Housing is a Human Right

Update: Demolition of three housing projects has just been postponed, pending the outcome of a hearing next Thursday.

Via Redstar Perspective, the demolition of public housing in New Orleans began yesterday. The fact that it’s more than two years since Hurricane Katrina and yet action is only now being taken on low-income housing is disgraceful. That after waiting two years, the government chooses to destroy and then refuse to rebuild low-income housing is a shame upon the nation. New Orleans is currently facing a massive housing crisis, and so destroying 4,500 low-income homes is certainly not going to improve the situation, and is irresponsible beyond belief.

Despite Hurricane Katrina causing the worst affordable housing crisis in recent times, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is spending $762 million in taxpayer funds to tear down over 4,600 public housing subsidized apartments and replace them with 744 similarly subsidized units – an 82% reduction.

“Affordable housing for working class families is vital to the recovery of the city,” said Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization. “HUD’s plan shuts out thousands of families and there’s no plan for building the affordable housing that is needed.”

One of the more sobering changes in the “Big Easy” is the number of homeless men, women and children living under bridges and in parks. An estimated 12,000 homeless people have taken up residence in tents across the street from City Hall and under the I-10. The sense of an impending housing crisis grew stronger two weeks ago with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) recent announcement that it would close all the trailer camps on varying schedules by the end of May 2008-more than 50,000 families are living in FEMA trailer parks around the region.

“There is a housing crisis that needs a response,” continued Browne-Dianis. “It boggles the mind that the federal government would allow more than 4,000 units to be destroyed in the next two weeks given the scarcity of available apartments in the city. They need to build more not tear down what exists.”

It’s vital to remember that this is not some greedy corporation using Hurricane Katrina to profit financially at the expense of the poor. This is the U.S. Government — in other words, a greedy corporation using Hurricane Katrina to profit financially at the expense of the poor, while using our tax dollars to do it and making a mockery of their basic responsibility to serve the best interests of the people in this country.

How a nation treats its most vulnerable citizens is a test of its character. And America’s character fucking sucks. It was bad enough when the Bush Administration drained funds and basic competence from FEMA and then didn’t give a shit while people died on their rooftops. It was bad enough when they sent in guards to stop looters instead of actual relief. It was bad enough when they left the poor stranded in the Superdome and then blamed it on those victims because of their “poor planning” (i.e. not being able to afford transportation to safety). It’s bad enough that these same people are still living in FEMA trailers and that neither the government nor the media gives a shit. I can’t imagine how much worse it can get when the U.S. government is blatantly and unashamedly denying people their right to return home. This is about class, and how we as a people undervalue and/or completely ignore their worth as human beings. This is about race, and how we care even less about what happens to the poor when they’re black. This is about gender, and how poor black women, particularly poor black mothers, are cast aside and forgotten.  It’s about how we as a nation respond to those who have experienced tragedy and disaster, how we fail to give help to those who need it. It’s about the government thinking that it has the right to decide whether or not the poor and people of color are allowed the same basic rights as the rest of us.

I repeat: America’s character fucking sucks.

Yesterday, protesters physically blocked one of the demolitions. These activists are willing to put their lives and liberties at risk to stop this atrocity. They are the kind of people who allow me to, despite the horrors of this world, retain some hope and pride in humanity. I couldn’t respect them more. But authorities are not going to allow the standoff to continue indefinitely.

King lying asshole/moron Senator Vitter has the power to fix this. Instead, he refuses to stand up for the people of his own state.

The flashpoint is legislation by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., that calls for “one-for-one replacement” of the government-subsidized apartments with new mixed-income developments.

Landrieu’s Louisiana colleague, Republican Sen. David Vitter, has taken the lead in opposing the bill, saying that with just two-thirds of New Orleans’ population back after Hurricane Katrina, the need for public housing has fallen off.

“I can’t imagine the need is as much as the need pre-Katrina,” Vitter said.

But Landrieu said the need was unmet before the storm when about 6,000 low-income people were on a waiting list for the city’s 7,000 public housing units. With rents up 45 percent since the storm, an estimated 12,000 homeless people in the city and low-wage service-industry workers struggling to find housing, Landrieu said the demand is as great as it has ever been.

“One of big pieces of our recovery is low- and moderate-income and workforce housing. It is a struggle for middle-class families to afford rents in the city and in the region,” Landrieu said. “It gets down to Sen. Vitter and a few critics objecting to the one-to-one replacement.”

Vitter has said the bill “wants to re-create the New Orleans housing projects exactly as they were.”

Landrieu said the bill represents a dramatic departure from the isolated, boxy havens for crime and drugs that much of New Orleans public housing had become over the years.

Vitter’s rationale is so disingenuous that it hurts my brain. Firstly, he’s ignoring the fact that so many have not returned to New Orleans because they have nowhere to live. Because of these policies. He’s also ignoring the thousands who have been affected by the storm and are now unable to afford the housing that they could before — because greedy, immoral developers used the crisis as an excuse to raise prices and our government not only allowed it to happen but assisted in the process.

Few are claiming that the projects in New Orleans were some kind of wonderful haven. They weren’t. But they were a place to live. They were reliable shelter, something that the poor could could on, while now they only have FEMA trailers and the street. They were a community. We can talk shit about the public housing system all we want, and there’s a hell of a lot to say. People deserve better. But it was still housing. And if we’re going to talk about the poor deserving better, they deserve a hell of a lot better than this.

Until now, I have not blogged about this issue, and I’m far from the only one in the feminist/progressive blogosphere for whom that can be said. If you are one of them, please start now to help spread the word. For more resources about the crisis and ways to help, visit Leigh.

0 thoughts on “Housing is a Human Right

  1. brandannn

    thank-you anyway.

    it makes me sick that everyone that covered anything post katrina was concerned w/ “don’t worry, mardi gras will go on”, and yet how many people are still struggling to get back on their feet how long after the fact?

    yeah. at least they concentrated on what’s important. don’t get me wrong, i know mardi gras must bring in much needed tourist money, but our priorities are skewed…


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