Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Well, the kind of stuff this man talked about some weeks ago has come back to bite the city:
"Information is power," Cerasoli said. The more he gets, the better he can do his job. He has had to educate himself plenty fast, as this is a place that has endured many, many forms of corruption amongst the people who are charged with running this city. This is probably the largest city in the United States without a city auditor.
This came to mind when I saw this little item on Fox News last night (and I know the link is from a different Louisiana news station, courtesy of Greg. I haven't yet been able to find a link to the story on a New Orleans channel's news site...probably due to embarrassment at how absolutely stupid this city has been.). Even if this was only a temporary situation, it was enough to stop one check to the police and fire departments, who are stretched to their limits as it is. Missing something as basic as a financial audit deadline should not be beyond a city such as this, but there you have it.

Folks in this city have been wrapping their brains around good thoughts on the public housing debates. It's almost too much to have us all tripped up on a deadline that helps keep this city going financially, but that is also life in post- 8/29 New Orleans. If it ain't one thing, it's another.

Sometimes I feel as though the window I have onto the doings of this city and the New Orleans bloggers' signposts to facts and opinions about it all is gonna contribute to some form of self-implosion. There are well over one hundred of us and counting trolling through this stuff most every day. Some of us little elves are getting our political mojo on and running for some local offices. Some representatives of city councilmembers are accessing the blogger listserve and forwarding us some info they think we should be privy to, like the plans for the redevelopment of the Lafitte projects (some visuals at People Get Ready) and a letter from Alphonso Jackson detailing the steps that would be taken if the city blocked the demolition of Lafitte. Some points made in the email from Shelley Midura's communications director:
  • Lafitte is a 1:1 replacement of subsidized housing units. It will be a mix of ACC and project based voucher housing subsidies, totaling 900 subsidized units out of 1500 total. 276 units will be funded through ACC subsidies and 624 units will be funded through project based vouchers. There were 865 subsidized units at Lafitte prior to Katrina. The primary difference between the two subsidies is that ACC subsidies also fully subsidize the cost of utilities. Those units being funded through project based vouchers will also receive a partial subsidy for utilities. For a 3 bedroom unit, that utility subsidy is approximately $215 per month. 94 units are scheduled to be available in January as part of the phased development and phased demolition plan for Lafitte, with another 100 units that will immediately be made available if those 94 fill up. The first new Lafitte units are scheduled to come online in one year.
  • All former residents of public housing are eligible for vouchers as an interim plan until their redeveloped units are ready. As far as I know, virtually all former residents are already receiving these vouchers. I know that with Lafitte, every former resident will have the right to return to the redeveloped Lafitte. As far as I know, these residents are not currently residing in Duncan Plaza or under the Claiborne overpass.
  • Alphonso Jackson wrote in his letter to the city that if the City Council voted against demolition of Lafitte, then vouchers former Lafitte residents would be terminated at the end of this month. Families would lose their housing assistance.
  • The Council’s power is basically limited to the issue of permits. Some protesters have called for the rehabilitation of existing units versus redevelopment. HUD has made it clear they will not fund rehabilitation, claiming it to be more expensive than redevelopment. While this contention may be controversial, what is clear is that they will not provide funding for rehabilitation. There is no other source of funding that we know of. Thus if the Council voted against granting these permits, the “Big 4” developments would likely remain vacant and uninhabited for years, until the next Presidential administration takes office and begins the process all over again, which would likely take another 2 years before deals and financing could be put into place, with construction another 1-2 years away after that. This assumes a new administration that takes a different policy position than the current one. Thus, it would likely be 5 years before new units could come online with a big assumption attached if we do not act now. The Council does not have the power to reopen public housing. The only choice the Council has is whether to allow redevelopment or not. It is unclear what alternative plan exists to bring public housing back online. The only one we know of is the current redevelopment plan. The vote on Thursday is whether or not to allow that plan to proceed.
  • The tax credits that make the financing work for redevelopment are in danger of being withdrawn by the Louisiana Housing Finance Authority if the redevelopment projects are not in motion before their next meeting, on January 9, 2008. Without these tax credits, the redevelopment deals would almost surely fall apart and the process would have to start over, under less favorable circumstances.

Councilmember Midura and her office support the vision of the Lafitte redevelopment, but recognize and respect the concern of public housing protesters. She wants everyone back who was displaced by the storm. However, she also believes there is an opportunity to reform public housing as we reopen it. She disagrees that the larger issue is demolition. The larger issue is redevelopment and whether we believe the old public housing system was broken or not. Councilmember Midura is committed to bringing people back while pushing for improved housing conditions and an environment that is geared towards lifting citizens out of poverty. She continues to support Senator Landrieu’s bill, S1668, which authorizes hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for new construction and a replacement plan for public housing. This legislation is unfortunately being blocked by Senator Vitter. We urge supporters to ask Senator Vitter to support S1668 and allow it to move to the floor for a vote.

