Sunday, September 25, 2005

The New New Orleans

The New New Orleans

Tuesday, August 23, 2005
By Michael McGough, Post-Gazette National Bureau WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday refused to reconsider one of its most controversial rulings of the 2004-05 term: a 5-4 decision upholding a Connecticut city's use of eminent domain to acquire private property for a redevelopment plan anchored by a private business. The order denying a rehearing did not come as a surprise because the court seldom reconsiders one of its decisions. But few rulings have provoked such public outrage as the court's June 23 decision in Kelo v. New London. In that case, the court held that New London, which had been designated a distressed municipality, could acquire the property of Susette Kelo and eight other residents of the city's Fort Trumbull neighborhood and use the land for an elaborate development surrounding a $300 million Pfizer pharmaceutical company research facility.

I watched the US Supreme Court decision in Kelo v New London with great interest because as a borough councilman in a small historically African-American incorporated self governing town we are facing opposition to a proposed redevelopment plan ourselves. I must admit at first I was surprised by the 5-4 decision. However after thinking about it, given the influence of corporatism in contemporary AmeriKKKa, I’m not shocked. After all, this is the same right wing leaning court that awarded the presidency to George W Bush in the infamous Gore v Bush decision of 2000. Contrary to the propaganda we learned in Civics 101, the US Supreme Court is not concerned about justice. In it’s long and infamous history the US Supreme court has demonstrated that it is really an arbitrator of last resort, not for justice but for maintaining a status quo favoring the interests of the ruling elites. In this case the taking of private property for economic development rather than public projects like roads, schools or reducing blight is consistent with recent rulings and the corporatist (fascist) drift of AmeriKKKa . The reason I say I’m not surprised is because I see the Kelo v New London decision as the linchpin for the taking of private property in New Orleans that will eventually alter the socio-economic landscape of that beleaguered city. The Kelo v New London ruling will set the stage for a massive land grab or as Justice Sandra Day O’Conner called it, “a reverse Robin Hood, stealing from the poor to give to the rich”, which will pave the way for a re-gentrified New Orleans. Unlike the project we are attempting in our town where any land owned by citizens would be amply compensated for, the use of Kelo v New London will be used in New Orleans to take advantage of poor black home owners (although most of the people stranded by Hurricane Katrina were not home owners). The devastated and hard pressed homeowners will probably accept any offer made by the developers who are salivating at the opportunity to build a new city minus all the poor and black residents Katrina and FEMA dislocated. It is highly unlikely the residents who were whisked off without telling them where they were being taken, who have been relocated in shelters and “resettlement” (concentration?) camps, who lacked the wherewithal to even evacuate New Orleans on their own during an impending catastrophe, will have the wherewithal to return to the city to start over.
I have seen numerous articles on the Internet suggesting Hurricane Katrina allowed the Bu$h administration and FEMA to practice ethnic cleansing on the QT. When the levees were mysteriously breeched (it is has now been ascertained the rising waters of the storm did not compromise the New Orleans levee structures) the low-lying areas of a city built below were inundated with flood water. The flooding wiped out many homes and the owners have lost everything. However, many of the residents lived in public housing because black home ownership in New Orleans is relatively low on a per capita basis, as one would expect in a city with a high poverty rate and almost seventy per cent black inhabitants! The residents who lost everything and who have also been displaced, will not be factors in the new New Orleans! Those planning to rebuild New Orleans don’t want or need them because they offer little in the way of skills, entrepreneurship (other than the underground economy) or economic potential. The working class homeowners unfortunate enough not to have their deeds, adequate flood or home owners’ insurance can easily be swindled out of their property by unscrupulous city, insurance and mortgage officials. The ruling elites of New Orleans understand the importance of the city as a tourist center and one of the most strategic ports in the world, so they definitely plan to rebuild the city. Only poor blacks will not be welcome. They don’t plan on bringing back the poor blacks who lived there prior to the hurricane.
FEMA did its part by displacing and relocating folks hundreds and in some cases thousands of miles away from the city. The fact most of those who were relocated are not homeowners, makes it easier for them not to make it back to the city. The homeowners cannot look to the federal government or the courts for support now that the US Supreme Court has rendered the Kelo v New London decision. The head of the legal team who filed suit on behalf of Susette Kelo admitted he wasn’t surprised the Supreme Court refused to reconsider its ruling. In an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette dated 09-23-05 Scott G. Bullock of the Justice Institute stated, “Considering that the court in over 50 years has not reconsidered a ruling in these circumstances, it's not a huge surprise. It does make it crystal clear that the Supreme Court won't protect small businesses and homeowners, and that they will have to go to their state legislatures.” According to Bullock relief will be sought in the state legislatures and courts. As we all know, the poor people of New Orleans unlike Halliburton and Bechtel who will make billions rebuilding the city, do not have access to the legislature or the courts. In a document published by The Committee for a Better New Orleans in their Housing and Neighborhood task force entitled Blueprint For A Better New Orleans stated, “ Vacant and blighted properties are public safety hazards, eyesores and barriers to neighborhood revitalization. Eliminating these pervasive problem properties from New Orleans is essential to reclaiming and maintaining the City's unique neighborhoods.
Reclaim neighborhoods by reducing the number of blighted properties (lots and vacant buildings) through renovation and redevelopment, with demolition as a last resort.
2.Neighborhood revitalization.
Nothing defines New Orleans' character so much as its rich variety of neighborhoods. To maintain these treasures, the citizens themselves must be in charge of preserving their heritage and charting their future, and must have the information, tools and resources to take on this responsibility. Strengthen the capacity of our citizens to define, develop and maintain attractive and vibrant neighborhoods.
3.Increasing the rate of home ownership.
In that it gives people both a much larger stake in the future of their neighborhoods as well as a platform for their own economic advancement, home ownership is widely considered a key to community health and revitalization. New Orleans must increase dramatically its rate of home ownership.”
Significantly increase the rate of home ownership for low to middle income residents through a combination of public and private initiatives addressing home finance and education, as well as livable and affordable supply of housing stock.
4.0 Affordable rental housing.
Renters will always be part of the housing equation. As the City aims to reduce residential density in the housing developments, additional rental properties will be needed in neighborhoods throughout New Orleans. A particular pitfall to avoid in this process is clustering of low-income renters. Low to moderate income residents, the elderly and the homeless are specific populations with particular rental needs.
Increase the supply of affordable rental housing by increasing resources and removing barriers for low to moderate income housing (including special needs populations) in mixed income areas. ” All this sounds good and looks good on paper but how were they planning to accomplish all this in New Orleans as poor and corrupt as that city was? It seems to me Hurricane Katrina, FEMA and Bu$h helped them solve a major part of their problem.

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