I really don't know how to feel about the housing projects crisis. I'm sure you've seen the awful poster on nola.com, if not around town. Like Jeffrey, said, it's a shame it's had to come to that point. But really, I tend to agree with most of the Nolabloggers that the poster was probably created by some whitey trustafarian, in town working with some long-haired relief group. Native New Orleanians are too easygoing to go around burning other people's houses down. New Orleanians don't riot. I mean we just don't. This is not Seattle.
Anyway, the poster is unfortunate because it is so inflamatory (no pun intended) that it will -- has -- dried up sympathy for the cause. Which cause I'm not so sure is worthy. Yes, there is a housing crisis. Yes, the working poor are being crushed out of existence in this city post-K. But -- the projects? The projects??? The thought of people clamoring to get back into the notoriously hellish, crime- and drug-infested New Orleans projects quite boggles me. It seems to me there are better battles to fight. Force the Road Home to cough up some payouts for renters. Light a fire under the state's Katrina Cottage program. Something. Isn't this an opportunity to make things better, instead of falling back into old, dysfunctional patterns?
I do agree that just knocking down the projects and handing them over to developers with no guarantees is not just, nor a good use of the city's resources. There is so much rhetoric flying back and forth, however, that it's hard to know what's really the truth on the ground. Will there be one-to-one replacement of housing units in the new developments? Should there be, with the city's smaller population? How many units in the new developments will be low-income/subsidized, how many middle-income? Is it really more cost-effective to knock the old buildings down and build new, or not? Are "the bricks" really that well-built, as their advocates claim? I have to say, that's the first time I've ever heard that claim about the projects.
It occurs to me that the Times-Picayune has done a piss-poor job on this issue, providing no context, no facts to provide ubderstanding of this heated debate. I think what we need is some solid facts about the situation. How many people lived in these projects before katrina? How many want to move back in now? How many of those people were/are working poor, how many on the dole, which is what seems to so arise the ire of the "man on the street" (to go by the nola.com comments threads). It's been two years -- where and how have these people been livingin the meantime? And on the developers' side, what exactly is going to be done with this land? How many units are you going to build? At what cost? What will they sell or rent for? Will former renters get first priority? Are there any kind of guarantees that you will do what you say, or is this just a land grab, Iraq war-style?
What I would like to see is some kind of middle way emerge, wherein the projects are demolished, but some other kind of new, clean low-income housing is built in its place. Little villages of Katrina Cottages, perhaps, with room to expand, and an option to buy, with subsidies, if the occupants have the wherewithal. Back in my FEMA trailer days, I would have been freakin' delighted to have a Katrina Cottage. Or a very aggressive program for the city to reclaim and renovate blighted housing for the homeless. (Which would not be easy, clearing titles and such, I know.)
I doubt this middle way will materialize, however. HUD controls the projects now, and if the Feds want them to come down, they are going to come down. Keeping the working poor from getting kicked out in the cold will take a very concerted resistance effort. And, given that we only ever see the same two or three people show up at these housing protests, I don't think the political will is there.