Stop the Demolition Coalition Fact Sheet

Author: 
Coalition to Stop the Demolitions
Date Published: 
December 18, 2007
STOP THE DEMOLITION COALITION
FACT SHEET  (DRAFT)

What’s Wrong with Demolishing Public Housing?

Thousands of families will be permanently displaced.  More than two years after Hurricane-Katrina, more than 3,400 families have not returned because most public housing remains closed

The demolition is the latest in a long line of bad policies.  For more than ten years, HANO and HUD have squeezed Black families out of New Orleans by downsizing public housing.  In 1996, there were more than 13,000 public housing units.  Pre-Katrina there were 7,100 units but almost 2,000 were vacant, waiting to be demolished.  At the time of Hurricane Katrina, there were 5,146 families living in public housing.  Today, only about 1,700 families have been permitted to return.  

Destroying public housing will increase homelessness. Before the hurricane, there were about 6,300 homeless people in New Orleans and neighboring Jefferson Parish.  Today, the count is 12,000 and growing.  In New Orleans, hundreds of the estimated 12,000 homeless have taken up residence in small tents across the street from City Hall and under the I-10 causeway.

The demolition places more burdens on New Orleans’ most vulnerable families.  The housing crisis grew worse last week with FEMA’s recent announcement that it would close all of its trailer camps between now and May 2008.  There are more than 65,000 families still living in tiny FEMA trailers across the Gulf Coast, about 900 of them in New Orleans and 3,000 in Louisiana.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that the unemployment rate for Hurricane Katrina evacuees who remain displaced is triple that of those who have returned (September 2006).  Our most vulnerable families are being systematically forced out into a housing market in crisis to fend for themselves.

What’s Wrong with the Mitigation Plans?

The plan will reduce available low income housing by 82 percent.  HUD’s redevelopment plan is to spend $762 million in taxpayer funds to tear down over 4,600 public housing apartments and replacing them with 744 similarly-subsidized units -- an 82 percent reduction of public housing for extremely poor families. This plan will not only lead to continued displacement of pre-Katrina residents but will also fail to accommodate the almost 18,000 families that are on HANO’s waiting list (6,500 for public housing and 10,900 for Section 8).  Redevelopment will only leave little more than 3,000 public housing units for very low income families.

There is no clear timeline for when families can return.  HUD plans to demolish four developments to create mixed-income communities.  There is no clear plan for this redevelopment and no timeline for the return of families.  In only one instance, Lafitte, HANO has projected 3-5 years before redevelopment is completed.  In the meanwhile, families will remain displaced.  The other developments slated for demolition are C.J. Peete, B.W. Cooper and St. Bernard.

The plan is inadequate, burdensome and ignores the realities of the housing market.  HUD plans to provide vouchers to residents whose units are demolished.  Vouchers are an inadequate substitute for “hard units.”  Vouchers require residents to pay security deposits, equivalent to one month’s rent, which could be more than $1000.  There is also significant race and income discrimination in the rental market that limits housing opportunities.

This approach failed before Katrina, it will be even worse now.  The St. Thomas Housing Development was the first public housing unit in New Orleans that was demolished and replaced with so-called "mixed income housing." According to HUD/HANO’s own figures, the 1,500 public housing units in the St. Thomas development were replaced by the River Gardens development which contains only 122 units set aside for former public housing residents. The rest of these units are market rate apartments and not affordable for the residents of the St. Thomas development or any of the working poor of New Orleans. The former Desire development had 1,800 units. Even if HANO/HUD lived up to their promises regarding the redevelopment of the Desire public housing development as the "New Desire," only 425 units will be set aside as affordable housing.

Who is responsible for this crisis?

Since Katrina, instead of paying for repairs, HUD and HANO boarded up units and left them to deteriorate.  In June 2006, HUD announced its plan to demolish 5,000 public housing units.  In September 2007, HANO completed its application for the demolition of these homes.  HUD approved the application, with no public input, in less than two days.

HUD’s actions may reflect deeper conflicts of interest.  Serious questions have been raised recently about the legality of current HUD contracts and agreements related to the redevelopment of the public housing complexes in New Orleans that are slated for demolition. These concerns include a possible conflict of interest between HUD’s Alphonso Jackson and Columbia Residential Company, a private developer recently awarded a contract to demolish and redevelop the St. Bernard housing development. For more information on this and other information about current investigations of HUD contracts, see The National Journal’s report at http://news.nationaljournal.com/articles/071004nj2.htm and The Times-Picayune’s report at http://www.nola.com/news/t-p/frontpage/index.ssf?/base/news

Residents are using all available means to fight back and make officials do what’s right. The lawsuit filed by public housing residents, Anderson v. Jackson, seeks to bring these families back to New Orleans immediately.  The suit was filed in federal court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on Tuesday, June 27, 2006 by Advancement Project, Bill Quigley, Tracie Washington and the law firm of Jenner & Block LLP against Secretary Alphonso Jackson, HUD and HANO on behalf of public housing residents.  The federal court recently refused, without even holding a hearing, to stop the scheduled demolition. The residents are appealing this decision to Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.  

In addition, hundreds of organizations in New Orleans and nationwide are standing with residents to fight for their right to return.  Actions will be taking place throughout December and beyond, if necessary, to address this miscarriage of justice.

What should be done instead?

Most units could be opened immediately but HUD and HANO stand in the way of the right to return.  Plaintiffs have presented evidence to the court that the buildings could be easily repaired.  C.J. Peete, for example, was not flooded and thus needs to be cleaned and repairs made due to vandalism.  Some of the units on the first floors of Lafitte and B.W. Cooper simply need flooring and baseboard replaced due to flooding.  St. Bernard can also be easily repaired.  In fact, HANO’s own insurance company estimated that twenty of the buildings at C.J. Peete would cost less than $5,000 each to repair and only three would cost more than $10,000.  With regard to Lafitte, the company determined that 28 of the buildings would cost less than $10,000 each to repair.  Clearly, these minor repairs should not stand in the way of the right to return.

Residents have a right to return to their homes and a right to input in the process.  HUD and HANO have a duty to preserve affordable housing and a responsibility to engage residents in the process.  With the critical shortage of housing after Hurricane Katrina, demolishing 5,000 affordable housing units that could easily be repaired makes no sense.  Any attempts to redevelop housing should happen after residents are back home in New Orleans – and w