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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