September 29, 2005


Purging the Poor from New Orleans (Naomi Klein, September 27, 2005, The Nation)

New Orleans is already displaying signs of a demographic shift so dramatic that some evacuees describe it as "ethnic cleansing." Before Mayor Ray Nagin called for a second evacuation, the people streaming back into dry areas were mostly white, while those with no homes to return to are overwhelmingly black. This, we are assured, is not a conspiracy; it's simple geography -- a reflection of the fact that wealth in New Orleans buys altitude. That means that the driest areas are the whitest (the French Quarter is 90 percent white; the Garden District, 89 percent; Audubon, 86 percent; neighboring Jefferson Parish, where people were also allowed to return, 65 percent). Some dry areas, like Algiers, did have large low-income African-American populations before the storm, but in all the billions for reconstruction, there is no budget for transportation back from the far-flung shelters where those residents ended up. So even when resettlement is permitted, many may not be able to return.

As for the hundreds of thousands of residents whose low-lying homes and housing projects were destroyed by the flood, Drennen points out that many of those neighborhoods were dysfunctional to begin with. He says the city now has an opportunity for "twenty-first-century thinking": Rather than rebuild ghettos, New Orleans should be resettled with "mixed income" housing, with rich and poor, black and white living side by side.

What Drennen doesn't say is that this kind of urban integration could happen tomorrow, on a massive scale. Roughly 70,000 of New Orleans' poorest homeless evacuees could move back to the city alongside returning white homeowners, without a single new structure being built. Take the Lower Garden District, where Drennen himself lives. It has a surprisingly high vacancy rate -- 17.4 percent, according to the 2000 Census. At that time 702 housing units stood vacant, and since the market hasn't improved and the district was barely flooded, they are presumably still there and still vacant. It's much the same in the other dry areas: With landlords preferring to board up apartments rather than lower rents, the French Quarter has been half-empty for years, with a vacancy rate of 37 percent.

The citywide numbers are staggering: In the areas that sustained only minor damage and are on the mayor's repopulation list, there are at least 11,600 empty apartments and houses. If Jefferson Parish is included, that number soars to 23,270. With three people in each unit, that means homes could be found for roughly 70,000 evacuees. With the number of permanently homeless city residents estimated at 200,000, that's a significant dent in the housing crisis. And it's doable. Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, whose Houston district includes some 150,000 Katrina evacuees, says there are ways to convert vacant apartments into affordable or free housing. After passing an ordinance, cities could issue Section 8 certificates, covering rent until evacuees find jobs. Jackson Lee says she plans to introduce legislation that will call for federal funds to be spent on precisely such rental vouchers. "If opportunity exists to create viable housing options," she says, "they should be explored."

Malcolm Suber, a longtime New Orleans community activist, was shocked to learn that thousands of livable homes were sitting empty. "If there are empty houses in the city," he says, "then working-class and poor people should be able to live in them." According to Suber, taking over vacant units would do more than provide much-needed immediate shelter: It would move the poor back into the city, preventing the key decisions about its future -- like whether to turn the Ninth Ward into marshland or how to rebuild Charity Hospital -- from being made exclusively by those who can afford land on high ground.

HUD chief foresees a 'whiter' Big Easy (Brian DeBose, September 30, 2005, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)
A Bush Cabinet officer predicted this week that New Orleans likely will never again be a majority black city, and several black officials are outraged.

Alphonso R. Jackson, secretary of housing and urban development, during a visit with hurricane victims in Houston, said New Orleans would not reach its pre-Katrina population of "500,000 people for a long time," and "it's not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again."

Rep. Danny K. Davis, Illinois Democrat and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, quickly took issue. [...]

Other members of the caucus said the comments by Mr. Jackson, who is black, could be misconstrued as a goal, particularly considering his position of responsibility in the administration.

Why is it desirable for the poor to be re-warehoused in a failed and now drowned city rather than start new lives all over the country in places that are thriving?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 29, 2005 11:25 PM

. . . because it means the end of the Democratic stranglehold on Louisiana politics.

Posted by: obc at September 29, 2005 11:53 PM

Yep, they need them all together, in a place, perferably a housing project, where they can round them up on the first Tues in November, bring them to the polls, and punch straight dem for them.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at September 29, 2005 11:59 PM

It's not desirable, but how many people with ties to Louisiana, or who derive political power from some base there, are going to issue a R.I.P. for NO ?

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 30, 2005 12:01 AM

OBC has got it. Breaking up the ghettos is the ultimate Democrat nightmare.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 30, 2005 12:35 AM

Remember, too, that in the Left's world, there is no such thing as upward mobility (John Edwards being the sole exception). Once poor and black, always poor and black. (Same for poor and Appalacian, poor and Hispanic, etc.) Therefore, poor black/Appalacian/Hispanic people cannot possibly move out of the projects/trailer courts/barrios. If they could, it would upset the Hegelian dialectic.

Posted by: Mike Morley at September 30, 2005 7:17 AM


Posted by: erp at September 30, 2005 7:55 AM

Wow, this is pretty raw Bolshevism. There are vacant houses and there are poor people, ergo...

Kind of makes one nervous about taking the family on a weekend getaway.

Posted by: Peter B at September 30, 2005 9:14 AM

A second reference to "John Edwards" in one week; pray tell...the name is vaguely familiar, but...

Posted by: curt at September 30, 2005 10:00 AM

From the gal, who equated Pol Pot and Chalabi; Year
Zero: and welcomed the Mahdi Army to New York

Posted by: narciso at September 30, 2005 10:15 AM

John Edwards was John Kerry's Vietnamese cabana boy, I think.

Posted by: Mike Morley at September 30, 2005 11:39 AM

because we don't want them to stay in Hosuton.

Posted by: Shelton at September 30, 2005 12:04 PM

that would be Houston

Posted by: Shelton at September 30, 2005 12:18 PM

I wouldn't want John Edwards to stay in Huston if I were there, either.

Posted by: Mike Morley at September 30, 2005 1:31 PM

. . . and, like you, I need to figure out how to spell it, too.

("Preview" is your friend! "Preview" is your friend! "Preview" is your friend! "Preview" is your friend! . . . .)

Posted by: Mike Morley at September 30, 2005 1:33 PM

trying to define the city is even more difficult than spelling it

Posted by: Shelton at September 30, 2005 2:29 PM

Houston is a funny place - when I was last there for any length of time (1994), they voted down zoning for what (I heard) was the umpteenth time. But it was closer than expected (52-48).

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 30, 2005 3:10 PM