides, parasailing and rum cocktails delivered to their hammocks.

…”I just can’t see myself sunning on the beach, playing in the water, eating a barbecue, and enjoying a cocktail while [in Port-au-Prince] there are tens of thousands of dead people being piled up on the streets, with the survivors stunned and looking for food and water,” one passenger wrote on the Cruise Critic internet forum.

Donations:

Global Fund for Women
Partners in Health
Zanmi Lasant Clinic – Partners in Health’s Sister Organization in Haiti
Dwa Fanm (meaning “Women’s Rights” in Creole)
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
International Rescue Committee

Thanks to my roommates who helped me compile all this coverage. Look what one of them participated in to support Haiti!

I was thinking about the St. Bernard Parish Housing Discrimination Saga while at work today. Or should I say, while I was bathing in cash from the huge payments I’ve been getting from Provident to write this. ;) And I was mulling over how several commenters at the above thread expressed anger at St. Bernard Parish being labeled racist, or at the label of racist being applied to themselves individually.

To wit, Amy wrote: “I am not NOT talking about race or what not. I am talking about Low-Income housing that people are on welfare and expect to get everything for free.”

Amusingly, lsder said: “In My Honest Opinion, The only racist people are the people screaming it.”

Yet in a later comment wrote: “answer two questions for me, who sold the black people into slavery(not who purchased slaves) who freed the slaves? “

And then we have the immediately-banned Kay:

I am so sick of the race card always being played. What is funny it is the blacks who are always using it. The Blacks are their worse enemy. Look at the stats, who does the killings….blacks, who screams about race……blacks. Turn on the TV an the first thing you hear is about the murder or murders of someone……who is the suspect……..a black person.

While still arguing for an outcome in this housing battle that would have racially disparate effects and undeniable racial implications, these particular commenters claim that they are not racist and have some other motive in mind that is 100% divorced from race. Which in a situation where a white majority is making it nearly impossible for a black minority to live amongst them, is a hard argument to make.

Por ejemplo Jude (the guy who figured out I make the BIG BUCKS being a social justice blogger) escribe:

if you had any common decency you would be demanding that this developer place these apartments in a place where there is a hospital, services, and a tax base that could provide needed services. This blog isn’t about what’s best, or the right thing to do, it’s about jumping into a fight that you know little to nothing about and sadly people are going to pay for it with their lives. It’s too bad you don’t get it, but then you are probably being paid not to

Yet while his concern that low income blacks have the best possible housing built for them is one that I share, somehow I can’t bring myself to believe that the resistance to public housing in SBP is due to the fact that whites are concerned it won’t be good enough for blacks.

Perhaps my skepticism (besides it being a natural Czech trait) is due in part to comments like George Crossman’s: “Wow, all these wasted words and time on this, the bottom line is when the blacks moved to village square [demolished public housing] it ruined st bernard parish there is statistical proof of it.”

So I sez to myself, what kind of statement could a white St. Bernard Parish resident make that would make me not doubt their sincerity when they say they are not racist, or even, as some commenters have said, only have the best interest of blacks at heart?

Here’s what that would look like to me:

1. I assembled a community group who met with concerned blacks about what kind of housing would best suit the poor black community’s needs.

2. I arranged a meeting between the Parish Council and black leaders in St. Bernard.

3. I lobbied the Parish Council to ask Provident to build several smaller public housing units scattered throughout the Parish instead of simply one giant building.

4. I met with local housing advocates and asked for their opinions on affordable housing and preventing housing discrimination in St. Bernard.

5. I read up on the Fair Housing Act and the history of racial discrimination in housing in the US.

6. I organized some people to survey low income residents in St. Bernard and established a task force to implement their suggestions.

7. I took an anti-oppression class.

8. I located the former residents of the Village Square and wrote to the newspaper about their current situation and solutions to improve it.

9. I looked at recent cases where cities, parishes or counties experienced similar housing problems and learned x, y and z from their examples.

10. I learned to question common stereotypes about poor people, recipients of government aid, and blacks.

11. I volunteered my time to work in low-income communities on neighborhood beautification projects.

12. I talk with my neighbors about the harm racial discrimination brings to St. Bernard Parish.

13. I accepted that St. Bernard Parish has a terrible history of racial discrimination and decided to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself, starting with myself.

14. I learned what terms are considered offensive by minorities in my community and have stopped using them.

But I have not heard anything like this. Instead, I have heard decades-old arguments that whites use when forcing shitty situations onto blacks and trying to wash their hands of the racist label.

So if anyone is wondering what it would take for me to believe white St. Bernard residents sincerely have the best interests of the black residents and former residents of SBP at heart, something like the above would convince me.

Anyone have any other positive anti-racist suggestions for steps forward in SBP?

This thread will be strongly moderated for racist language, personal insults, and threats. Sadly, after my previous St. Bernard post, this has now become a problem.

“Every society is judged by how it treats the least fortunate amongst them.”

-Thomas Douglas

UPDATE: Anti-racism =/= racism against whites. Do we really have to play that game? Try reading Color Blinded by Whiteness.

