The NY Times reports:
After protesters clashed violently with the police inside and outside the New Orleans City Council chambers on Thursday, the Council voted unanimously to allow the federal government to demolish 4,500 apartments in the four biggest public housing projects here.
The Council also called on the Department of Housing and Urban Development to reopen some apartments in the closed projects immediately and to rebuild all of the public housing units that it bulldozes. The agency plans to replace barracks-style projects, known as “the bricks,” with mixed-income developments.
“We need affordable housing in this city,” said Shelley Stephenson Midura, a Council member who proposed the resolution that was adopted. But, she added, “public housing ought not to be the warehouse for the poor.”
Advocates for public housing residents contended that the agency’s plan would not provide enough housing for the 3,000 families who lived in the projects before Hurricane Katrina, almost all of them black. Many of them have not been able to return to the city, and some protesters said they were being deliberately excluded from New Orleans.
“The issue is and the question remains, who’s in the mix,” said the Rev. Torin T. Sanders, pastor of the Sixth Baptist Church, referring to the plan for mixed-income housing. He and other speakers at the four-hour hearing before the vote said past redevelopment efforts had shut out most public housing residents.
The city’s shortage of low-cost housing was only going to get worse in the coming months, as the federal government tried to move more than 30,000 people out of government-owned trailers, said Courtney Cowart, strategic director of disaster response for the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana.
But representatives of the residents’ councils at three of the projects spoke earlier in the hearing, describing the poor conditions at the complexes before the storm and expressing their support for the new plans.
“It’s about being able to walk into a house and say this is a house, not a project,” said Donna Johnigan, a resident at the B. W. Cooper Apartments, which the government began to demolish last week.
The future of public housing in New Orleans has been a subject of debate in this storm-scarred city, involving race, money, history, the right to return and who gets to make the decisions.
That the three black members and four white members on the City Council joined to support the demolition seemed to echo a widely held feeling here, crossing racial lines, that the old housing projects were deeply dysfunctional for their residents and for the people who lived nearby.
Mistrust of the government was voiced by many of the speakers who opposed the demolition. Supporters said most of the protesters were people who did not live in New Orleans, much less in the four housing projects.
Police officers tried to keep protesters out of the Council chambers once all the seats were filled. Demonstrators tried to push through some iron gates to get in when the police used what appeared to be pepper spray and stun guns; at least two protesters needed medical treatment.
There was also a brief fight inside the chambers, and the police ejected some demonstrators. About 15 protesters were arrested, the police said, mostly on charges of disturbing the peace.
Friday, December 21, 2007
The NY Times reports: