Violent Housing Protests Erupt in New Orleans

After protesters clashed with police yesterday, the New Orleans City Council voted unanimously to demolish the city's biggest housing projects. The buildings have been around since the 1940s, and many are in a serious state of disrepair. For the latest, Farai Chideya talks with Gwen Filosa, a reporter for The Times Picayune.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Protestors, police and tasers - that was the reaction to the New Orleans City Council's proposal to demolish the city's biggest housing projects. Yesterday, the council voted unanimously for demolition. Gwen Filoso was there at City Hall for the vote. She's a reporter for The Times-Picayune.

CHIDEYA: Gwen, welcome.

Ms. GWEN FILOSA (Reporter, The Times-Picayune): Hello. Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So, first off, can you describe the projects that are going to be torn down.

CHIDEYA: Yes. These are brick buildings, small scale not towers, but they're clusters of brick buildings that have been in New Orleans for more than six decades with little if none - probably no upgrades at all.

CHIDEYA: Was this a kind of place - you know, in many cities, there have been teardowns of public housing and people say the buildings are terrible, but - and these are people inside the projects - but this is my home, I have two or three generations of family here. Was that part of the issue here?

Ms. FILOSA: Oh, yes. That sort was - turned the debate into a very emotional and very powerful debate. We're talking three and four generations of families here have lived in these - their neighborhoods. I mean, they're isolated, but they're almost their own neighborhoods. And in New Orleans, where poverty is a birth right for so many families, the one thing these families could depend on was a spot in the projects.

CHIDEYA: Now, what has the city promised to these people in terms of relocation, in terms of support?

Ms. FILOSA: Well, the city has promised to hold HUD - now having authority and their feet to fire and demand detailed financial updates and - to monitor this. But it's all really up to the federal - the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They run our housing authority.

New Orleans lost control of its own housing authority in about 2002 after decades of rampant financial mismanagement and that's also what led to the deterioration of these housing projects. I mean, they - these are horrible, deplorable conditions. That's what residents say. And all the evidence shows that Katrina just gave kind of coup de grace to already neglected crumbling buildings.

CHIDEYA: So if these places were already so degraded, why do you think there was such a groundswell in terms of people coming out? And how - really, take us inside that moment where you were in City Hall and it sounds like there was just so much commotion. What were people feeling inside City Hall?

Ms. FILOSA: That was a scary moment. It was a brief part of what went on inside City Hall, though. It was like 20 minutes out of a nine-hour day. Once, about eight people were removed and they were forcibly removed by New Orleans police. It was a quite an orderly, fascinating debate, 90 minutes for each side. And there were just people from all walks of life, all backgrounds, were getting up and saying their piece. But at that moment, it was - there was kind of a boiling point. But I have to say - I mean I was outside, but what I saw inside was just a very few number of people orchestrating theatrical and I didn't see anyone knew that lived in a public housing project.

CHIDEYA: So you're saying it was outsiders who seem to be taking a lead?

Ms. FILOSA: Correct. And I mean, there's been this displosion. And there are a few public housing residents who love the fact that they have that outside support. I mean, there's never been a lot of political will, political backing behind poor people in New Orleans. But it just - for that the national media was captivated by the amount of police and the tasers. But they had 15 arrests and no serious injuries were reported according to the police. But what went on inside seems to take - took kind of a - sadly didn't get as much attention that the debate and people speaking from their hearts about the places they used to live.

CHIDEYA: Gwen, thank you for that update.

Ms. FILOSA: Thank you.

Ms. FILOSA: Gwen Filosa is a reporter for The Times-Picayune.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.