Who's Right to Return?
After promising that all have "the right to return," the federal government through HUD is now saying that there will not be enough room for everyone. While multiple condominium complexes go up around the CBD and Lower Garden District, condos that start at $200K, HUD has decided to raze and redevelop 4 housing projects over the next 3 years and to (eventually) redevelop them as "mixed-income" housing. Only 1000 more units will be open by this August, bringing the total of available public housing units to about 2,100, which is 3,046 fewer units than pre-Katrina.* What most focus on in the housing projects is drug crime, teen pregnancy and welfare dependency. They ignore the elderly who have lived in (and anchored) neighborhoods all their lives and who, even if they wanted to move, couldn't afford to live anywhere else in the city. They ignore the working poor, the single parents.
The most recent "mixed-income" housing in a former housing project area is River Garden. In the year or so that the plans were finalized, each few months, it seemed, the number of units for former St. Thomas residents (the housing project was torn down first, the people scattered throughout the city, then plans were finalized for developing the site) shrank considerably. By the time the present phase was completed, of the 1600 apartment units created, 120 were designated for public housing and only 40 of those units had been occupied before Katrina. Giving public housing land in becoming-pricey parts of town to private developers--this is HUD's idea of "successful" mixed-income housing.
With rents skyrocketing to $1000 or more for rat traps that face drug deals and nightly gunfire, single mothers are not the only ones having trouble finding a place to live. Condos + razing public housing seems to = an erasure of the poor and middle class. Just b/c Popeye's is paying $10/hour does not mean you can afford a $200,000 house or $1500 a month in rent. Our economy is still largely based in tourism and service, jobs that pay less than or barely living wages in a real estate market fueled by irrational greed and projections. People who live in half a million dollar condos want services--retail workers, restaurant workers, drivers, maids, all those jobs filled by the majority of the folks who lived in the housing projects. If they cannot find a place to live, they cannot return. The right to return should be more than a sound bite.
housing project pic from Surreal Coconut.com
* Filosa, Gwen. "Four Housing Complexes Will be Demolished." The Times Picayune 15 Jun 2006: A1.
tag: Magnolia projects, Lower Garden District, middle class, New Orleans, housing, HUD, low-income housing, mixed-income housing, River Garden