Dr. Beverly Wright: White Protesters in New Orleans East and the proliferation of multi-family housing
"The "new" housing projects are former apartment complexes built for adults, but will soon be home for mostly women and children."
Op-Ed by Dr. Beverly Wright
|Dr. Beverly Wright
NEW ORLEANS, LA - Well folks, I thought I had seen it all; but I have not. If you just have a feeling that your neighborhood is changing, hold onto it because the change is not over yet. New Orleans East is the fastest growing district in the city, but not in the way that could be described as progressive. Poorer African Americans, the working class and the extremely poor are being pushed out to the East by the staggering increases in rents in their childhood neighborhoods and by developers and new land owners capitalizing on the housing shortage in this city.
With the tear down of affordable housing developments in New Orleans, without adequate rebuilding of replacement housing and with the lock out of poor residents from the new mixed income developments (formerly housing projects), the city is being transformed.
There is a new set of landlords in town. Many disguise themselves as missionaries, but a more adequate description would be new "carpetbaggers," who are working alongside their Southern sympathizers in this transformation. These church-based organizations buy apartment complexes formerly designed for use by adults with one or no children. Non-profit organizations and others are acquiring bonds to purchase these properties.
As we watch large numbers of poor African American women, children and the elderly pushed out of their neighborhoods and former housing projects into complexes not built for families and no green space for children, our hearts break. It is difficult to watch our people walking in areas with no sidewalks, down service roads at night with no lights, no access to grocery stores and limited transportation. Some homeowners decided to protest and become opponents of the continuation of the sale of these properties to organizations with bad records. But more so, to the proliferation of a pattern that nationally has proven successful for realtors and developers, but not for African Americans.
This protest by homeowners in the East however, is being met with unexpected resolve and venom by the new "carpetbaggers" attempting to expand this practice and their profits. One landlord representing a church organization organized a protest against the neighborhood associations opposing this hostile takeover of our community. A group of mostly white protesters actually held signs on Crowder Blvd, proclaiming that this neighborhood did not want poor people to live here.
It was an unbelievable sight to see. But it tells us that these people will stoop to any level and stop at nothing to continue their scheme. All of a sudden, black people don't like poor people. Well for most of us, that would be the rest of our entire families. How absurd.
Undeniably, the shift in population tells a different story. It seems that the plans for the "New" New Orleans include the pushing out of thousands of poor African Americans with the intent of concentrating families in the East and any other suburb where they can be pushed out of the city.
A continuous mantra of liberals and some conservatives on what to do with the large concentration of poor African Americans in housing projects was the deconcentrating of poverty. In other words, a healthy outcome cannot be expected when communities are made up of mostly large concentrations of poor people. The answer to the poverty question was merely to move poor people around, not improve employment opportunities as would be expected.
If the truth were told, this dispersing of the poor is really the reconstruction of housing projects without the benefit of green space and convenient access to amenities.
The question that is being asked by many New Orleans East homeowners is why housing projects are not good for this community in certain areas, but are perfectly suitable for African American middle to upper-middle income suburbs. This new found religion for housing the poor did not include reconstructing affordable housing in the city. The "new" housing projects are former apartment complexes built for adults, but will soon be home for mostly women and children. Ironically, most of our leaders seem not to have a problem with filling every apartment complex in the east with poor residents and building huge complexes in the same area for 100% rent subsidy recipients.
Eastern New Orleans represents the designated area for the re-concentration of the poor. OH, but it's a secret!! We are not supposed to recognize this occurrence. We should not notice the increase in traffic, trash, noise, violence and other negative disamenities encroaching upon our community. We should not notice, the lack of upkeep of the apartment complexes and walking spaces along the boulevard or our diminishing property values. But if we do notice these things and complain to property owners, our city and state representatives and our neighborhood associations organize to advocate for the safety and beautification of our neighborhoods, "We Hate Poor People." There seems to be a whole set of different rule for us that don't apply to others.
Well, we are not accepting their reality and will not be shamed by lies of self-hatred and disregard for poorer African Americans. This is patently untrue and defies the reality of living, loving and owning property in the East.
While the reputation of the East has been defamed almost in tandem with its change to a majority African American community, homeowners have continued to love and returned home in large numbers to the East. It is our neighborhood and we will fight to maintain its dignity.
Dr. Beverly Wright is a sociologist and the Executive Director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice in New Orleans, Louisiana.