One question: where are the contractual obligations for Lafitte's redevelopment?

Okay, a few more questions: where are contractual obligations for redevelopment of B.W. Cooper and C.J. Peete? The government has shown that it cannot run public housing; does it not want to show that it can't get a good contract signed with a private company? 'Cause we all know that would be embarrassing.

Also: "whether we believe the old public housing system was broken or not"???? Who are we kidding? Yes, it was broken, and it's going to take much, much more than architectural drawings and promises of 1 to 1 replacement to fix it. This is much bigger than physical buildings. This is about the living, breathing lifeblood of the city: the people who help keep it running in a myriad of ways and who want to dream big and have greater opportunities to realize their dreams. Housing in neighborhoods, not compounds, is a good start. Schooling is a good continuation. Keep it going with the hospitals. Start attracting some good businesses to spur more economic development (stuff beyond the usual retail, fast food chains, and hospitality industry mainstays) and we've got ourselves in a true world-class bracket.

We just want to see some particulars. This is our city, too. To not provide this kind of stuff to the public in this age of information say the least...embarrassing.

Last thing we need.

Update, 10:27 AM: I wish I'd seen the part of the Charlie Rose interview with Brad Pitt that Schroeder saw. Unfortunately, I dropped in on it at the point where Rose was asking Pitt some pointed questions about how the writer's strike has affected his most recent acting jobs. Schroeder does make a point of talking about the Midura email as well, especially in light of this morning's story in the T-P.(check the Sharon Jasper link in the quote for more) :
To help solve this problem, just for starters, I recommend that Alphonso Jackson be removed from any further authority over New Orleans public housing issues, if not outright fired. He’s no longer a credible authority. No matter what he could say or promise at this point, no one will trust him.
...On the other hand, few people would trust the views of Sharon Jasper who seems to be arguing for why she should be allowed to return to the St. Bernard development because she can’t afford the deposit and utility bills in in her Section 8 property. She could probably make a down payment on a modest house with that 60 inch television in her living room.
Now that’s brazen disregard for how many of us who pay her rent with our taxes settle for a fifteen-year-old television and struggle at the same time to pay our own rent while trying to get back into a home. I have no doubt that Times-Picayune photographer Ted Jackson intended to get that television in the frame. Writer Coleman Warner should have asked Ms. Jasper about the television. Maybe she can’t work — that’s one thing — but we don’t expect to see lavish luxury on the public dole.
Part of getting these people in bona-fide homes and back on their feet is in showing them the way the world works. It's another way in which the management of the projects has failed the folks they were supposed to help, and it is also why there needs to be much more than just a 1 to 1 commitment to replace housing units. It's not strictly the units, it's the people. It's social services. It's the all-around picture, and we're stuck in a tiny corner of its pixels.

Anudder update, 3:16 PM: Dangerblond outlines why Ms Jasper's TV is a potential shonda fir da demolition protestors: Nothing gets white people riled up like the sight of poor black people in possession of expensive consumer goods....If they are poor, then dammit, they need to act like it!

Yet another way in which we are all stuck in a teensy corner of the big picture. And it's sad, because the TV controversy does say a great deal about our issues of class in general, and about media spin. God help us all.


K2.0 said...

Hey, I didn't know there's a blogger listserv! How do I get on that? No wonder I feel so out of it!

Leigh C. said...

I signed up at this link. Since I'm still kinda technologically doofused, you'll have to copy & paste the link to your browser:

And you're not out of it. It's just a big ol' world out there...

K2.0 said...

Kewl! Thanks Leigh.

tel said...

Alphonso Jackson just might be getting railroaded, like many a black man who trys to affect positive change. HUD went from last in women and minority contracting to first under Jackson.Many Cabinet Secretaries(Rumsfeld,Paulson, etc.) and VP Cheney have pursuant agreements with former companies during their current government service. As far as the minority construction guy from Hilton Head, Hairston, he did his job, opening almost 2000 public housing units in 18 months. Of course, he was paid much less than HUD usually pays white contractors.Do some research folks.

Adrastos said...

Careful what you wish for Kirsten.

WWL did the audit story last night.

Schroeder said...

Cerasoli said his staff could do the audits for about 30 percent less than the city is now paying private auditors. I bet he could get them done on time as well.

I suspect that the same problems will be replicated in public housing projects -- whether bulldozed or rebuilt -- if the unresponsive, non-transparent bureaucracy that is HUD isn't fixed first. Maybe the whole model is broken. The whole thing needs to be re-evaluated.