Saturday, March 8, 2008

HUD: Survey Validates N.O. Demolition

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A majority of public housing residents dispersed by Hurricane Katrina do not want to return to the old brick buildings they lived in before the storm, according to a Department of Housing and Urban Development survey.

The results were significant because housing officials have argued that the poor people who lived in public housing were not beholden to life in the old complexes because they were plagued by crime and malfunctioning apartments.

HUD said the survey, released Thursday, validated its plan to demolish four sprawling complexes and replace them with mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhoods.

Critics and many residents, however, have complained that the demolition plan runs counter to the wishes of residents and will wind up shrinking the amount of cheap housing and drive poor black people out of the city.

Donald Babers, a HUD official appointed to head the Housing Authority of New Orleans, said the survey results highlight what the agency has been ''saying for the past two years.''

''Most families do want to return, but they want to return to a better home and a better environment and don't want to return to the concentrations of deteriorating, obsolete public housing that they left,'' Babers said.

The survey got in touch with 2,109 of New Orleans' 5,100 public housing families. About half of those surveyed had already moved back to New Orleans by the time the survey was done between October 2007 and February.

The other half, those who had not moved back to New Orleans, fell into two main groups: 34 percent said they wanted housing vouchers when they got back to New Orleans and 37 percent said they did not want to return to New Orleans. Only about 13 percent of the residents said they wanted to return to public housing in New Orleans. About 70 percent of the displaced residents want to come back to New Orleans, the survey found.

The survey was conducted by the University of Texas at Arlington and Survey Communications Inc. of Baton Rouge. HUD was asked to do the survey by U.S. House members concerned that New Orleans' poor were being left out of the city's rebuilding.

Sheila Crowley, the president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said she was concerned about how many of New Orleans' public housing residents were not surveyed.

''That's a lot of people whose preferences we do not know about,'' she said. ''I am worried about where the rest of the residents are.''

Housing advocates say the hurricane-hit region is in the midst of a housing crisis and that it will become even more acute as more people are forced out of their government trailers in the coming months.