I have to say something about this craziness. I will tell the story of racist housing policy in St. Bernard Parish, LA below, and hope to follow up down the line, as the story develops. What follows would be hilarious if it weren’t so… nefarious.

St. Bernard Parish is located to the south of New Orleans. Whereas New Orleans is 67% black, St. Bernard Parish just a few miles away is only 7.6% black.

Hurricane Katrina severely damaged both St. Bernard Parish and Orleans Parish (whose boundaries are identical with New Orleans city). In St. Bernard, nearly all of the housing where black and low-income renters lived was destroyed, eliminating much of the already tiny black population.

Now, the white residents of St. Bernard are fighting an all-out battle to prevent blacks from returning or migrating over from New Orleans, where there is also an affordable-housing shortage. The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, which has been fighting against racist housing policies, has a detailed timeline of the battle.

Craig TaffaroIt officially started when Craig Taffaro Jr. (pictured), president of the St. Bernard Parish Council, introduced the infamous blood-relative ordinance, which states that property owners can only rent to their blood relatives. The ordinance passed in 2006. Before the storm, whites owned 93% of the housing stock. (reference) We can see pretty easily the effects of such an ordinance.

The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) sued the Parish for racially discriminatory housing practices and won. The Parish settled, and then enacted an ordinance banning multi-family housing, i.e. most rental housing, affordable housing and most forms of public housing.

The same judge, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan, who is apparently awesome, found St. Bernard to be in contempt of court and ordered that the ban be repealed, as it also violated the Fair Housing Act. She also ordered St. Bernard to pay fees, costs and damages to GNOFHAC.   So the Parish went ahead and repealed the ban, simply switching it for a year-long moratorium on multi-family building.

Provident Realty Advisors then applied to the Parish to build affordable housing projects. After a public hearing rife with racist statements both implied and open, their application was denied. After GNOFHAC took the Parish to court again, Judge Berrigan found them in contempt of the court order and hit them with more fines. She also had this to say:

Based on the factual record and judged under a clear preponderance of the evidence, the Court finds that defendants’ conduct since March 25, 2009, by subverting the re-subdivision process, has a discriminatory effect on African-Americans and therefore violates the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §3604(a), and the terms of the February 2008 Consent Order.

Does St. Bernard Parish get it yet?

DUH, of course not. As a matter of fact, the Parish Council is seeking a ballot referendum that would force any developer seeking to build a development with more than 12 units to have their plans approved by a public referendum, which the developer would also have to pay for. How soon will this be voted on?  “In order to get the measure on a Nov. 14 ballot, the parish would have to pass the ordinance and get approval from the state Bond Commission and the secretary of state’s office before Sept. 29.”

Ginger BerriganMeanwhile, Judge Berrigan is fed up with St. Bernard’s delays in approving Provident’s development application and has granted a THIRD motion of contempt against them just last Friday, saying:

Defendants are hereby enjoined from interfering or withholding approval of Provident’s re-subdivision applications. Provident’s re-subdivision applications are deemed approved.

…If the defendants fail to meet any of the various deadlines without advance notice and good cause shown for their failure, a daily sanction beginning at $5,000 for the first day, and increasing to $10,000 each day thereafter per each individual missed deadline will be imposed.

New Orleans, Louisiana, this 11th day of September, 2009.

Booyah St. Bernard Parish Council and racist inhabitants.

This story is developing. So is my analysis. More to come.

Learn more:

From GNOFHAC: Timeline of the Lawsuit

The Root: Keeping St. Bernard Parish White

Facing South: Fight heats up over discriminatory housing laws in New Orleans area

Read the coverage at the Times-Picayune, starting here: St. Bernard Parish Council housing plan drawing fire

Scathing Times-Picayune Op-ed: Housing bias in St. Bernard Parish is proving costly in the long run

Scathing Times-Picayune Editorial: Legally and Morally Wrong

TAKE ACTION!
You can donate to the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center here.

And you can respectfully and without making inappropriate threats contact the St. Bernard Parish Government here to let them know how you feel about this situation.

Cross-posted at Womanist Musings.

by Bill Quigley & Davida Finger

0. Number of renters in Louisiana who have received financial assistance from the $10 billion federal post-Katrina rebuilding program Road Home Community Development Block Grant – compared to 116,708 homeowners.

0. Number of hospitals in New Orleans providing in-patient mental health care as of September 2009 despite post-Katrina increases in suicides and mental health problems.

1. Rank of New Orleans among U.S. cities in murders per capita for 2008.

1. Rank of New Orleans among U.S. cities in percentage of vacant residences.

2. Number of Katrina cottages completed in Louisiana as of beginning of 2009 hurricane season under $74 million dollar federal program.

33. Percent of 134,000 FEMA trailers in which Katrina and Rita storm survivors were housed after the storms which are estimated by federal government to have had formaldehyde problems.

35. Percent of child care facilities re-opened in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.

35. Percent increase of demand in 2009 at emergency food programs in Orleans and surrounding parishes, “an increase pinned on the swelling ranks of under-employed and rising food, housing, and fuel costs.”

