RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
New Orleans has crossed another threshold as the city works to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Yesterday, the city council voted unanimously to demolish four major housing projects in New Orleans.
(Soundbite of rally)
Unidentified Group: Stop the demolition. Stop the demolition. Stop the demolition. Stop the demolition.
MONTAGNE: As you can hear, it's not a threshold some people wanted New Orleans to cross. Opponents of the plan tried to get into the meeting but were blocked by police using pepper spray and stun guns.
New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Gwen Filosa was at yesterday's hearing and she joins us now.
Ms. GWEN FILOSA (New Orleans Times-Picayune): Good morning.
MONTAGNE: You know, often in other cities when a housing project is set to be demolished, especially old housing project, people cheer. What's it about these projects there in New Orleans that has people so upset?
Ms. FILOSA: Well, it could be simply the age of them and that for generation after generation, poor families, the one thing they can't depend on was a place at the developments.
MONTAGNE: Although of course there is also - besides the fact that people embrace them as their homes, there has been some arguments by architects and architectural critics that a couple of these projects were well-designed and they're valued to the city.
Ms. FILOSA: Correct. Many of the complexes are quite handsome structures with ornamental ironwork and porches. And they're not a grand scale, or not Cabrini-Green Towers, like in Chicago. These are quite smaller scale, clusters of brick buildings. But the people who have lived there for generation after generation have decried the condition. And that's why our housing authority was taken over by the federal government in 2002, after decades of neglect. And these buildings were never upgraded. We're talking about original plumbing and original infrastructure.
MONTAGNE: So that was why these units were, in fact, slated for a replacement under a plan by the federal government, before Hurricane Katrina. I mean, they're dilapidated; critics of the buildings say they're too old to be fixed.
Ms. FILOSA: Correct. The government - HUD has been very clear that they're not interested in renovating these aging structures. And as handsome as they may be, many residents yesterday said that long before Katrina they had mold growing on their ceilings and - I mean I've been inside. We're talking - the water heaters are inches away from the stoves in the kitchens. Central air is unheard of, which in the South, with our humid climate, is not good for mold or for air quality.
MONTAGNE: There is a plan to build new public housing to replace the ones being torn down. The new housing would have families of mixed incomes. A plan that public housing advocates around the country generally say is a better way to go. Wouldn't that be better for the low income, the poor people who will maybe been moved out now but will come back?
Ms. FILOSA: Well, that's what our city councilors said unanimously yesterday, and our mayor. There was a united front from city government to say that they want something new.
MONTAGNE: But obviously these protesters - some of whom live in the projects, some of whom just support the projects - these protesters aren't buying that argument.
Ms. FILOSA: No, and therein lies the fear, and in New Orleans, where poverty is a birthright for generation after generation, the one place that so many families could always count on was having their home at the projects.
And right now, to people who are either still living in transitional housing two and a half years after Katrina, the fear is that they'll be left out in the cold. I mean, these are plans on paper. To the families these are promises.
MONTAGNE: So the fear is that they won't get back.
Ms. FILOSA: The fear is that by the time that these communities are built - and these neighborhoods are not really set to come online until 2010 - the fear is that while they're living on a voucher somewhere, they'll somehow get lost in the system. And it's happened before here.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.
Ms. FILOSA: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Gwen Filosa is a reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.