Never been to a protest before. I missed the last big one in these parts. I was asked by a fellow blogger (more from said fellow blogger here about today's events)if the one for public housing this morning constituted a good turnout. All I could say was that, considering that a good deal of time and planning went into the march against crime in January, this is probably not bad.
Though there were calls to have the meeting in the City Council chambers, everybody was moved up to the eighth floor of City Hall for the HCDRC meeting, in room 8E-10, a place designated for "Homeland Security" meeting use. They couldn't fit everybody in. Somehow, eventually, everyone managed. Suggestions were made, after the conclusion of the old business items on the agenda, to move the meeting to a Civil District courtroom in another building. Hell, no, nobody was gonna go. I hauled my out-of-shape carcass up eight flights of stairs, as did many others. Everybody stayed put.
It occurred to me, after the old business was over and done with, that there was a true trifecta of property judgments today's meeting dealt with that the public housing demolition protesters, to their eternal credit, recognized. Schooling, medical care, and housing are indeed basic human rights. The voting on Johnson Lockett School and on the Lindy Boggs Hospital was for deferral of the decision to demolish those buildings. What remained was the last-ditch fight for Lafitte, C.J. Peete, and B.W. Cooper.
Testifying from public housing residents started off the tussle. There were calls for HUD secretary Alphonse Jackson to be investigated under charges of corruption, calls for HANO's management practices to be fully investigated, things that were not going to be voted upon by the committee, but that they doubtless needed to know about to help in voting on the demolitions. Folks from the PRC and other preservation activists said their piece as well, and then Bill Quigley did his thing, driving home the fact that there are no real signed contracts between the Providence Community Housing/Enterprise Foundation joint developers and the city. There is no written commitment to redeveloping the public housing sites, there is only the commitment to knock 'em down. And, as an activist pointed out, there are the tenant leases. Don't the folks who once lived in the public housing properties up for voting have a say?
And, as another fellow pointed out, HUD is technically in violation of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, since one of the housing developments is a designated landmark and the others are eligible for landmark status.
After a five minute recess, the meeting reconvened, with representatives from Providence and Enterprise coming in with their maps and their plans for redevelopment that they had no contractual obligation to do. Una Anderson came in to say her piece...for what, I really couldn't tell you (Seriously. If someone who was in the front row could give me the gist of it, let me know...Oh! According to Sarah Elise Lewis: "Una is the director of NONDC, which is redeveloping C.J. Peete." Thanks! ). On the one hand, mad as hell activists were trying to do some shouting down of the things the developers were saying - it started with indignation over the low-income housing tax credits these companies were gonna get and escalated from there, with cries of "Lies!" and "Corruption!" with every declaration from the developers that they had met with residents all through the process leading up to this day. On the other hand, the folks looking for a ruling favoring demolition were speaking so softly that not many people could hear unless they were in the front row - there was no PA system set up and none was coming. None of it, from any and all sides, seemed fair.
The talk was over. The committee took its votes.
Lafitte: 3-3 vote. Demolition not approved.
C.J. Peete: 4-2 vote. Demolition approved.
B.W. Cooper: 4-2 vote. Demolition approved.
"Gee, what's next?" I was asked. "Anybody gonna sue?"
It's gonna take a small army. Or much, much more.