Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Projects and Alienation ...

More from Adam Nossiter and the New York Times:

There have been several recent killings in the old Iberville project, abutting the French Quarter, even though the complex is only about one-quarter occupied. In one, a young man was found shot in the head, propping up the door of an abandoned apartment with a bag of crack cocaine at his feet.

At the St. Thomas project, the violent crime rate was more than seven times as high as the city’s as a whole, according to a paper done at the London School of Economics; only 2 percent of its residents were employed full-time.

At the C. J. Peete project, which is on the department’s demolition list, Lawrence Powell, a Tulane University historian, recalled a flourishing open-air drug market across the street.

Bernell Stewart, a nearby resident standing across from the empty Lafitte project, said, “Every time you looked around, somebody was getting killed on this corner.”

Even those critical of the housing department acknowledge that the projects, with all their troubles, had effectively cut off their inhabitants, an isolation reinforced by generations of living in them. Mr. Powell, who ran a social services agency at C. J. Peete in the 1990s, said he tried to “help people move out where they would become homeowners, to move back to the original goal where it was a way station, not warehouses.”

That alienation was starkly in evidence at the public meeting last month. “For once, I would like for us to live in y’all’s houses and let y’all live in ours,” Josey Willis, a displaced Lafitte resident, told the officials. “Let us change places and see what we feeling; then you can feel what we feeling.”

Other cities have seen similar resistance from public housing tenants fearful of change. But here the tenants’ extreme poverty and a legacy of mistrust fueled by years of official neglect have given the fight an edge. Misspent money caused the federal department to keep a close watch over the local housing authority in the mid-1990s, and the department finally took it over in 2002. The projects here were in such poor shape that “a lot of us said it shouldn’t even be considered affordable housing,” said Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution, who served as chief of staff for former Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros.


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Saturday, January 27, 2007

EXTRA: Louisiana TeachNext program ...

Lauren Lastrapes writes:

I'm working with the Louisiana TeachNext program, a program that operates through Delgado and Nunez
community colleges and gives students interested in becoming teachers a chance to get an Associate's of Science in Teaching degree and begin the path toward teacher certification.

This is a new associate's degree program that was devised in order to ensure that community college students are able to have all of their education coursework transfer to a four-year college (currently community college students aren't always able to transfer their coursework to a four-year college and therefore often have to back-track and lose credits).

The program is meant to provide interested people with a flexible, cost-effective way to begin the process of becoming good, well-prepared teachers. This is something I believe we are in dire need of as the recovery process continues.

Please visit the web site, and pass the word. Thank you.


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Friday, January 26, 2007

EXTRA: More Crime Fighters ...

From AP via

More federal crime-fighting help is headed to New Orleans, where the murder rate has rebounded much faster than the population since Hurricane Katrina hit, U.S. Department of Justice officials announced Thursday.

New Orleans is getting nine more agents from the FBI, six from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and new ballistics equipment to replace a system that was destroyed when Katrina hit in August 2005.

In addition, Justice officials plan to have some agents from the FBI, ATF and the Drug Enforcement Administration work with the New Orleans Police Department around the clock.

“These federal agents will identify cases that are subject to federal jurisdiction, provide the necessary investigative assistance to make federal arrests, and follow up with federal prosecutions,” the Justice Department said in a news release.

The department also is extending funding through September for six federal prosecutors already assigned to the area, and is temporarily giving DEA agents power to enforce all federal laws.

The initiatives were announced in New Orleans by U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and in Washington by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Crime returned with residents

Katrina virtually emptied the city of its residents. The city has been slow to repopulate since then, and crime has returned along with the people.

With a population estimated at 200,000, less than half the pre-Katrina population of 454,000, the city had 161 killings last year. That’s a per capita murder rate of 81 murders per 100,000 people.

The rate was 56 per 100,000 in 2004, when the city had 264 murders.

The police force is down from its pre-Katrina level of 1,700 officers to about 1,400. Police Superintendent Warren Riley said during Thursday’s news conference that the force is losing about 17 officers per month.

“The bottom line is other states are paying more money, giving them a signing bonus and housing opportunities,” Riley said.


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Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Projects and Romanticism ...

More from Adam Nossiter and the New York Times:

“I think the romanticism that goes with the ‘good old days of public housing’ belies the harsh realities of crime and social malaise that had been created as a result of a concentration of low, low income folks,” said Michael P. Kelly, who directed the troubled Housing Authority of New Orleans from 1995 to 2000 and now runs its counterpart in Washington, D.C. “Women that would put their babies in bathtubs at the sound of gunfire, that was a reality; coming home from your job and having to walk through young people participating in drug trades.”

Working women trying to raise children, many of whom staff the low-wage tourist hotels here, often made that walk, as they do in public housing in other cities. But here the journey had a particularly tough edge, in keeping with the often violent city surrounding the projects.

The toughness was underscored in striking fashion a November public meeting, notably by one of the many enraged former tenants who rose to criticize the federal housing department and the city housing authority.

“I’m a young man who grew up in the projects,” said that critic, Alvin Richardson. “I grew up in the Iberville project, the Desire, the Calliope, the St. Thomas, St. Bernard, and I survived them all. You can’t do nothing to me because I survived the ghetto.”

