Out of Demolitions and Displacement: A New Demand in the Big Easy
April 7, 2010: As the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, many have taken a renewed interest in New Orleans. Last August, Dave Eggers published Zeitoun, following one family’s harrowing experience in post-Katrina New Orleans. Next Sunday HBO premieres Treme, a dramatization of residents rebuilding since the hurricane.
But as always, fact is more compelling than fiction. Housing crisis? Corporate giveaways with public money? It’s already happened in the Big Easy, where, out of demolitions and displacement, has come a new demand: housing as a human right. Journalist Tram Nguyen details this struggle in “Pushed Out and Pushing Back in New Orleans,” published today by ColorLines magazine. The story was produced under the George Washington Williams Fellowship, sponsored by the G.W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism, a project of Tides Center.
Read “Pushed Out and Pushing Back in New Orleans ” at ColorLines.com.
“Pushed Out and Pushing Back in New Orleans” finds that almost 20,000 people -- all Black and low-income -- remain displaced and separated from their communities, representing nearly 6 percent of New Orleans residents. This journalistic collaboration between two members of The Media Consortium exposes the parallels between the national housing crisis and post-Katrina New Orleans. Nationwide, nearly half of all renters face unaffordable costs, defined as paying more than 30 percent of one’s income for housing.
“In the wake of Katrina, Louisiana became a bonanza of federal subsidies for firms ready to take advantage of the opportunity to rebuild,” writes Nguyen. “The developers, as a former staffer for one private company put it, stood to ‘make money hand over fist’… It costs the developers literally a dollar a year for a 99-year lease of this [public housing] land—all of it potentially prime real estate near the center city and downtown areas. With the total cost of replacing the Big Four [public housing] estimated at $762 million, taxpayers are paying developers an average of $400,000 per new apartment.”
Meanwhile, the political consequence of mass displacement of Black voters from New Orleans has already been seen in recent elections. “The racial power shift in a majority-Black city reflected the fact that more than 200,000 residents did not or could not return or participate in elections,” notes Nguyen. The November 2009 city council elections brought the first white majority in two decades, while February’s mayoral election resulted in New Orleans’ first white mayor in thirty years. As one source observed, “I think it’s going to be one for the history books.”
Read the full story at ColorLines.com.
Founded in 1981, Applied Research Center is America's leading think tank on racial justice. ARC investigates the racial consequences of public policy initiatives and develops new frameworks and solutions to address racial inequality. With offices in New York and Oakland, and staff in Chicago and Los Angeles, ARC engages in media and journalism, strategic research and policy analysis, and leadership development. ARC publishes ColorLines magazine.
The San Francisco-based G.W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism develops regional and national reporting projects to support more journalists of color, women and youth in pursuing public interest and investigative journalism. The Center’s George Washington Williams Fellows have won journalism awards, secured book contracts, appeared on talk shows and won attention from mainstream, ethnic and independent media, as well as government officials and politicians. In addition to ColorLines, Fellows’ stories have appeared in Mother Jones, The Nation, CorpWatch, Salon, Orion, Earth Island Journal, AlterNet, In These Times, The Progressive and numerous other outlets.