Thursday, March 22, 2007

Changing the Status Quo

According to the International Herald Tribune (emphasis mine):

WASHINGTON: Public housing projects damaged by Hurricane Katrina would not be knocked down until the U.S. government has a plan to replace them under a bill the House of Representatives passed Wednesday.

The legislation, approved 302-125, also would grant tenants who lived in New Orleans public housing before the storm the right to return to homes and apartments subsidized by the government.

"We need to address the affordable housing crisis in the Gulf region by returning people to their homes," said Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat, who sponsored the bill. "Every person who desires to live in the Gulf region must be given an opportunity to rebuild and to return home."

Thank you, Ms. Waters. I feel like I have been saying this for a long time now. The longer you make people wait, the less chance they will have to come home. This is why I am not particularly offended by C-Ray Nagin's recent comments. To think it is a conspiracy is not necessarily correct, but it could seem to people that this is so. I prefer to think of it as a bunch of "leaders" with their heads up their butts. Maybe it's collusion, maybe it's complicity, and maybe it's conspiracy, but I don't think so.

The Housing and Urban Development Department and the city's housing authority had approved plans to demolish New Orleans' four largest public housing complexes and other smaller sites. The August 2005 storm left about 7,500 apartments in a condition not considered worth repairing. The demolitions would have made way for an estimated $681 million (€512.3 million) worth of mixed-income neighborhood construction.

I thought HANO was defunct. Am I wrong here? Wasn't HUD in charge of the New Orleans housing projects? Is 7500 the number of apartments that were considered not worth repairing? I thought it was 7500 units were not reopened.

"To do as HUD has proposed across all public housing in New Orleans is tantamount to forced homelessness," said Rep. William Jefferson, a Democrat who represents much of New Orleans.

I can't agree with with him, but at least he is speaking out for his constituents. I am sure this will help him somehow.

Under the bill, HUD would have to survey people who had lived in public housing and provide housing for any who wanted to return by Aug. 1. Residents would have to declare their intent to return to the city by that date and occupy the units by Oct. 1.

The government would not be allowed to demolish any public housing without having an approved plan to replace it.

Lawmakers also approved an amendment that would extend a Federal Emergency Management Agency housing voucher program through the end of the year and transfer those eligible to other housing assistance programs when the FEMA aid ends.

In January, hundreds of New Orleans residents protested the planned demolitions by cleaning up one of the larger housing projects.

Republicans argued that housing low-income families in mixed-income developments would increase living standards in public housing.

"We have a moral imperative to change the standard of public housing in New Orleans," said Rep. Spencer Baucus, a Republican. "We can do better than simply warehousing families in failed large housing projects and crime-ridden communities."

Mr. Baucus, who is from Alabama, may have a point. We know that public housing has failed. However, the priority must be get people back home. None of us would like to be forced against his/her will to live somewhere he/she was not wanted. The housing in New Orleans was substandard, but it's home to thousands of people. Get them back, get them engaged in the process, and then we can move forward. We can't keep telling people that we want them home, and then tell them "But not now. In 10-20 years."

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