EJ Corps Week Seven: Lack of housing and access in the Lower 9th Ward

This post summarizes week seven of Schree Greene’s Environmental Justice Corps fellowship at LABB. 

Earlier this summer as I was exploring New Orleans, I met an elderly African American woman named Edna. During our conversation, Edna said, “Since Hurricane Katrina, there is no longer a place called ‘the projects.’ Before the hurricane, all I had to pay was rent. After the hurricane, they expect me to pay rent, water and electricity. I couldn’t afford it then, so what makes them think I can afford it now? It’s because they have moved the upper class into what was once the projects.”

When Edna mentions “the projects,” she is referring to the low-income housing developments across the city, several of which were torn down after Katrina to make way for mixed-income housing. On July 8, I took a self-motivated visit to the Lower 9th Ward and that’s when I experienced the reality of Edna’s words.

I realized that some of the houses that were once affordable for many African Americans are now too expensive because people with higher incomes have moved into the area. While the Lower 9th Ward consisted mostly of low-income homeowners and rentals before Katrina, rebuilding efforts like the Make It Right Foundation have changed the makeup of the community. As of 2009, the average income in the Lower 9th Ward was $11,000 while the average price of a newly built house was $150,000. Before Katrina, the average price for a home was $25,000. (For more on housing figures, check out this link. For more on income, see here.)

In reality, Edna’s argument is valid. If the residents of the Lower 9th Ward and other poorer neighborhoods in the city are living at the poverty level, how can they possibly afford a house that is more than triple their income or public housing that has become more expensive? The correct answer is they can’t and I believe this is happening to the residents on purpose.

Although the new houses constructed in the Lower 9th Ward are appealing, the majority of the area is consumed by thigh-high grass and vacant lots. Areas that once had stores or food markets now have abandoned buildings that are barely stable. I saw kids running through grassy parking lots just to have a recreational area. I saw mothers walking and carrying their children in the dangerous heat just to reach the closest grocery stores. I saw homeless families lying under shady trees to avoid the hot sun.

It is evident injustice when children don’t have access to safe recreational areas and families can’t afford what was once decent housing. I was completely devastated to witness such a horrific sight six years after Hurricane Katrina. From my perspective, African Americans are being forced out of the city in the easiest way possible — by making housing too expensive. This kind of concern over mixed-use housing was brought up when the New Orleans City Council voted to demolish some of the housing projects in 2007 (read about that here).

Based on my self-guided tour, there are still questions that linger in my mind: What type of work is being done in the Lower 9th Ward and other neighborhoods to help benefit the community? What types of programs for children are available? What challenges make the development process so slow?

Tomorrow, I will take part in a guided tour of the Global Green center and areas of the Lower 9th Ward. While there, I plan to investigate the answers to the questions at hand. Stay tuned for next week’s blog to find out more about what I’ve learned in the Lower 9th Ward.

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7 Responses to EJ Corps Week Seven: Lack of housing and access in the Lower 9th Ward

  1. Kevin Zanca says:

    I’m not feelin sorry for Edna . I spent all of my savings, insurance and am now in debt twice what I was before the levees failed flooding my home as welll as thousands of others and destroying my community.

    Since I had insurance and a mortgage , the first proceeds went straight to the mortgage company, then I got what little was left . Since I had ins. the “Road Home” gave me peanuts after a long drawn out fight. Then my lawsuit against my insurer paid back the ” Road Home” before I saw a penny of it.

    I don’t feel sorry for the 9th Ward or anybody who lived there. We all have had to make decisions and most of us have to pay our own bills. Nobodys paying mine. I have to decide what things I’m going to pay, then budget my leftover money for gas and groceries, so I can keep working.

