Monday, July 16, 2007

The Answer Is No

Recently I wrote an article discussing whether municipalities, specifically New Orleans, had an obligation to bring low income people back from evacuation. In the article I discussed and asked the question does the city owe the poor a return ticket back to poverty and their slums?

According to many in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast, the answer is a resounding no! It appears that many jurisdictions are rezoning and allowing previously zoned areas to expire so that they can remove the makeshift trailer parks that FEMA created after the Katrina catastrophe. The modern day “Hoovervilles” are becoming unwelcome to the local governments. These governments want to evict the evacuees and shut down the trailer parks. According to these jurisdictions the trailer parks have become crime-infested, pockets of poverty. There are some who believe that it is not about crime or poverty, but has racial implications. The residents in these jurisdictions have a concern about poor, black people living in their neighborhoods.

Mr. Roberts complained that such residents were often idle, but many evacuees have burdens that prevent them from working.

Gwendolyn Marie Allen, 55, formerly of the Uptown section of New Orleans, now lives in Renaissance Village, a large FEMA trailer park near the Baton Rouge airport. Ms. Allen is the sole caretaker for a son, 20, who was given a diagnosis of schizophrenia after a violent episode in the park, and a severely retarded brother, who huddled on the bottom bunk of a bed in their travel trailer, clad only in adult diapers. In an interview, Ms. Allen periodically shushed his wordless moans by waving a green flyswatter in his direction.

“I want to get out of here, baby, this is not no house,” she said. “I want something where he can move around.”

As proof of her resourcefulness, Ms. Allen opened the freezer of the trailer’s compact refrigerator where, to make room for bargain packs of meat from the supermarket, she had removed the shelves.

“The renters aren’t asking that much, just give us a start,” she said. “Put us there, and we could do what we have to do to survive. We could catch it from there.”[1]

As I stated previously these local governments are not going to rebuild the public housing and low rent houses that these residents formerly resided in. And as if that wasn’t enough they are in the process of demolishing what housing was left, most of which would require little if any rehabilitation. No, this is about recreating New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in a whole new image, an image that does not include poor, black folks.

Is this a sign to poor, black folks everywhere? If your home is destroyed by natural disaster or any other means you could and very well will be relocated, never to return. Of course, for most black folks this is nothing new. We have homes that are destroyed every year in our neighborhoods by fires or other catastrophes that are never rebuilt, only to become empty lots, lots that become dumping grounds and over-run with foliage. I think we are all though, a little bit shocked by it being done on this grand of a scale. I can’t recall the relocation of so many poor blacks from any major city on this magnitude. These people were once proud residents of these cities and have a right to be brought back home.

I am afraid however we are seeing the recasting of New Orleans, where if you aren’t rich and white, we don’t want you. It is unbelievable that with all the low skill labor that is needed in New Orleans that they are not going to provide adequate housing for these workers? Where are these workers suppose to live? The current development plans include raising the rent in these renovated areas two to three times what the apartments were before. These minimum wage workers will not be able to afford to live in the city where they work.

So my question to these civic leaders is who is going to make up your beds, wash your dishes, and supersize your meals without these workers?


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