Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Well, I spent almost all of my day yesterday penning a letter to the editor that I don't think will be published--perhaps because I got so carried away with my research that I turned the letter into an "expose" of the City. So I'll publish it here my damn self:

Re: "Derelict Property Owners Warned" (Krupa, 3/20)
>Dear Editor,
>My husband and I-both teachers-recently went under contract to purchase a
>historic home in the lower Ninth Ward. We were disappointed to learn that
>the City's misnamed Good Neighbor Program is targeting homes like ours for
>demolition, even though its current owner has gutted and secured the
>property and regularly maintains the yard.
>According to the City's website, one of the Good Neighbor Program's "primary
>goals" is "to educate its citizens on the options that property owners may
>exercise to comply. and to provide guidance in the process of rehabilitating
>our community." But many of the demolition notices I've heard about offer
>no options, no guidance, and in fact no contact phone number to help
>property owners. Instead, the notices inform recipients that their homes
>will be demolished in 30 days without so much as a public hearing.
>The City also outlines an "alphabetical order" enforcement policy (beginning
>with District A) that makes no reference to first targeting the city's most
>ravaged neighborhoods. But the Good Neighbor Program has (according to
>Nagin's deputy assistant, Anthony Faciane) "position[ed] its resources to
>quickly demolish" homes in the 9th Ward, eastern New Orleans, Gentilly, and
>Many of our neighbors are already challenged with the full gamut of
>procedural hang-ups.
>After battling with insurers and state and federal bureaucrats, what they
>need is the support of a city administration that behaves like a "good neighbor"
>should. Violating published policies in favor of vague threats is very
>un-neighborly behavior, indeed.

After I submitted this letter, the T-P published this piece, which highlights some of the furor the demo-notices have caused amongst preservationists. While it does mystify me that our home--a beautiful diamond in the shotgun rough--would be targeted by the Good Neighbor Program, I'll have to admit that my own personal anger is selfish: I want a lovely block, and the slab-on-grade homes next door and across the street (both of which sport ragged FEMA tarps that are listed as a "health hazard" on the city's website) were spared the notice. They's ugly. Get rid of them, instead!

Really, though, the problem is once again a lack of clarity and communication on the part of the city administration. As of yesterday evening, the lists of homes slated for demolition or issued a citation were NOT available on the city website.

Instead, a "report a home" e-form (complete with a city disclaimer) allows disgruntled neighbors (who may be entirely ignorant of the criteria for "neglect" or "health hazard") to report their neighbor's homes for inspection by evidently undertrained or overzealous inspectors (the same ones who deemed our lovely shotgun a "health hazard." Puh-LEASE!)

Those disgruntled neighbors are ignorant precisely because the city has once again failed to communicate with its constituents. The standards inspectors are using to evaluate the homes are wholly unclear. In fact, one could report a home without even reading a list of the standards used to deem a property "derelict." The City Ordinance at issue lists "mold remediation, cleaning, gutting and properly securing the premises" among its criteria for compliance, but clear definitions or descriptions of those terms are a glaring omission--which means that the inspectors are using some measure that homeowners lack specific knowledge of.

Meanwhile, one need only glance at the map of properties slated for demolition to get a sense that certain 'hoods were targeted before others. As I mentioned in my letter to the editor, the policy published on the City's website clearly outlines an "alphabetical order" method of enforcement. The map tells a different story.

Finally, I find it REALLY troubling that the reason for the sudden onslaught of the demo-notices, for this apparent rush, is so the City can take advantage of FEMA funds and help from the corps. I don't know who I am madder at here: the City or the Feds. The pressure from the Feds threatens the fabric of the city: rushed demolitions stink of exactly the kind of "land-grab" that ACORN feared.

And the City? Well, to prioritize collecting federal aid over giving due process to homeowners strikes me as a cowardly move. Then again, those in power likely come equipped with enough privilege that this is simply Not Their Problem. (I was disappointed to learn that Arnie Fielkow, who both Simon and I have liked, was in full support of the recent [last month]--and unpublished--amendment that allows the city to quickly advance, foregoing those pesky public hearings.)

As anyone who knows me or has read my blog knows, I DO NOT LIKE NAGIN--nor do I like the way he's represented the city--but his recent speech that suggested that there is some plot to keep blacks from returning doesn't seem quite so far fetched when policies like those of the Good Neighbor Program erect even more hurdles for the historically undeprivileged and under-represented to climb in order to re-build their lives in New Orleans.

Then again, this is Nagin's policy--and so it appears that he, himself, has been an instrumental agent of this plot.

LONG have I argued that this clown is damaging our city's ability to recover. Long have I argued that no matter what stock locals may put into his intentions, his careless remarks and poor communication skills would be perceived as unworthy of aid. I believe I even blogged to this effect; (Yep, I did). Well, the T-P editorial board has finally caught on:

EDITORIAL: Represent us well
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Once upon a time, back before Katrina, Mayor Ray Nagin could spout off without causing a national ripple.

In some ways, his freewheeling style was refreshing.

That time seems almost mythical now. A time when everything was intact -- our homes, our loved ones, our neighbors, our peace of mind. A time when the mayor of New Orleans was only vaguely interesting to outsiders.

Mayor Nagin of all people should know that time is over.

He so famously declared his frustration with the lethargic federal response to the flooding and devastation in New Orleans after Katrina that his words became a novelty item. And good for him for speaking up for his city. When you inspire a "Mayor In Your Pocket," though, you should realize that the world is listening to you very closely.

Yet Mayor Nagin seems to forget that when he stands in front of a microphone. Even after the notorious "chocolate city" speech last year, he hasn't become more circumspect.

Last week, the mayor reportedly suggested to the National Newspaper Publishers Association that there was a plot to keep black New Orleanians scattered across America. A story about his speech ended up in The Washington Post.

Mayor Nagin said Monday that his comments were mischaracterized and that he didn't "say anything racial." When he referred to the dispersal of "our people," he said, he wasn't only talking about African-Americans.

Perhaps that was his intent, but if so, he was misunderstood. Not only by a reporter, but by at least some of the audience members. The resulting divisiveness is not helpful to the city or any of its residents.

What New Orleanians need is for Mayor Nagin to be thoughtful when he talks about the city's recovery and to remember that he and we are on a national stage. Residents need to hear him speak up for everyone here and everyone who wants to be here, to represent us all with grace and wisdom.

This community is dependent upon the good will of the nation as it rebuilds and recovers from Katrina. As the city's most visible representative, what Mayor Nagin says matters.

That's something he's got to remember.


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