NESRI Media Center

Public Housing Crisis of the Gulf Coast

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Publication Date: 
June 18, 2008

There are some things in life, in my opinion, that shouldn't even be thought about twice. Like breathing, for example, we don’t think about it, it just happens naturally. Speaking of things coming naturally, it seems it would only be natural for people to be taken care of by their government after such catastrophic disasters as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I never realized how terrible of a situation survivors are really in until I began my internship here at NESRI. But how could I? I must say the national media has done a superb job of keeping the crisis facing hurricane survivors (both those who are still displaced and those who have returned to the Gulf Coast) under wraps. After all, news of Paris Hilton and other celebrities is far more exciting than the devastation facing our fellow Americans, including the doubling of New Orleans' homeless population since the storms.

The housing crisis affecting New Orleans (and the greater Gulf Coast region) just doesn't make any sense to me. In fact, the entire mistreatment of New Orleans residents at the hands of their government is completely ridiculous. You see, it’s quite simple actually: pre-Katrina, New Orleans had a significant poor, African-American population. By demolishing the four major public housing developments in which a large majority of those residents resided and making the replacement mixed-income housing extraordinarily expensive and out of reach for the majority of the former tenants, the government, in partnership with private sector forces, has made it near impossible for countless hurricane survivors to return home. I never would have thought people would be treated like this, at least not in the United States! Where everyone is always treated equally in the eyes of God! I mean come on, this is supposed to be the greatest country in the world; land of the free and home of the brave, right? But I guess not for poor people – they seem to have no rights, are not recognized by their government, and quite frankly, appear to be invisible to everyone else.

Over the last few days, I've been blessed to be able to speak with several survivors and find out how they really feel. It's heartbreaking to hear their stories, and for a lot of them that’s all they need – someone to listen to them. One of the survivors I spoke with, a single mother, expressed to me that every month she's forced with the decision of feeding her children or paying sky-high rent for a small apartment with a leaky roof and a broken smoke detector. Can you say safety hazard? No one should be forced to live that way. There are many others with similar stories that are just being "kicked to the curb" so to speak and "left for dead." So what happens to these families that are being forced out of their homes (by the way, forced evictions are illegal, but no one seems to care about that)? In President Franklin Roosevelt's 1941 4 Freedoms Speech, he mentions there are "the simple and basic things [in life] that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world." It seems to me that many of the issues President Roosevelt believed were 'givens' for all Americans, are being denied to the survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The third freedom – Freedom from Want – simply means "economic understandings which will secure to every nation [but in this case, every survivor of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita] a healthy peace time life for its inhabitants…" If Freedom from Want was being exercised properly, hurricane survivors would not be committing suicide because they want work but can’t find a job anywhere, they would not have to worry about wanting affordable and better health insurance, and they wouldn't want to return home – because they would already be there.

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