Monday, December 10, 2007

Follow Up: HANO hits roadblock to demolitions

The Housing Conservation District Review Committee on Monday refused to approve demolition of one of the four public housing developments scheduled to be torn down this weekend by a vote of 3-3.

The committee reviews planned demolitions in historic neighborhoods not under the jurisdiction of the Historic District Landmarks Commission.

The decision, which came after a raucous three-hour meeting filled with anti-demolition protesters, means that developers and the Housing Authority of New Orleans must appeal to the City Council before sending wrecking crews to the Lafitte development, located near Treme.

HANO and its team of developers did win approval, however, to begin demolishing the C.J. Peete and B.W. Cooper developments, the first step toward what the agency says will transform the city's aging brick buildings into "mixed income" modern-day housing.

About 100 people crowded into an 8th floor conference room at City Hall in an effort to halt the demolitions, calling them an attack on the working poor. In the end, they were only partly successful.

"Open up your hearts," said Sharon Sears Jasper, who was a resident of the St. Bernard complex until she forced out by the storm in 2005. "You're taking away our families, our homes. Look at the diamonds on your hands for taking all them bribes. We work, we go to church, we have families. We live in public housing. We want our homes back."

In response, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released a two-page statement saying HANO is merely removing "thousands of run-down public housing units" in favor of "safe, vibrant, economically sustainable" communities. "It's a decades-old strategy that has enjoyed success in cities like Atlanta, Chicago and elsewhere in New Orleans," the HUD statement said.

HUD, which has run HANO since 2002, announced in June that it would raze the city's four largest developments: C.J. Peete, St. Bernard, B.W. Cooper and Lafitte.

On Saturday, wrecking crews may begin tearing down scores of buildings at B.W. Cooper and C.J. Peete, but not the 76 buildings at Lafitte that developers want to remove and replace with new housing.

The St. Bernard development in the 7th Ward will also proceed. Developers did not need the committee's permission to begin work because the complex is not within the conservation district.

Of the four developments slated for demolition, only Cooper has been re-opened since Hurricane Katrina. About 267 families presently live there.

Tensions rise over public housing

As tensions rise over the planned demolition of public housing units in New Orleans, some anti-demolition advocates are threatening more direct action. This poster is appearing in the CBD.

How does this message make you feel? Are you more or less likely to support the anti-demolition position, or those making this threat? What should the government response be? Share your thoughts.