Nagin’s Committee Sells Out New Orleans!

New Orleans       After celebrating the ACORN Clean-out and Demonstration Project’s 200th house with Mrs. Wilson on Arts Street, the Executive Board continued meeting over lunch as usual at the Praline Connection on Frenchmen Street several blocks from the office.  While waiting for lunch and reflecting on the state of their business and the city, Mayor Ray Nagin walked in with his police driver and bodyguard for lunch.

He came by shook hands, posed for pictures, and joked about not wanting to find his picture on our website as endorsing our entire program.

I asked him two questions point blank.

First, I said I had just hung up from a call informing me that there was a rumor that the long awaited new FEMA flood maps were coming out on Monday and that he had already endorsed them.

Mayor Nagin said seriously that they were close to new maps two weeks before the storm, and they expected something in some weeks and more likely months, which would be better — in his view — than the old maps, but this was a long process and nothing was happening Monday, and in fact it might take a year to go through the process.

Second, I asked him would we have a chance when his Committee reported at mid-week. 

On this one the Mayor leaned forward and said, “Wade, you are going to like what you see here.”  I took this to mean that we would get a full year, maybe more, to prove that we could save the neighborhoods.

On Saturday that looked like the least we could hope for from this whitewash outfit.  From Sunday through Tuesday, the Times-Picayune harangued with its favorite unaccountable spokes-sources about “making hard decisions,” they quoted Barbara Howard, the wildly indifferent and elitist head of what passes for the “goo-goos” here — the governmental reformistas, saying that giving people time was “no plan at all,” and generally bullied on about the need for a new “footprint.”  Today’s paper said a sub-committee of the overall group was going to say people would have 4 months to prove that a “substantial” part of the population in a neighborhood would come back.  There was no definition of how to count that number, but it seemed to be 50% to these destroy New Orleans advocates.

That was the stick.  The carrot was that if you were redlined out of residence, you might get 60% of your equity from the still not passed Baker bill in Congress and that the other 40% might come from some kind of local creation.  The funding would come from CDBG money, which is controlled by the Governor and not the city.  Furthermore, the money would be contingent on your proving that you were going to come back to New Orleans, but that proof was also unclear, because you would not have a house anymore and might not be able to afford one either.

There will be a firestorm here. 

If Nagin endorses this proposal, it means he either is not running for re-election on April 29th (the proposed date now) or that he is conceding defeat early.

I can not imagine a politician who wants to be elected in the city endorsing this proposal.  It’s undemocratic.  It’s unrealistic.  It is narrow-minded and racist.  You name the problems, they will sink these recommendations.

What a mess! 

Get your marching shoes on and call a lawyer while you’re stepping, because this is going to be a fight to the finish!

January 11, 2006

Tamecka Pearce and Maude Hurd, President of ACORN, with Mayor Ray Nagin

The 200th House

New Orleans    The ACORN Executive Board meets in New Orleans every January and was adamant that they were going to be meeting in the city this year to re-open the office and try to snub their nose at Katrina. The office looked good physically. The construction and rehab on the building had come in well and on-time. The 1st floor had a semblance of order after its fashion. The 2nd floor was still a work in progress. The Board walked out in the sunshine over what was a backyard during their last visit and now was a cleared construction site for what would eventually become their new headquarters over the next year.

The progress they saw in our building was not matched by the depression they felt as they drove through the neighborhoods. This is becoming a familiar reaction from visitors. Four months and counting, they are surprised at how bad it all is and how little has been done.

Maude Hurd, ACORN’s national president, was the first out of the truck to greet Beulah Laboistrie, Louisiana ACORN’s venerable leader from New Orleans, as people gathered around with Mrs. Ord, the ACORN member whose house would be the 200th property cleaned out over since mid-December in the ACORN Clean-out and Demonstration project. Our crew of Latina, Vietnamese, and African-American workers was sheathed in their tyvek suits with breathing respirators. We have several crews working daily now, so this was old hat. Students from Sarah Lawrence College with their professors, led by Dean Hubbard, were part of the mix — they had been helping on other houses over their winter break. Other students from Cornell were working with another crew elsewhere in the upper 9th ward, while the Board was here.

There are perhaps 100,000 houses in this condition. ACORN has been focusing on four of the hardest hit and endangered areas, the 9th Ward, Gentilly, New Orleans East, and Hollygrove-Upper Carrollton. ACORN is trying to do up to 2000 houses and cluster them wherever possible to first save the house, and then set the table for rebuilding in these areas.

Every day there is a line of people now at the office begging for the help.

It’s a bet we are making for the future, but we’re trying to lower some very long odds.

January 8, 2006

ACORN Volunteers gutting a home as part of ACORN’s Home Clean-out Demonstration Project