original link

Pushing the poor out of New Orleans

By Nicole Colson | November 18, 2005 | Page 11

DAN CIVELLO’S job has changed these days. For the past several weeks, beginning at 6 a.m. each day, the Metarie, La., constable has traveled door to door in Jefferson Parish’s 5th District--posting hundreds of eviction notices on vacant, flood-damaged apartments and homes.

Following Hurricane Katrina, an executive order from Gov. Kathleen Blanco temporarily halted all evictions in affected areas for 59 days. But as soon as the order expired on October 25, developers and landlords declared an open season on residents--and began evicting thousands of people who were forced to evacuate the state, and who have been unable to return, as well as many of those left behind.

As of November 5, Civello told the Baton Rouge Advocate that he had served some 1,500 eviction notices in his district, which stretches from the Mississippi River to Lake Ponchartrain.

In nearly every parish, hundreds--and often thousands--of eviction proceedings have already been filed as Socialist Worker went to press. Most tenants may never get their day in court--because they are supposed to appear at a hearing five days after a landlord files for eviction proceedings. If the judge rules in favor of the landlord, the landlord may remove the tenant's belongings 24 hours later--and if a tenant fails to show up, as most will in the coming days and weeks, the court will usually automatically find in favor of the landlord.

“I just hope the people who are still out of town hear about this so they can come back and get their” belongings, Charles Wilson, a constable in Jefferson Parish’s 8th Justice Court, told the Times-Picayune. “I think some people were under the impression that none of this would happen until December.”

As First City Court Constable Lambert Boisserie told the Advocate, “There are some landlords that are trying to take advantage of market rates, and finding any excuse to do so.” Boissiere recommended that tenants should dispute eviction orders for rents charged for September--when residents were not even allowed into the city--by going to the Algiers courthouse and having the justice of the peace rule on it.

But that’s next to impossible for many of the poor and working class residents who were forced to flee.

As Loyola University Law School Professor Bill Quigley commented in a recent article, “Fully armed National Guard troops refuse to allow over 10,000 people to even physically visit their property in the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood. Despite the fact that people cannot come back, tens of thousands of people face eviction from their homes. A local judge told me that their court expects to process a thousand evictions a day for weeks.”

Landlords and developers are showing little sympathy for flood victims who lost everything in the storm--and were, in some cases, forced to flee for their lives.

Tammy Esponge, executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater New Orleans, tried to downplay the number of evictions--even while blaming the victims. “There will be thousands of evictions in the technical sense, but we’re not displacing people,” she told the Times-Picayune. “In most cases, they aren’t here and haven’t even tried to call their landlord.”

Bill Rogers, who owns 33 apartments in East Jefferson, claims that displaced tenants have taken advantage of him. “There are some people who just refuse to pay you,” he said as he filed eviction papers on October 26--the day after Blanco’s order expired. “They’ve gotten all this money from the federal government, but they don’t think they should have to pay you. It’s like they’re coming back from a FEMA vacation.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

EVACUEES SAY the idea that they have been living the “high life” off FEMA money is ridiculous. They are not only expected to pay rent on their former homes in Louisiana, but on their current residences as well.

And many have received next to nothing in assistance from the federal government. According to a recent report by the Texas Apartment Association, FEMA failed to pay rent for an estimated 49,000 evacuees living in Texas--and as many as 15,000 evacuees across the state could face evictions in November because FEMA either hasn’t come through with the rent, or evacuees were forced to spend some of the money on other necessities.

Thousands of evacuees are still waiting for money from the federal government promised to people whose homes are now uninhabitable. But before the money is issued, FEMA has to inspect each home and determine whether it is covered by an insurance policy. At the end of October, 1,423 inspectors in Louisiana had completed 362,308 inspections--but they still had 446,168 left to go.

Michael Levy, a New Orleans resident who relocated to Austin, Texas, told the Dallas Morning News that while the rent on his apartment will be covered for another six months, the food stamps he’s been receiving are scheduled to end at the end of this month--and a free bus pass he received when he came to Texas just expired.

