Friday, December 21, 2007

The Ice Age

I'll never forget the day I heard esteemed Black scholar, Cornel West, refer to this era as "the ice age" because, he said, America was in an era of indifference. Indeed.

Extreme Cruelty
Yesterday, in New Orleans, protesters tried to stop the city council from voting for demolition of four large project complexes that presently have 4500 livable units. Instead, they are opting for the tax credit profiteering of the HUD office and are replacing the communities with 'mixed income housing' to the tune of 744 units. No plan for temporary housing, no plan for allowing people who lived there to come back (it's called "the right of return"). Let's take a moment and think on this for a moment . . .

Yes, the police used pepperspray against the people trying to pile into City Council chambers but, hey, they had to, right? But why should City Council be comfortable only having to look out at the 300 available seats? They should feel the dis-ease of overcrowding, if nothing more than to understand the unimaginably dismissive posture they've adopted. It can all be summed up in this quote:

HUD wants to demolish the buildings, most of them damaged by Hurricane Katrina, so developers can take advantage of tax credits and build new mixed-income neighborhoods.

The council's approval of the demolition is required under the city's charter.

HUD says the redevelopment, in the works before Katrina hit, will mark an end to the city's failed public housing experiment that lumped the poor into crime-ridden complexes and marooned them outside the life of the rest of the city.

Aw, HUD. Who knew the federal government cared so much about public housing? Yep, now is the perfect time to talk about its failed experiment (as if any of us would disagree). Hours later, the demolition was unanimously approved, whereas before there were council members hedging, their conscience tearing at their souls.

I guess seeing people protest and violence break out was enough to want them all gone, eh? See pictures of the demolition as citizens are protesting. It really can't get anymore cruel than shrinking housing at the time when it's so desperately needed and so scarce. All they asked is for temporary housing until there can be 1:1 placement. And to be able to come home.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we here in Pittsburgh's Historic Hill District cannot let a rich, white, corporation with a billionaire owner, host itself in our neighborhood, take up all of our parking spots and not give much of anything back in terms of proper reinvestment to a poor, Black, working-class community. Even if you don't believe, we believe. We have a dream and, yes, it does take money.

We won't repeat the defeat from 50 years ago, when "Hurricane Civic Arena" displaced thousands of residents and never replaced the housing the way they said they would---and then engaged in benign neglect after residents got mad at the broken promises and engaged in riots during the 1960's. It's cause and effect, folks.

And I could not be more proud of the people of New Orleans for protesting, even passionately so. Indeed, it shows me that global warming is a real and welcomed effort.

Extreme, Visionary Kindness
"He Had a Dream" But at least this is real. When I entered graduate school, we read a book on teaching with a statement I've never forgotten---"students will float to the mark you set". To tell a group of third graders that they will be going to college is phenomenal and wonderful because the prison industrial complex is determined by third grade reading scores. Yes. So, either you will believe and assist in these kids' education---or many of them will be going to prison. Plain and simple. I'm not surprised this column is from Marc Fisher from The Washington Post. I'm thinking maybe the PG posted it because it involves the word "Promise", as in "Pittsburgh Promise". We'll see.

In the meantime, at least the University of Pittsburgh brought back the "Upward Bound" program, which helps high school students prepare for college. With an initial grant from the U.S. Department of Education of approximately $485,000 for its first year, it will serve 112 students who will be the first in their generation to attend college. If the program meets their objectives, it will be funded for an additional three years. Good. It actually works.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing about this travesty. I literally cried while watching and reading about this grave injustice on media reports. America's disregard of the plight of poor people, particularly during this wide-spread crisis, is disgusting. Nagin and the New Orleans City Council should be ashamed.

Rob said...


I was concerned that the "Kim Ellis" (See the NYT coverage.) who was injured in the New Orlean's protest was you! Since you did not mention it, I'm hoping that you are safe and warm here in Pittsburgh.


Marilyn said...

Keep up the good work. Merry Christmas!

Dr. Goddess said...

Thank you, Anon 2:14. It's definitely heart wrenching. And it's not as though the public housing should not go. But the timing is absolutely terrible. The news reports also have not discussed the fact that people were living there and squatting because it was inhabitable. Some people had washed their places down and had created a home for themselves. They never discussed how so many persons were kicked out of the complexes before they fenced the buildings off and then ordered the demolition. Sooo many people said that Ray Nagin was a traitorous clown when he was running. He even tried to play the race card and Black folks did not accept that, for the most part. Nagin was voted in by the black and white elite powerbase in the city. Tsk.

Dr. Goddess said...

Rob, there are many with the moniker "Kim Ellis" but rest assured, I used that moment in print to play a practical joke on my friends and family. LOL. T'wasn't me, though. I was here in the Burgh.

Thanks, Mary! I appreciate you reading!

Dr. Goddess said...

I mean, Thanks Marilyn! (sorry)

Anonymous said...

You really shouldn't write about that which you know nothing. The majority of the protesters at city hall were "paid" and/or professional protesters. The projects in our city were slated for demolition *before* Katrina and there was no protest then. Your figures of available housing in the projects is wrong. Your assertion that there is nothing in place to help the poor until the new housing is built is wrong.
Anyone who advocates people being allowed to return to the hell-hole that is/was the projects in New Orleans is grossly misinformed or just plain indifferent to the plight of the poor. If you haven't been here and seen for yourself the moldy, rat-infested, antiquated buildings you're saying *people* should be allowed to live in, then STFU.

I know several people who grew up in and lived in public housing pre-K who applaud the demolition of these 21st century slave quarters.

Please, don't believe everything you see on TV. It's all sensationalized for the drama of the day.

Raise Your Hand! No Games said...


First, thanks for writing but perhaps you should be better informed, since you live in New Orleans. Who told you that the majority of these people were paid protestors? And even if some of them were, so what, really? The issue, the cause is still a just cause. In any event, to address your own faulty claims---HUD proclaims they have housing available and they mention vouchers but what they do NOT mention is that persons who were making less than $20,000 per year *cannot* afford the first and last month's rent as a downpayment, they cannot afford the utilities (which I hear have skyrocketed anyway) and so they get to appear "ungrateful" when they talk about being members of the working poor yet still too poor to pay the extra costs of living in Section 8 housing. You've also not even remotely touched upon the difference between 4500 units (which is for 4500 families, not individuals) and the replacement 750 units. Why?

By the way, I just so happened to have been in New Orleans the March before Katrina and was there this past August. I saw much of the public housing but obviously did not go apartment shopping. Yes, I do understand that housing reform needed to happen and that demolition was scheduled before Katrina. But, you know what? A natural disaster and government negligence CHANGES THINGS. I really cannot believe you people. You decide to do your snazzy renovations and kick people out of FEMA trailers during a time when housing is *most* needed? It's amazing. So, no, I am not praising the public housing but human beings *did* live there and when you compare living under a bridge or being homeless for years or having to live in even worse conditions away from the city you grew up in, the persons upon whom you depended, etc., then yes, the projects look like mansions.

To be humane, they could have done 1:1 replacement and tore buildings down alongside development. But no, that would be too much like right.

I've been studying displacement for a while now and it's clear that it doesn't matter if it's due to racial violence or a natural disaster, there will always be those more than happy to keep the poorest of the poor and the blackest of the black off of any land they called home---and I am including any greedy persons of any ethnicity.

By the way, when Congresswoman Maxine Waters visited some of the public housing, she saw that the buildings and many of the apartments were in fine condition.

Ask a starving man whether or not a Ritz cracker is but a cracker or a feast.