The peculiar physical environment of the projects, a confluence of their isolation, their dilapidation and the large numbers of vacant apartments, combined to create difficulties, some veteran police officers say. It was not the tenants who created problems, but nonresidents taking advantage of the dense clustering of small, low-ceilinged apartments.

“The way they were constructed, it’s not law-enforcement friendly,” said Lt. Bruce Adams, a veteran police officer who grew up in the Desire project. “All those entrances and exists. The fact that it’s so condensed is causing the problem.”

Don Everard, director of a social service agency that worked for years in one of the projects, said that with all the vacancies, “you didn’t know what was up the stairwell.”

“You didn’t know who was using an abandoned apartment,” Mr. Everard said.


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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ethnic Cleansing?

By Adam Nossiter for the New York Times:

The heritage of suspicion and misery separating this city’s poorest residents from its comfortable classes is playing out in a fierce battle over the future of the public housing projects here, a fight in which the shelter of as many as 20,000 people is at stake.

It has raged ever since the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development announced plans last June to demolish four of the largest projects in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and no amount of assurances that the agency wants to replace the crime-haunted, aging brick structures with something better has calmed the anger of former tenants. In December, under pressure, HUD restated that it might allow some tenants to return while proceeding with redevelopment.

The struggle over housing in New Orleans raises the larger issue of how to reintegrate the most vulnerable residents after the hurricane, the ones most disrupted by the storm and still displaced 16 months later.

And it has brought sharply into focus how much the New Orleans housing projects were places apart, vast islands of poverty in an already impoverished city. HUD has already chosen two nonprofit developers to replace the Lafitte project, a forbidding complex of 1940s reddish brick dormitories near Interstate 10, with a mix of houses and apartments, some subsidized and some not. The new housing will “dramatically improve living conditions” for the former tenants, a legal brief by the department says.

The agency’s plans and the resistance of the tenants has become a cause célèbre for advocates of many stripes. They shouted down hapless housing officials at a tumultuous public meeting here in November; they demonstrated angrily outside Mayor C. Ray Nagin’s home in December; and the courtroom vituperation, in the lawsuit against HUD, has been unusually bitter.

Still, the advocates’ talk of ethnic cleansing, social engineering and HUD’s purported “violation” of international law has partly obscured the reality of what the projects were and what even some who question the planned demolition fear they could become again if the redevelopment project falls through.


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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Recovery Czar ...

From the web site of his namesake agency:

Edward J. Blakely has been appointed by New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin as Executive Director for Recovery Management, where he will coordinate and direct Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts in New Orleans.

He also will act as the primary recovery interface to all regional, state, and federal agencies. In addition, Blakely will also serve as the Mayor’s designee on other recovery related issues.

Blakely, who is the Chair of Urban and Regional Planning at The University of Sydney, is nationally and internationally recognized for his extensive experience in the design of recovery strategies for cities across the country.

In 1999, Blakely, while serving as Dean of the Milano Graduate School at the New School University in New York, was on hand for the devastating disaster at the World Trade Center. He also coordinated the New School’s recovery strategy along with providing policy guidance for 100 Black Men of New York with respect to participation of minorities in the recovery.

In 1989, Blakely guided recovery efforts in Oakland following the Loma Prieta earthquake. He served under two Oakland mayors as Chief Policy Advisor.

He has held roles in the private sector as a senior manager with the Pacific Telephone Co., a Special Assistant for domestic policy for the U.S. State Department and an investment partner in Humboldt Realty and SE Development Corp. in California.

Blakely has written extensively, with more than 200 scholarly articles and eight books. He is an elected Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, a member of the selection board for the Fulbright Fellowship, a former member of the Fulbright Association Board of Directors, and Rhode Scholarship Board Chair for the western United States.


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Thursday, January 04, 2007

EXTRA: Houston Murder Rate Climbs ...

From AP via Yahoo News:

HOUSTON - The number of murders last year in Houston hit a 12-year high and increased by 13.5 percent over 2005, figures the mayor attributes in part to the arrival of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.

Houston had 379 homicides in 2006. That was the most since 1994, when 419 murders were reported, police said. In 2005, the city had 334 homicides. Mayor Bill White pointed to Hurricane Katrina evacuees from New Orleans as one reason for the increase.

"We did have a surge in population from a city where the homicide rate is eight times the national average," White said.

Houston's population increased by 148,000 people in 2006, many of them Katrina evacuees, according to the city's planning department.

The swelling population helped keep Houston's homicide rate relatively steady, rising from 16.33 victims per 100,000 residents in 2005 to 17.24 victims in 2006. Nationally, the murder rate increased by 1.4 percent last year, according to FBI figures.

Some experts disagreed with White's characterization, pointing to national trends indicating rising rates of violent crime.

"It's not as if Houston's unique," said Jim Lynch, a criminology professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "There are other cities experiencing this."

Other types of violent crime dropped in Houston in 2006, police said. Robberies, rapes, aggravated assaults, burglaries, thefts and stolen cars dropped between 2 percent and 9 percent when compared with 2005 statistics.


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