New Orleans Public Housing Under Attack

New Orleans Public Housing

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Fifteen protesters were arrested on December 20 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Standing outside of the City Council building, they demanded that the council not issue permits to the Housing Authority of New Orleans to demolish 4,500 public housing units damaged (and, in many cases, only partially damaged) by Hurricane Katrina. This is yet another attack on the workers of New Orleans who have been through hell and, well, high water.

Police MaceFew New Orleanians were allowed into the meeting. Some outside tried to make their way in but were met with pepper spray and stun guns. The police, were in not-so-rare form when they took down several older men and women who were there to protest, smashing others against steel-barred fences. One woman even had to be taken away on a stretcher after being attacked with pepper spray by police. A SWAT team separated those outside from those inside, but the scene inside the council meeting was frighteningly similar to what was happening on the street outside.

In response to vocal protesters inside the council chambers, one council member shouted, “Security, enforce our rules!” At that point, the police started forcibly removing people from the council building and arresting them. One man was tasered and handcuffed right in the council chambers. Another man was taken down from behind by his hair. Chaos reigned as protesters and speakers were attacked.

As one public housing activist was speaking, the ceiling of the council building began leaking. A council member explained that they had been having trouble with the roof leaking. The irony not being lost on those in attendance, some people began to shout “tear it down, then!” while others added, “get HUD to fix it!”

In the end, the city council voted unanimously in favor of the demolition permits. The 4,500 units are to be replaced by 3,200 units of “mixed income” housing. Unfortunately for the working poor of New Orleans, only 900 of these new housing units will be available to former public housing residents. The other units must be paid for at market rates. Meanwhile, market rates in New Orleans are skyrocketing: rents have risen 45 percent post-Katrina.

New Orleans ProtestNew Orleans is on the front lines of the public housing war in the US. The government’s campaign against the working poor extends across the entire country. Everywhere, there is a move to replace public housing with so-called “mixed income” housing, which combined with the broader crisis in the housing sector is making it nearly impossible for poor families to find affordable housing. This at a time when hundreds of thousands of perfectly good housing units stand empty because they cannot be sold at their still inflated market prices.

The public housing movement in New Orleans must be deepened, extended, and politicized. As part of this struggle, we need a party of our own to represent the interests of the majority. The Reconstruction Party and activists involved in the low-income housing and anti-gentrification movement have an opportunity to provide working people and the poor in New Orleans with a program and party that can defend their interests.

In the final analysis, only socialism can solve the housing crisis. The capitalists and their government would rather we live in shanty towns like those that line Interstate 10, as we did in the 1930s, than provide the resources for decent housing. Only when working people are in power will our interests be served.

* Quality housing for all, with rent fixed at not more than 10 percent of wages.
* For the right of return of all New Orleanians displaced by Katrina.
* For a massive program of public works to create jobs, rebuild our infrastructure, inner cities, and the Gulf Coast, and to eradicate homelessness.


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