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U.N. weighs in against demolishing public housing

July 27, 2008

Facing imminent homelessness and a city determined to drive out the Black people who built it, kept it running and made it a world class cultural mecca, New Orleans public housing residents hold an anti-demolition candlelight vigil outside the Lafitte development on Dec. 14, 2007. – Photo: Getty Images
Demolition and mixed income replacement ‘a deliberate effort to displace Blacks from the inner city’

by John Burl Smith

On Feb. 28, 2008, an Associated Press report by John Moreno Gonzales contained a ray of hope for New Orleans advocates who have clamored for the United Nations to weigh in on human rights violations associated with Hurricane Katrina recovery. Co-director of the public interest law firm Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, Monique Harden, who testified before the U.N. in Geneva, felt, “This vindicates the work of public housing advocates.”

New Orleans police used clouds of chemicals and stun guns to keep pubic housing residents and activists out of the meeting on Dec. 20, 2007, when the City Council approved the demolition of 4,500 homes that had been only minimally damaged by Katrina. – Photo: Associated Press
In their finding, a joint statement by U.N. experts Miloon Kothari, the U.N. Human Rights Council’s investigator for housing, and Gay McDougall, an expert on minority issues, said: “Thousands of Black families would continue to suffer displacement and homelessness if the demolition of 4,500 public housing units is not halted. The spiraling costs of private housing and rental units, and in particular the demolition of public housing, puts these communities in further distress, increasing poverty and homelessness. We therefore call on the Federal Government (U.S.) and state and local authorities to immediately halt the demolitions of public housing in New Orleans.”

Back in New Orleans, Harden said, “Recovery must mean the end of displacement for the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. What we have instead is recovery that demolishes affordable housing.” The U.N. urged U.S. and local government leaders to include current and former residents in discussions that would help them return home.

Despite New Orleans public housing residents’ heroic efforts to save their homes, the city fathers stuck to their ethnic cleansing agenda and demolished the homes of 4,500 Black families. This building at the B.W. Cooper development, though perfectly livable, was one of the first to go. – Photo: Getty Images
The expert comments did not carry the weight of an official U.N. resolution, but they came a day before a larger U.N. racism panel planned to discuss Katrina recovery efforts and public housing in New Orleans. Although their statement did not carry legal or regulatory power, it does add weight to international efforts aimed at halting the demolition of public housing in the U.S.

Most see the tearing down of public housing in urban areas as a deliberate effort to displace Blacks from the inner city, free up valuable real estate and bring whites back into cities to increase the political clout of whites. Establishing white enclaves will consolidate and underpin their economic control with political domination.

This is a national pattern with the aim of dislodging Blacks from local government and returning to de facto segregation indicative of public schools. This is a repeat of what happened to Blacks in the 1890s, following Reconstruction.

Most see the tearing down of public housing in urban areas as a deliberate effort to displace Blacks from the inner city, free up valuable real estate and bring whites back into cities to increase the political clout of whites.

Jeff R. Crump, associate professor in Housing Studies, University of Minnesota, has published several brilliant articles in the “International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.” In his articles, he argues that “U.S. public housing policy, as codified by the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998 (QHWRA), is helping to reconfigure the racial and class structure of many inner cities.

“By promoting the demolition of public housing projects and replacement with mixed-income housing developments, public housing policy is producing a gentrified inner-city designed to attract middle and upper-class people back to the inner city. The goals of public housing policy are also broadly consonant with those of welfare reform wherein the ‘workfare system’ helps to bolster and produce the emergence of contingent low-wage urban labor markets.”

The U.N. position on the demolition of public housing dovetails Crump’s in that their concerns are similar. This reporter believes the U.S. is in the midst of a class and race war where the government has weighed in on the side of the wealthy power elite. Its policies are designed to create a society of super-rich with a class of marginal poor made up of former upper middle class people who lost jobs and homes in the housing bubble as a buffer against the very poor.

This scenario is based on the Contract with America and the Project for a New American Century. Essentially, control of energy, food, communications and natural resources are weapons. The linchpin in this strategy is the control of all large urban centers.

This is Adolf Hitler’s scheme on steroids and fast forwarded 80 years. Prisons are the new concentration camps (code word: concentrated poverty).

Managing information through the media is also essential. George W. Bush is only the beginning of extending government power over citizens. He was the setup man, like John the Baptist for Jesus Christ.

Non-conspiracy theorists see all this as far-fetched. Although Crump made none of the claims expressed in this article, his work shows how quickly and easily public policy and the machinery of government can be used against the very people it is supposed to protect and serve, while serving the interests of those whose aim is to victimize the people.

Those who want to be informed can read Jeff Crump’s work at www.blackwellpublishing.com and, for questions, email jrcrump@che.umn.edu. To read more from John Burl Smith, visit www.thedish.org, where this commentary first appeared. Smith organized the Invaders, a Black youth organization modeled after the Black Panthers, that played a major role in the sanitation workers’ strike that brought Martin Luther King to Memphis, where he was assassinated.

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