New Orleans Poor Blacks Charge Racism Over Housing

Peter Henderson, Reuters, June 27, 2006

New Orleans—Poor blacks in New Orleans sued on Tuesday to stop the government from replacing public housing units with mixed-income dwellings, calling it a discriminatory move that would bar them from coming home after Hurricane Katrina.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) plans to raze more than half of the low-income housing units it oversees in the city and replace them over the next few years with units the agency says will be better and safer.

“HUD plans to keep low-income black families out of New Orleans,” said Judith Browne, co-director of the Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization that filed the suit along with black families.

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The majority of New Orleans residents were black before the August 29 storm, and public housing residents were overwhelmingly black, but a higher percentage of generally better-off whites have returned.

Nearly 10 months after Katrina devastated the city, only about 20 percent of the more than 5,000 families housed in public dwellings before the hurricane have come back to city units, with another fifth promised space that are set to open up over the summer.

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The suit, filed in federal district court in New Orleans, says discrimination is the reason.

“As a direct and proximate result of defendants’ discriminatory policies and practices, plaintiffs have suffered, and in the future will continue to suffer, economic loss, humiliation, embarrassment, and emotional distress,” it said.

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A number of city and federal officials have said that New Orleans wants hard-working people to return, which has been widely taken by public housing residents as an implication that they are jobless, lazy and their developments foster crime.

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