50. Ranking of Louisiana among states for overall healthcare.

52. Percent increase in rents in New Orleans since Katrina.

52. Percent of federal rebuilding money allocated to New Orleans that has actually been received.

60. Percent of children in New Orleans public schools who attend public charter schools.

88: Percent of the 600 New Orleans residents who will displaced by proposed new hospital complex who are minorities.

160. Number of units which will be public housing eligible in the new St. Bernard area after demolition and rebuilding. St. Bernard was constructed with 1400 public housing apartments. Only a small percentage of the 4000 families in public housing in New Orleans before Katrina will be allowed to live in the new housing being constructed on the site where their apartments were demolished.

27,279. Number of Louisiana homeowners who have applied for federal assistance in repair and rebuilding after Katrina who have been determined eligible for assistance but who have still not received any money.

30,396. Number of children who have not returned to public school in New Orleans since Katrina. This reduction leaves the New Orleans public school population just over half of what it was pre-Katrina.

63,799. Number of Medicaid recipients who have not returned to New Orleans since Katrina.

65,888. Unoccupied addresses in New Orleans. This is 31% of the addresses in the City and nearly as many as Detroit, a city twice the size of New Orleans.

128,341: Number of Louisianians looking for work.

143,193. Fewer people in New Orleans than before Katrina, according to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center estimate of 311,853, the most recent population estimate in Orleans.

9.5 Million. Dollar amount of federal Medicaid stimulus rejected outright by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal which would have expanded temporary Medicaid coverage for families who leave welfare and get a job.

98 million: Dollar amount of unemployment federal stimulus dollars rejected by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal that was available to bolster the unemployment compensation funds to assist 25,000 families in Louisiana.

900 Million: Dollar amount paid to ICF International, the company that was hired by the State of Louisiana to distribute federal Road Home rebuilding dollars.

?. Current vulnerability to storm-related flooding. The Army Corps of Engineers continues work to provide protection from a storm surge that has a 1 percent chance of occurring any given year. However, Katrina was a stronger storm than the system under construction is designed to protect against. Because no updated indicators exist on land loss, coastal restoration and mitigation of flood risk due to human engineering, tracking recovery is, at best, challenging.

Davida Finger is a social justice lawyer and clinical professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Bill Quigley is a human
rights lawyer on leave from Loyola now serving as legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights. A version of
this article with sources is available if you write to the authors c/o quigley77@gmail.com.

Check this out. Many New Orleans public housing residents experienced displacement and homelessness because of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed some public housing and the city’s subsequent demolition of several of the lightly damaged public housing (to make way for private development or mixed income residences with a fraction of space dedicated to affordable housing).

Residents of public housing are beginning to organize to demand their rights. An awesome organization to check out is Mayday New Orleans. Below is one of their recent actions, where you see what happens when they try to go apply for jobs. The nerve of these people!

There are other videos on their Youtube channel.

Holy…! It happened! I was growing concerned that this issue wouldn’t be taken seriously, but it seems as though it has, thanks to protesters, media coverage, and my fellow bloggers! Read this post to catch up on the story if you haven’t been following it.

The police officer who shot Mr. Grant while he was lying face down on the ground was apprehended in Nevada and arrested on suspicion of murder.

From the San Francisco Chronicle via Pam’s House Blend:

[Johannes] Mehserle was arrested in the New Year’s Day shooting of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old supermarket worker from Hayward who was lying facedown after being pulled off a BART train by police investigating a fight. An Alameda County judge signed an arrest warrant alleging murder, and Mehserle surrendered without incident, authorities said.

…Mehserle declined to speak to BART criminal investigators after the shooting. Then last Wednesday he resigned rather than answer questions from BART’s internal affairs division.

Also from the article: “Some Oakland community leaders and civil rights activists said the case is symbolic of larger problems with police officers using excessive force on young black men. Grant was black and Mehserle is white.”

Oh really? Let’s look at some other incidents that also occurred on New Years Day.

The curious case of Adolf Grimes:

A young, black man in New Orleans is dead, slain by police officers on New Year’s Day, in an incident that has outraged a community and triggered protests over what family members are calling a “murder.”

Read more details about the murder of Adolf Grimes at CNN.

And the shooting of Robbie Tolan:

The family of a young black Texas man who was shot in his own driveway by a white police officer believes that racial profiling was the cause and are asking for criminal charges to be filed against the officer.

According to family members, Robbie Tolan and his cousin were returning to Tolan’s home in the mostly white Houston suburb of Bellaire in the early hours of December 31, when they were approached by officers who suspected the SUV they had just gotten out of was stolen.

Tolan’s parents, who own the SUV, came out of the house to explain the situation. An altercation ensued and Tolan’s mother was thrown against the garage door by an officer. According to Tolan’s uncle, “Her son was on his back at the time, and he raised up and asked, ‘What are you doing to my mom?’ and the officer shot him — while he was on the ground.”

The CNN story.

Systematic problem? Naaaaaah. /snark

UPDATE:

Unless new evidence surfaces during Mehserle’s trial, [Alameda County District Attorney Tom] Orloff said, it is being treated as a homicide. “Murder charges were filed because at this point, what I feel the evidence indicates is an unlawful killing done by an intentional act, and from the evidence we have, there’s nothing that would mitigate that to something lower than a murder.”

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