Monday, February 14, 2005

The House that the New Deal built, and the Man Who Turned the Lights Out 

Social Security is the house that the New Deal built. It's under attack and we want to save it, because it means so much to so many Americans. This is also the house that the New Deal built: Iberville Housing Project in New Orleans:

When the New Deal began in the 1930's, a group of self-professed socialist academics proposed a series of subsided government housing across the country as a first step to government ownership of residential property. The idea was quickly seize upon by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as a means to employ the workers in the field and build affordable housing for "displaced persons."

This phrase implies that there existed a shortage of inexpensive shelter then (and to some extent now). John Norquist, the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee and an expert on the development of cities in the twentieth century, states that no city had a shortage of cheap housing prior to the 1930's. What happened is far more subtle.

Up until that time, many poor people had lived in apartments on the second or third floor over storefronts. They filled a need for a consistent secondary stream of income for the businesses, and usually, they enjoy a much lower rent because of their supplemental status than a family could have found elsewhere in the market. In the late 1920's, the first, true mass zoning efforts began. To appease the urban philosophy of the time, residential and business properties were zoned separate preventing people from living in the same complex as an active enterprise. (The urban planners believed that homes and businesses should exist in different parts of a city.)

This action created an artificial shortage of housing; thus, temporarily driving up rental rates. So, the first housing projects came to completion.

The ease at which Pres Kabacoff accomplished the demolition of St. Thomas Housing Project, with virtually no guaruntee to the residents for housing placement, perhaps has led to the rise of the man's hubris.

Kabacoff wants to build a huge, glass towering fleur de lis on Canal St. not far from the Iberville Housing Project. A monument, perhaps, to the destruction of low income housing in New Orleans that he and his cohorts have accomplished.

Kabacoff brought Wal Mart to the lower garden district, once called one of the "hippest" neighborhoods in New Orleans. He displaced over 600 families to accomplish this.

No one really knows what happened to the families of the St. Thomas Housing Project, where they are living today, and are they struggling to keep the lights on. No studies have been conducted. They simply melted into the stew. There is anecdotal evidence though, from the mouths of Iberville Housing residents.

Residents who participated in the speakout held this past Saturday in front of the project on Basin Street, said families who are moved into private housing with vouchers struggle to make ends meet, because of the cost of having to pay utilities, they said.

Kabacoff wants to reduce the number of units to 200 in Iberville. The complex has over 500 units, but over 150 of them are neglected and uninhabitable. There are 350 families there now.

Kabacoff is a man that likes to do things ass backwards, witness his use of the "best" materials for luxury units on top of the St. Thomas Housing Project, and choosing to 200 build low-income units using the same material. Activist Brod Bagert, at the time, said over 500 low income units could be built using far less money.

The City Council of New Orleans didn't vote for that idea though. The City Council voted for Pres Kabacoff's notion that the city needs "more rich people here".

Kabacoff agrees wholeheartedly that he is spending more than the average at St. Thomas. He says it's warranted, since New Orleans needs to attract wealthy people to the city.

"Bagert thinks what the cities ought to be doing is putting all their money into affordable housing. I think he's wrong," Kabacoff says. "I'm suggesting that if this city doesn't get some market rate back in here, it's not going to have any money to take care of the poor. ...

Too often this type of language is code for the displacement of lower income residents: tear down low income housing so that we can attract more rich people to our city.

It's prime real estate located in prime areas of the city, inhabited by the most unempowered of our citizens. It is vulnerable because of the high crime in the project; it is undesirable to everyone but the residents.

In the housing project, utilities are not billed to the residents. The residents I spoke to said they simply did not want to leave because they know their living costs are going to go up. "At least the lights are on here," one woman said.

Kabacoff is going to be known as the man who turned the lights off in the city of New Orleans for hundreds of low income residents who lived in St. Thomas Housing Project. Will he accomplish the same for Iberville?