Sunday, December 30, 2007

Trouble At 'Mill: New Orleans

Tasers, Pepper Spray, and Arrests

The Struggle for Affordable Housing in New Orleans

In a remarkable symbol of the injustices of post-Katrina reconstruction, hundreds of people were locked out of a public New Orleans City Council meeting addressing demolition of 4,500 public housing apartments. Some were tasered, many pepper sprayed, and a dozen arrested. Outside the chambers, iron gates were chained and padlocked even before the scheduled start.

The scene looked like one of those countries on TV that is undergoing a people's revolution -- and the similarities were only beginning.

Dozens of uniformed police secured the gates and other entrances. Only developers and those with special permission from council members were allowed in -- the rest were kept locked outside the gates. Despite dozens of open seats in the council chambers, pleas to be allowed in were ignored.

Chants of "Housing is a human right!" and "Let us in!" thundered through the concrete breezeway.

Public housing residents came and spoke out despite an intense campaign of intimidation. Residents were warned by phone that if they publicly opposed the demolitions, they would lose all housing assistance. Residents opposed to the demolition had simple demands. If the authorities insisted on spending hundreds of millions to tear down hundreds of structurally sound buildings containing 4,500 public housing subsidized apartments, there should be a guarantee that every resident could return to a similarly subsidized apartment. Alternatively, the government should use the hundreds of millions to repair the apartments so people could come home. Neither alternative was acceptable to HUD. A plan of residents to partner with the AFL-CIO Housing Trust to save their homes was also ignored.

Outside, SWAT team members and police in riot gear and on horses began to arrive as rain started falling. more

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