UN Experts Criticize New Orleans Housing

Bradley S. Klapper, AP, February 29, 2008

GENEVA (AP)—Two human rights experts for the United Nations on Thursday criticized a plan by New Orleans authorities to raze public housing projects, saying it will force the predominantly black residents into homelessness.

They charged that demolition would harm thousands of people by denying them a place to live in a city where housing already is scarce since Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005.

The joint statement was not a U.N. finding, but only the individual views of Miloon Kothari, a special investigator on housing matters for the U.N. Human Rights Council, and Gay McDougall, a lawyer who is an expert on minority and rights issues.

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The high-density housing complexes for the poor were not heavily damaged by Katrina. But city officials argue the decades-old projects were a failure, becoming warrens of crime and entrenched poverty, and say they do not fit with the vision for a rebuilt New Orleans.

“The authorities claim that the demolition of public housing is not intentionally discriminatory,” Kothari and McDougall said, but the “predominantly African-American residents” will be denied their “internationally recognized human rights” to a home.

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The U.S. mission in Geneva said much work remains to be done to help Katrina’s victims and some criticism of the recovery effort is reasonable. But “problems in such efforts cannot be fairly described as racial discrimination or other violations of human rights,” it said.

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