Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans was clearly pandering, in his speech on Monday that calls for a Divinely ordained chocolate city. He is seeking to ease the tensions he is largely responsible for creating. It was he who created the Bring New Orleans Back Commission (BNOB), composed mostly of white, well-to-do, business/corporate types who have a profound interest in reducing the numbers of African-American working class families in New Orleans.
If Nagin really wanted his “chocolate city” to be restored, he would not have appointed Joseph Canizaro to chair the BNOB.

Why? Joseph Canizaro is the real estate magnate and banker, President Bush fund raiser, who is responsible, with a lot of help from his friends, for the diaspora created by the destruction of the St. Thomas Housing Development in the late ’90’s.

Canizaro made $70 million in that event, profits earned off of the lives and backs of African-American working class families, when land he purchased near St. Thomas became a new home for a Wal Mart. Standing in the way of this development initially was the St. Thomas Housing Development.

850 African American households were displaced with the destruction of St. Thomas, in a pre-Katrina diaspora, to all points in the city, many to low-lying, flood-prone areas. St. Thomas was located in the Garden District, which did not flood. This diaspora triggered turf wars and resulted in deaths.

I had begun to contact some of the former residents of St. Thomas this past summer, and some I spoke to were still looking for adequate housing.

Hope 6 funds were used to demolish St. Thomas, as they have been used all over the country for the destruction of African American neighborhoods in American cities. “MIxed income housing” has been created within the void, and yes it sounds good on paper.

Hope 6, and mixed income housing communities always result in a drastically reduced numbers of available housing for low-income, often minority, workers and their families.

Homelessness is a rising problem in our country, and HUD policies of using HOPE 6 funds to destroy neighborhoods, is adding to the problem (note in the article I link to advocating the destruction of public housing, there isn’t a single mention of concern for  residents once public housing is destroyed).

Alphonse Jackson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs, swept into New Orleans this past October, shortly after the storm, and unleashed a Katrina of his own: he declared, with 4 City Councilwomen standing behind him, that New Orleans would be a city of fewer poor people, and that it was time to dismantle the public housing system in favor of mixed-income communities.

He failed to note, however, that under the Fair Housing Act, passed in 1968, any change in policy calls for public hearings and resident input.

Jackson also declared much of public housing to be “ruined”, as did Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) officials, right after the storm. We countered this by going into the developments in late September, and snapping photos, and contacting HANO officials and the media with those photos.

HANO began to back-track. We helped to encourage and organize residents by contacting them in shelters and all points displaced. We encouraged them, and they encouraged each other, to lobby HANO to reopen public housing.

It worked. HANO and Jackson counted on community support to close troubled public housing developments, but this support did not materialize in most quarters. Even New Orleans City Council members backtracked and began calling for the reopening of public housing to help ease the post-Katrina housing crisis.

So-called “troubled” neighborhoods belong to the people who live there. We cannot improve our neighborhoods if we lose them.

Now, slowly, this lumbering system of housing developments is reopening, despite the crunch in funds from HUD to HANO, which I believe is purposefully designed to discourage citizen use of public housing. Residents are hanging tough and pressuring, and waiting…for the reopening of all of public housing.

Canizaro is now calling for the creation of mixed income communities, much like he helped to creat at St. Thomas, to be constructed all over the city, essentially demolishing African American working class neighborhoods that have been hard hit by the flooding.

Canizaro, interviewed on MacNeil/Lehrer the other night, said New Orleans had a crime problem pre-Katrina. He said many poor people are not coming back to the city, and the crime problem will be alleviated.

This transparent racism and classism is what passes for urban planning in our city right now. But many residents see through this. I attended a District D meeting that included residents from the hard hit New Orleans east. Many residents challened that they will not be driven out of neighborhoods by any plan. Some have expressed that they will commit violence to defend their homes.

By the way, the use of eminent domain is included in the Master Plan, as a “last resort”.

Residents know what is coming. As they struggle to marshall their resources to rebuild, they see this plan for what it is: an attempt to shift the demographics of New Orleans: to keep out African American, working class families, to reduce crime, and a land grab.

Already, commission members of the BNOB have reported, in this Times Picayune article, that they have been approached by developers, who they refused to name, to create “infill” sites: commercial/industrial development, with housing for workers nearby. These sites are slated for all of the devasted neighborhoods.

Our contention is: assist residents in rebuilding destroyed or damaged homes. Long-terms residents should be employed in any commercial/industrial developement.

This was a manmade disaster, in the sense of faulty construction of levees. We believe residents are due damages, which would assist them in rebuilding their homes and returning to the city.

In the master plan, Canizaro has called on a four-month planning process, during which neighborhoods must “prove” their viability in returning. The plan also calls for a moratorium on rebuilding. Both items are already serving to discourage some from rebuilding, as it is intended to do, in my view. It has also had the opposite effect: there is a flood of stubborn, New Orleans residents seeking permits to rebuild.

The spirit of the people here is amazing.

Many residents are determined to defeat a plan that would create a Disneyesque New Orleans, devoid of the very people who created the culture that has given us jazz, creole cuisine and Mardi Gras Indians.

There is a populist movement arising out of necessity here, to defeat this plan.

Please spread the word, and if you like, let your displeasure be known to our city leaders, particularly Mayor Nagin, who is danger of melting the very Chocolate City, that he professes to want to rebuild.

I would also like to encourage people to become aware of public housing issues, and homelessness issues, in their own communities.  Seattle has an activist network around the issue of public housing that I’ve linked to in this article.

I linked to two articles, authored by Jay Arena. He is a Ph.D. candidate at Tulane University, and is finishing up his dissertation on the St. Thomas housing development and the forces that destroyed it. He can be contacted at

You can download the BNOB’s master plan here.

I would be glad to entertain any questions and/or criticism.

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