The stranded: housing and environmental policies clash in a threatened neighborhood.

Author:Cohen, Ariella
Position::CHAPTER TWO: NEW ORLEANS
 
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It's 11 a.m. on a Monday and Bernice Home is sweeping the front porch. Inside, her son fixes himself a fast lunch--he's on the dock--while her granddaughter readies for a class at the local community college. "Erica," she calls. "Grab me a dustpan. We don't need anymore mess around here."

The view from Home's front porch is bleak: a weedy lot; the dark, gutted house of a dead neighbor; and beyond that, a derelict subdivision stretching as far as the eye can see. Occasionally a bird swoops in or out of a broken window. A ripped chain-link fence borders the abandoned affordable-housing development, which never reopened after Hurricane Katrina forced its operator, the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), to dose it more than six years ago.

"One day my baby granddaughter was sitting out on the porch swing, and she said, 'Why does that building have eyes? It looks like it's looking at us,'" Home, a retired school custodian, says. "I said, 'Baby, they're supposed to be windows and doors to keep little girls like you safe'"

Horne used a grant supplied by the state to rebuild her tidy ranch-style house from the ground up after Katrina. For reasons both emotional and financial, she never seriously considered not doing so. "We don't have any other place" she says quietly. "This is where I raised my children. We can't afford to go anywhere else."

Upon her return, she installed a jungle gym in the backyard and, inside, a plush sofa with plenty of room for chatting with the neighbors she expected would return. They haven't. The population of Horne's neighborhood, Desire, has dropped 68 percent since 2000, falling from 3,791 to 1,213 in 2010, U.S. Census data show. Where there were once occupied homes, weeds grow. The only commercial establishment for miles is the Money and Honey One Stop, a concrete-fronted corner store with unpredictable hours and an inventory heavy on 99-cent soda and hot potato chips.

Though New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu's recovery plan includes putting a $11 million community center and health clinic in this Upper 9th Ward neighborhood, the only city project to be completed so far is a modestly outfitted park with a small swimming pool, a few sports fields and a Kaboom playground donated to the neighborhood. On warm fall evenings, the sound of children playing football reverberates through otherwise quiet streets.

"No traffic. Nothing. It's a ghost town other than the park," a neighbor, Hardy Price, says. Price is one of four residents on his block. One of the others is his adult son, who lives across the street. The remaining two are renters who moved in next door after the property's prior owner moved to Texas following Katrina and converted his home into a Section 8 rental.

The weeds were growing high in the Upper 9th Ward long before Landrieu took office--and indeed, even before the hurricane hit. For more than a decade before that disaster, a quieter one was unfolding, one that caused residents of the nearly 100 percent black, largely low-income community to live alongside a potentially lethal legacy of federal policy decisions.

In the case of Horne's neighborhood, the decisions were spectacular failures. Her house, as well as the abandoned...

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