  2. Carmen Dominquez says:

    Why is it that when someone can’t afford to live someplace, regardless of the circumstances (like a flood, loss of job, or mortgages/rent being too high), certain people expect the government to step in an cover the gap, or worse, cover ALL their expenses? I can’t pick and choose where I want to live either because like K. Zanca posted — I have to budget, pay my bills, and keep working to live where I CAN afford. If anyone has to move on because they can’t afford to live here, well then so be it. Good luck on your journey and may find happiness in your new home, whereever it may be. If I lost my job, or my home, and had no way to continue affording it, that’s what I would have to do. Wake up and face reality. Provide for YOURSELF. Stop waiting for someone else to.

  3. Guest says:

    Despite the demolition of the city’s four largest public housing developments, New Orleans has more subsidized housing for its poorest residents now than it had five years ago.

    The vouchers are meant not only to replace public housing units that were torn down after the storm, but to achieve federal housing goals of deconcentrating poor people, and integrating them into the rest of society, socioeconomically and racially.

  4. ArabiMaMaw says:

    I am with Kevin & Carmen, this is a very old story and ( 9th Ward and the lower poor people of the lower income mostly goverment dependent is old story and a very sad program for hard working tax paying pennie pinchen citizens who listen this cry me a river mentality and frankly makes me sick of hearing, if some bleeding journalist wants to waste their time and entergy trying to analyze the lower 9th ward they should do studies pre-k as well it was crap then and is crapper now as well as one should wonder since for at least the past 15 to 20 years the majority of leaders corrupt as they are are mainly African-American so called doing the best for their people and yet they still cry where’s my free stuff, I for one live 4 to 5 miles from this area and frankly St. Bernard was wiped out completly and yet we are lite years away from them in recovery after 6 years from the other parish, I and my husband recently made 30 years married and have lived in Arabi & Chalmette this entire time, we rented with no assistance and purchased a home in Arabi in 97, we had the dream as far as we were concerned and busted our butts to maintain our lives with no assistance from anyone we added up what we were to spend at the grocery, we paid our bills, we did the right thing we had our insurances on our home but we were insurance dumb and did not have good coverage we had only what your mortgage company required and we re-to experenced the horrors of coming back and the extra debt we encured and not happy with the way our parishes direction is going but what’s done is done I at least own my home now it is still not 100% complete but we deal with it and will fix what we can when we can, I can’t feel sorry for the lady in the story or any of the other BS stories about the we can’t get what we feel what is owed to me and I need to bust my butt to keep what we have, times are hard right now and many people are suffering not just the poor black people but us so called middle class people I recently lost my job and I have a disabled husband I care for and we don’t and won’t ever be dependent for goverment anything they scare me and I will say I LOVE MY COUNTRY But I Hate my GOVERMENT Things need to change people no matter what race, color or background need to cover their own butts be responsible for yourselves and your own family and by the way the GOVERMENT is BROKE, and if the writer wants to know what;s going on in the 9th ward he should start at CITY HALL and go back in records for the past 10 years or so and see who in the Africian community were not looking for Orleans Parish Citizens and they wll see that 75% of their African_American Reprecentives were lineing their pockets and rebuilding their previous lives were for them to help rebuild so don’t balme it on others when the real snakes are in your own backyard. I could go on and on about this subject but every time I hear stories about the poor 9th ward or the poor people of the past projects where taxpayers paid gor generations of handouts it just makes my blood boil while I sit here trying to figure out what bill I can bay and still try to go to the grocery and pick out what I can afford. People need to get their priorities straight and stop depending for others to always throw them a life saver invest in a boat anf life jacket rainey days are here to stay for quite a while be prepared account for yourself and your loved ones depend on yourself. well I;m sure that’s enough rant from me. I am not heartless just a realist and may God Bless and be with all.

  5. Guest says:

    Yes, but demographically there is still racial inequalities throughout the Lower 9th Ward which has a negative effect on the subsidized housing. Yes, there are vouchers but there are stipulations that hinder most of the affected communities from receiving them.

  6. Iris Brown says:

    Please don’t be so quick to be a sour and bitter person. Your future generations will reap the ill will you show to others. Treat people the way you would want to be treated. I pray that someday all men will be treated equal. Until then LOVE is the answer.

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