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New Yorkers Plan to Block Bulldozers in New Orleans

December 14, 2007

New York - Some New Yorkers will be recognizing Human Rights Week in a very physical way as they try to block bulldozers from tearing down public housing in New Orleans.

Loyola Law professor Bill Quigley knows something about civil rights. He was arrested Thursday, charged with disturbing the peace at a non-violent protest against the demolition held at the New Orleans City Council. His client, a New Orleans grandmother, was trying to stop the demolitions. Quigley says with 12,000 Katrina survivors still homeless, it makes no sense for HUD to spend more than $700 million to tear down structurally sound housing for thousands of families.

"For the federal government to come in now and destroy 4,000 apartments, as part of some long range plan to transform the landscape of New Orleans, is just totally unjust and inappropriate."

The planned demolition is galvanizing support for the residents and bringing simmering tensions to the surface. Sam Jackson has been living in a public housing project for 27 years. He says the demolitions are part of a bigger plan to change the makeup of the city's population.

"It's prejudiced because the majority of the folks in public housing are African-American. I figure the city believes, 'We don't need you no more.'"

The Gulf Coast Recovery Act now in Congress would do a lot to put things right in New Orleans, according to Quigley. In the meantime, he says tearing down workable housing with so many people homeless sends the wrong message.

HUD had planned to replace the buildings with mixed-income neighborhoods prior to Katrina, as part of a national effort to break up so-called pockets of poverty, and the agency now says environmental conditions after Katrina make the housing projects unrepairable. Quigley says when you have 50,000 families crammed into FEMA Trailers, demolition no longer makes sense.

Michael Clifford/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - NY