Levy’s savings have run out, and he now is forced to go without his blood pressure and diabetes medicine. He had been taking the bus each day to look for a job, but now the pass has run out. “I’m just trying,” said Levy. “I’m trying so hard, I get headaches.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE RUSH to evict New Orleans residents has to do with the drive by wealthy landowners, developers and politicians to rebuild New Orleans--minus the city’s poor and Black residents.

As Bill Quigley wrote, even before the governor’s order expired on October 25, some renters were returning “to find furniture on the street and strangers living in their apartments at higher rents...Rents in the dry areas have doubled and tripled.”

Because of that, say Quigley and other housing activists, some landlords have been attempting to use the courts--located some 60 miles away from New Orleans following Katrina--to evict poor residents who remain in the city and have few means to get to court to defend themselves. Quigley recently won a court order barring landlords from evicting New Orleans residents unless they do so in a New Orleans court, but whether the order will stand is unknown.

As author and activist Mike Davis pointed out in Mother Jones, “Secretary of Housing Alfonso Jackson, meanwhile, seems to be working to fulfill his notorious prediction that New Orleans is ‘not going to be as Black as it was for a long time, if ever again.’ Public-housing and Section 8 residents recently protested that ‘the agencies in charge of these housing complexes [including HUD] are using allegations of storm damage to these complexes as a pretext for expelling working-class African-Americans, in a very blatant attempt to co-opt our homes and sell them to developers to build high-priced housing.’”

Additionally, city officials are now threatening to close one of the only soup kitchens in New Orleans serving impoverished residents.

The “Welcome Home Kitchen,” operated by the Rainbow Family of Living Light--a coalition of groups that has helped with relief efforts throughout the Gulf Coast--has served three meals a day for more than a month to more than 700 people each day. The kitchen also acts as a makeshift medical facility and distribution center for clothing and other supplies.

But last week, without explanation, Cynthia Lear, the deputy chief administrative officer of the New Orleans Emergency Operations Center, declared that the city would shut the kitchen down--because the Rainbow Family apparently didn’t file an application to act as a food service center.

When Tristin Adie, a member of the International Socialist Organization, called the Operations Center to protest the closure and ask where the people who had been relying on the kitchen were supposed to go, a city official said that they could go to “the Red Cross or something.” “When I said they must have been going to the Rainbow Kitchen, and not the Red Cross, for a reason, she said, ‘Well, that’s what we call freedom of choice,’” said Adie.

Meanwhile, FEMA has a huge, professional facility just half a mile away from the Welcome Home Kitchen--but it is reserved for FEMA contractors only. Large signs posted outside say, “No public services available.”

As if driving out poor residents by depriving them of essential services wasn’t bad enough, the San Francisco Bay View newspaper recently reported that New Orleans’ officials are also considering use of a law known as “usufruct”--which would allow the government to snatch private property (particularly that of poor and working class residents) for new developments.

And, as Mike Davis wrote, “Minority homeowners also face relentless pressures not to return. Insurance compensation, for example, is typically too small to allow homeowners in the eastern wards of New Orleans to rebuild if and when authorities reopen their neighborhoods.”

Black middle class residents face the same discrimination, Davis says--the federal Small Business Administration has so far given out only a few million dollars to thousands of small business owners and homeowners facing foreclosure and bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, some Louisiana politicians are gloating--publicly--that Katrina “finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans” and forced “poor people and criminals out of the city.” As Davis wrote, “Tens of thousands of blue-collar white, Asian and Latino residents of afflicted Gulf communities also face de facto expulsion from the region, but only the removal of African Americans is actually being advocated as policy.”

To protest the closure of the Welcome Home Kitchen, call Cynthia Lear, the deputy chief administrative officer of the New Orleans Emergency Operations Center, at 504-658-2180, or the office of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin at 504-658-4924.