Wednesday, October 1, 2008

MASSIVE DISCRIMINATION COLORS KATRINA RECOVERY

Lizzy Ratner, Nation - "It's been like a wildfire," said Lucia Blacksher, general counsel for the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, an advocacy group that has been leading the fight against post-Katrina housing discrimination. "Local governments have been creating legal barriers-- legal, in the sense they created laws--to prevent people who are African-American from returning. And I'm saying that because we all know what we're talking about here. Affordable housing or multifamily housing is where African-Americans lived. And if you don't let that kind of housing back, you're not going to give people who are African-American or Latino an opportunity to live [here]."

The intensity of this discrimination has surprised even veteran advocates like Blacksher, who grew up in Mobile, Alabama, with a civil rights attorney father. But in many ways it was foreshadowed--though not necessarily foreordained--by the powerful racial tectonics that have shaped New Orleans and its surrounding parishes for decades. Since as far back as 1960--when New Orleans schools were ordered desegregated and its white majority rioted, resisted and fled to neighboring parishes--the region has been defined by a vigorously maintained bull's-eye shape. At the center was the black-majority city, while the outer ring belonged to the mostly white suburban parishes.

Hurricane Katrina threatened to shake everything up, both within and between parishes. With 80 percent of New Orleans flooded; with much of its poor black population uprooted and blocked from returning (witness the decision to tear down public housing); and with millions of dollars in low-income-housing tax credits flowing into the area, a rare possibility emerged: displaced New Orleanians might try to move into historically white parishes. But these parishes were not about to let that happen.

Among the first and most aggressive to take action was St. Bernard Parish, 84 percent white before the storm and working to rebuild itself that way. Barely two months into the recovery, St. Bernard's governing council passed a twelve-month ban on "the re-establishment and development" of multifamily dwellings, stalling the reconstruction of affordable housing complexes. But the council truly distinguished itself in September 2006 when it passed an ordinance that, critics said, danced about as close to legalized segregation as perhaps any law since 1972, the year Louisiana finally deleted its Jim Crow laws. Known as the "blood relative ordinance," this law prohibited homeowners from renting their properties to anyone who was not a bona fide blood relation without first obtaining a permit--a loaded concept anywhere, but particularly in St. Bernard, where the white majority owned 93 percent of the pre-storm housing. . .

A traditionally middle-income African-American community with pockets of immense wealth and poverty, New Orleans East has been the site of several moratorium efforts as well as other legislative maneuvering to fend off mixed- income housing developments, Section 8 housing and anything else that might allow poor people to live there

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