Notes from the Field: New Orleans

Posted on: December 17th, 2007 by Walter Gallas

I spoke at the meeting of the Housing Conservation District Review Committee, which was considering the demolition applications for three of the four public housing developments—C.J. Peete. B.W. Cooper and Lafitte. HUD and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) representatives and the developers of the three housing authorities appeared before a jammed room of boisterous housing activists and protesters. I spoke about the limited amount of serious consideration that was given by HUD and HANO to alternatives to demolition during the Section 106 consultation process. A representative of Louisiana Landmarks Society also spoke about their concerns and why their organization also did not sign the Memoranda of Agreement.

In the end, the committee deadlocked 3-3 on the application of Lafitte, which meant they denied the application. On the applications for C. J. Peete and B. W. Cooper, however, the committee granted approval to demolish in a vote of 4-2. The two steadfast votes against the demolitions were cast by Stephanie Bruno, who sits as a community representative on the committee, and Eleanor Burke of the Historic District Landmarks Commission. The one vote which swung to deadlock the committee on Lafitte was cast by the representative of the city health department.

This coming week the public housing demolition issue will return to the City Council, which learned that it does indeed need to approve demolition plans for public housing developments according to the City Code. Positions are hardening. In an effort to get a more moderate message to the media, I participated in meetings arranged with the news director of the local NBC affiliate and with the local office of the Associated Press. The news editor at the Associated Press told us that the national office considers Iraq and New Orleans to be the two top stories for them to watch in 2008. Each in its own way is at a crucial tipping point.

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