david vitter, public housing & crime
by mike howells
Sunday, Oct. 21, 2007 at 7:24 PM
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In a recent opt-ed piece for the Times-Picayune U.S. Senator David Vitter justified his arguement against the Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act , in part, by asserting that it fuels violent crime. This article examines official statistics regarding public housing and violent crime in New Orleans to test the validity of Vitter's assertion that public housing breeds violent crime. This study reveals that the mass demolition of New Orleans public housing in the 1990s and 2000s has not helped alleviate the homicide problem in Louisiana's largest city.
David Vitter, Public Housing & Crime
By Mike Howells
Let me be crystal clear about where I’m coming from. I believe the federal government’s infliction on New Orleans of large, concentrated public housing developments destroyed our city in the past as much as the corps’ flawed levees did during Hurricane Katrins.
U.S. Senator David Vitter (R. Louisiana). (Times-Picayune, 10/6/07).
Blaming the crime problem, and virtually every other social ill, in New Orleans on public housing, as David Vitter does, is a red herring. The quote above is taken from an opt-ed piece by Vitter for the Times-Picayune that argues against the passage of the Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act now under consideration in the U.S. Senate. The senator refrains from using local murder statistics to bolster his argument that public housing is fueling, and has been fueling, violent crime in the Crescent City. He has good reason not to refer to official murder statistics to bolster his argument against local public housing. Since the closure of the four local public housing developments now targeted for demolition and the forced exile of the vast majority of the residents of these complexes to places outside of New Orleans the murder rate in the city has surged. What’s more is that the Housing Authority of New Orleans did demolish public housing en-masse in the city prior to Katrina but there is no evidence to suggest that this alleviated the homicide problem in the city. For example, in 1999, before the demolition of the old St. Thomas public housing development, one hundred and fifty eight murders occurred in Orleans Parish. However, in 2003, two years after the demolition of St. Thomas, the number of murders in the parish jumped to two hundred and seventy four. So, its safe to say that while the demolition of the St. Thomas development added to the value of private properties in the Lower Garden District it contributed nothing to help rein in the murder problem in New Orleans.
A closer examination of the murder statistics for New Orleans further discredits Vitters assertion that public housing exasperated the problem of violent crime in the city. In 1985, the residences of Orleans Parish included almost 14,000 occupied units of public housing. The population of the city was 560,000. That year 152 murders took place in the city. The last year before Hurricane Katrina, 2004, the residences of Orleans Parishes included only 5,100 occupied units of public housing. The gospel according to David Vitter leads us to expect a decline in the city’s murder problem in the wake of the mass demolition of the city’s public housing that occurred in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Facts indicate otherwise. New Orleans suffered 264 murders in 2004. That’s an increase of 112 murders in comparison to the “bad old days” of 1985. This in a city whose population had dropped to 460,000 people. Demolishing public housing is clearly no solution to the problem of violent crime facing New Orleans.
What galvanized Senator Vitter’s latest diatribe against public housing in New Orleans is a fear that proposed legislation now in the U.S. Senate, the Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act, will, if passed, effectively derail HUD’s plan to demolish five thousand units of the city’s existing public housing in the very near future. HUD has used the plan to demolish four of the city’s public housing developments in the name of mixed-income housing reform as a pretext for keeping roughly 5,000 of subsidized housing shuttered since the mandatory evacuation order of August 28, 2005 for Hurricane Katrina. The Act, Senate Bill 1668, mandates that HUD promptly reopen at least 3,000 units of public housing in storm devastated New Orleans. At present, according to the Housing Authority of New Orleans, only 1,600 local public housing units are occupied. The passage of 1668 would effectively derail HUD’s “redevelopment” plan for New Orleans public housing. It would also pave the way for the return of thousands of displaced working class, African-American Katrina Survivors to New Orleans. The voter support that Vitter has received from working class, African-Americans in past elections is miniscule.
Senator Vitter should get his facts straight before he spouts flawed justifications on behalf of his campaign to destroy the neighborhoods of Katrina Survivors allegedly in the name of making the city safer. Public housing is not a root cause of violent crime. The working class African-Americans who live in local public housing are not the root cause of violent crime. Poverty, unemployment, underemployment and racism are root causes of violence in New Orleans, post-Katrina or otherwise. These incubators of street crime flourish while the lion’s share of the city’s desperately needed public housing sit locked and empty. At the same time the closure of public housing in Louisiana’s largest city perpetuates the forced exile of thousands of working class, African-Americans. This is a crime against humanity that Vitter, HUD and Bush are committing. It is up to the people of conscience in the United States to put a stop to this crime.
Readers who want to join the struggle for housing justice in New Orleans are invited to attend the weekly meeting of C3/Hands Off Iberville 7pm every Thursday at St. Jude’s Hall (410 Basin Street).
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