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C.J. Peete Public Housing Residents Reclaim Homes
by Common Ground Media Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007 at 9:55 AM

Public housing residents move back into their homes challenging HANO/HUD's plans to demolish the units.

C.J. Peete Public Ho...
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On Saturday, February 10, six residents of the C.J. Peete Public Housing Complex reclaimed their apartments against the will of the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO). In a scene more fitting for a block party than a protest, tenants danced, laughed and chatted with their old neighbors, while children played and sang. Residents sang “I don’t know what you been told, but these projects are livable!”and boogied on their ballon and ribbon decorated porch to the Hot 8 brass band.

“I’m home,” declared Dianne Allen, one of the residents moving back in, “I’m home at last.” Allen has lived at C.J. Peete since she was a baby, raised 3 daughters and 2 grandchildren there and beamed with pleasure as she swept her steps. When asked about HANO’s plans to demolish, Allen pointed out that no public housing residents have been legally evicted yet. “When I left for the hurricane my rent was paid” she said, “I still had a lease, and today I still have a lease…a valid lease.”

Having been barred from their homes for over 17 months, the Peete residents decided to return to their apartments in the face of possible arrest, the threat of terminated housing assistance, and HANO’s plans to demolish the complex. “Since they don’t want to do nothing to fix up the units, we’re going to fix them up ourselves” said Allen ‘Lenny’ Harris, resident of C.J. Peete for 52 years. The tenants have generators and supplies to keep them going and plan to clean out dozens more apartments.

Housing officials argue that the apartments are too badly damaged to repair. Residents and housing advocates scoff at that idea. Harris, whose apartment only needs a lick of paint, says “The flood never got into the buildings. It got to the top steps and didn’t go no further.” Residents complain that most of the damage in the buildings is from vandalism and from HANO’s neglect. HANO failed to secure the buildings after Katrina and wind, rain and vandals have taken a toll. John Fernanadez, Associate Professor of Architecture at MIT, did an inspection of the 4 public housing complexes slated for demolition and said that “no structural or nonstructural damage was found that could reasonably warrant any cost-effective building demolition…” and that the units could easily be brought to “safe and livable conditions with minimal investment.”

HANO and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are advocating for demolishing and then redeveloping the complexes as ‘mixed income’ neighborhoods. They insist that redevelopment would improve tenants' lives by dedensifying poverty.
"People deserve better than this," said Jereon "Jerry" Brown, a Washington-based spokesman for the HUD, "If they could just be patient. A mixed-income neighborhood can better attract businesses and better schools. It's all tied together”
However, many public housing residents grimace at the mention of ‘mixed income’ neighborhoods. In New Orleans, River Gardens replaced the St. Thomas Public Housing Complex in 2002, and is one of the new ‘mixed income’ public housing developments that HANO is promoting. Only a small portion (25%) of River Gardens is subsidized while the vast majority (75%) is rented at market rate. Mixed income also has shown to mean a wholesale reduction in the number of units available to renters. The St. Thomas development housed over 800 families before it was demolished. When the River Gardens was rebuilt in its place only 70 of those 800 families were able to return.
Critics of ‘mixed income’ developments argue that dedensifying poverty is shorthand for making poverty less visible (and therefore more easily ignored) and not for actually improving conditions.
Housing is a sensitive issue in New Orleans. Katrina damaged 80% of the homes in New Orleans, pushing rents up by 70-300%. Finding affordable housing has been a real challenge for evacuees wanting to come home. HUD and HANO’s decision to close off and demolish 5000 units of public housing has been met with outrage and condemnation from many.
Gov Blanco recently called on HUD to reopen the projects to help ease the housing crunch and allow displaced New Orleanians to come home. “People are clamoring to get home.” Blanco said.
Congressman Jefferson (D-LA) blasted HANO at a public meeting calling on the agency to “Stop making excuses. It’s time to get people back home and back in their houses.”
Residents at C.J. Peete are joyous to finally be home and determined to not be turned out again. "We are here to stay," said Bobbie Jennings, "I don't care what they say. We are here till hell freezes over, till they open these units."

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Dianne Allen sweeps the steps of the apartment she is reclaiming over HANO's opposition
by Common Ground Media Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007 at 9:55 AM

Dianne Allen sweeps ...
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Showing the water line from Katrrina
by Common Ground Media Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007 at 9:55 AM

Showing the water li...
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Residents dancing
by Common Ground Media Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007 at 9:55 AM

Residents dancing...
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Residents exhulting in their return home
by Common Ground Media Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007 at 9:55 AM

Residents exhulting ...
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Children play under a protest sign
by Common Ground Media Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007 at 9:55 AM

Children play under ...
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Listen to Dianne Allen, one of the residents moving back in, tell her story
by Common Ground Media Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007 at 9:55 AM

audio: windows media at 746.2 kibibytesaudio: windows media at 746.2 kibibytes

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Lenny, a resident that is moving back in, gives his take on the situation
by Common Ground Media Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007 at 9:55 AM

audio: windows media at 2.4 mebibytesaudio: windows media at 2.4 mebibytes

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Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 1 posted about this article.
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great audio, butWMA hard format to use WSQT Guerrilla Radio 87.9 in DC Monday, Feb. 26, 2007 at 10:58 AM

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