Saturday, September 1, 2007

Housing Protests New Orleans (Times Picayune)

About 20 protesters staged a surprise visit to the Housing Authority of New Orleans on Friday, demanding that the government reopen the public housing developments already slated for demolition in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

National Guard soldiers and New Orleans police sealed off neighboring streets while negotiators persuaded the group to leave the building. At least two Humvees patrolled the perimeter, which was cordoned off by yellow caution tape.

Chanting "No justice, no peace," the mostly out-of-town activists peacefully left the third floor of HANO's Gentilly offices, 4100 Touro St., after about two hours. But they promised that Friday's visit was just the beginning and that hundreds would return to the city to protest the lack of public housing.

HANO sent its employees home once the protesters had entered the building and after one had shoved a security officer, said HANO spokesman Adonis Expose. No HANO official met with the group, he said.

HANO announced in June that it would demolish its four largest developments and replace them with mixed-income neighborhoods better suited for families than the aging brick buildings that fell into neglect during the past decades.

The demolition plan prompted a federal civil rights lawsuit by HANO tenants that continues at U.S. District Court. HANO has struck deals with developers to rebuild all four complexes -- C.J. Peete, St. Bernard, Lafitte and B.W. Cooper -- but the plan has only inched forward.

"Promises, that's all there is, promises," said Sharon Sears Jasper, 58, who lived at the St. Bernard complex in the 7th Ward off and on since she was an infant. "I want to be home. That's my house."

But residents and their advocates want the old complexes, such as the St. Bernard, repaired and reopened, just as they were before Katrina struck Aug. 29, 2005.

Before Katrina, HANO housed 5,100 families at its traditional complexes. Today, fewer than half have returned, but the agency insists it has put a roof over the heads of all its tenants either through federal housing vouchers or at other HANO properties.

"This is a war on the poor," said Lisa Burriss of New York, who grew up in public housing on the city's Lower East Side.

Other protesters came from Miami and Oakland, Calif., saying that New Orleans represents a national problem with government eroding public housing and letting private developers have their way with public-owned land.

"Public housing is under attack," said Nellie Bailey, also of New York. "It's happening all over the country. Public housing is the housing of last resort for poor and working-class people."

No comments: