Friday, December 15, 2006

Tackling the News from New Orleans

Daniel Wolff writes:

Let's see if we can make any sense out of three of the top stories in the New Orleans Times-Picayune this morning. I think of them as kind of pincer attack -- maybe in the shape of a trident? -- that point out where the city's heading.

First, there's a story about how small many of the reimbursements turn out to be from the federally funded "Road Home" program. Title: UNHAPPY ENDINGS. You can read the whole thing here.

But the quote I've pulled is from the grown-up son of middle-class, octogenarian parents who received a letter saying the only money they'd receive for their totally destroyed, $200,000-plus house, was a little over $500.

"My concern is, the people we need in this city are going to say, 'Screw it,' and leave," said Alan Rubin, a Metairie resident who bristled with anger during a recent visit to his parents' ungutted home. "If they don't have time to do this thing right the first time, when are they going to find time to do it?"

We could credit these screw-ups to bureaucratic blunder, but it's also possible that delayed, miniscule payments are meant to do exactly this: residents say screw it, leave, and the new New Orleans gets built -- by developers, not homeowners.

From there we go to an article called: MILLIONS EARMARKED TO CREATE HOUSING. You can read the whole thing here.

Seems there's a fast approaching deadline for the city to use federal housing credits or lose them. So the city passed a plan to create housing, which includes tearing down the former low income housing units and replacing them with "mixed-use." That is, mostly middle income rental apartments with some low income units available. The effect of that will be .... ah, you'll see below: "get rid of concentrated poverty." Note the phrasing. Put this way, the new plan won't get rid of poor people, just poverty.

Clarence Williams, 40, a former resident of the St. Bernard development, cried as he told the housing agency his story. A former maintenance worker at Ochsner hospitals in New Orleans, Williams has found work in Baton Rouge, but he can't find an affordable apartment. He said he wants to move back to New Orleans, where he used to spend $40 a month for his subsidized apartment, but he hasn't been able to find anything for less than $800 a month. He said he has been forced to spend many nights in his pickup truck.

Williams said he doesn't oppose the creation of mixed-income developments, but he asked the housing agency where he is supposed to live if all of the public housing units are demolished to make way for them.

"I don't understand how a building can survive something like a hurricane and then you want to tear it down," Williams said.

State Treasurer John Kennedy said he also questions the wisdom of handing out so many tax credits to mixed-use developments. The agency approved about $56 million for mixed-income projects Wednesday, almost three-quarters of the total.

Kennedy said the agency was merely taking its cues from the Blanco administration, which has pushed mixed-use projects as a way to rid New Orleans of the concentrated poverty that has plagued it for decades.

"Will it work? If we ever get something built, we'll find out," Kennedy said. "But we have to do something or we are going to lose those credits."

Finally, in the same paper, an article called $15 MILLION GUTTING EFFORT GETS UNDER WAY to be found here.

Below the headline, it explains: "N.O. program to help seniors, low-income residents obey law." The new local law is that you have to gut, secure and maintain flooded homes. There are 9,000 homes targeted for gutting. You may recall that this was mostly being done by volunteers from agencies like Acorn and Common Ground. Now, the city's hired outside contractors to do the work for those who qualify under HUD guidelines. So, the city guts your home for you (if you're poor and/or old), but there isn't money to rebuild. The gain? See quote below.

Oh, and some of the money will also go to demolishing houses: the city has declared some 17,000 have to come down.

"It's good for the person in this house, and that one," City Planning chief Tony Faciane said, pointing to the houses under renovation on both sides of the one being gutted on Pauline Drive. "It just gives everyone else a little encouragement to keep going."


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