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Friday, September 04, 2015

Kern Reese is sick of everyone's crap

The mayor of New Orleans is an outlaw.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu may have some quiet weekends at home ahead of him — by court order.

A decades-old legal fight over $75 million worth of back pay — plus $67 million in interest — the city owes to firefighters took a dramatic turn on Friday as Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese finally made good on a threat to hold City Hall in contempt for refusing to pay up.

Reese said he would place the mayor under house arrest on weekends if the case isn’t resolved in a week.
“I understand the budget of the city,” Reese said, addressing Landrieu and five members of the City Council who joined him in court Friday.

“I understand the travails that the administration goes through to try to provide services for the citizens of the city. But this is a legal issue, and everyone has to have deference and respect for the law. It has to be done, and we’ve waited long enough.”
Judge Reese is sick of everyone's bullshit. This was also the gist of his ruling in the Tom Benson mental competency case back in June.  He even got Blaine and Barry Kern to knock it off last month. Is Reese getting ready to retire or something?  He is on a mission to wrap up everybody's loose ends.

Or maybe he's just looking out for the mayor's well being.  Consider what the pending "weekend house arrest" now prevents Mitch from doing.
Shortly afterward, Landrieu canceled an appointment he had to “swim with the sharks” at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and held a news conference to say that City Hall cannot afford to pay a judgment that, even spread over several years, could eat up a large share of the city’s roughly $540 million annual general-fund budget
Also, there's killer mosquitoes out there. If I were the mayor, I'd want to stay inside all weekend too. And it does sound like that's what he wants. 
“I am prepared to stay under house arrest for the next two years of my term, because this is too important for the city,” Landrieu said.

He joked that this his wife, Cheryl, has been asking him to take weekends off for 25 years and has a long “honey-do” list ready for him.
He should invite Gusman over to attach an ankle monitor to his leg just for fun. The more you think about this whole situation, the better it all looks for Mitch.

There's also the public interest to think of.  It would be nice to get out on a Saturday and not have to worry about running across this sort of thing for a while.



Thanks, Judge Reese.  Looks like everybody wins.  Oh, except the firefighters, I guess.  But why would that surprise anyone by this point?

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Moving tourists slowly through downtown

RTA Priority 1:
Prior to the Loyola streetcar opening, the Freret and Martin Luther King bus lines were among the most direct lines running from Uptown to Canal Street. Now, however, the line stops at the Union Passenger Terminal just past the Pontchartrain Expressway, and riders who wish to continue on must wait for the streetcar to arrive, then pay 25 cents to transfer.

Consequently, ridership has decreased on the Freret bus line 42 percent “immediately,” said Rachel Heiligman of RIDE New Orleans, at last weekend’s Rising Tide conference. Some of those riders may now be going to the Claiborne line, she said.

The bus is just no longer as useful to riders as it used to be,” Heiligman said.

The change, Heiligman said, reflects the widening gap between streetcar and bus-line recovery in the city where 19 percent of residents don’t have access to a car. In terms of daily public-transportation trips, the city has only restored 45 percent of service since Hurricane Katrina. But streetcar service has grown to 103 percent of its former trips, while bus service has decreased to 35 percent of its former status.

“Streetcar expansion has certainly emerged as the big transit priority for the Regional Transit Authority,” Heiligman said, noting that a new North Rampart line is now under construction. “We have more streetcar trips being offered today than we did pre-Katrina, but we have just about a third of our bus trips.”

Amanda Soprano, a resident who described herself as dependent on public transportation, said she feels that the reduction in the two bus lines was specifically to boost ridership of the new streetcar, in spite of its inconvenience for riders.
See also, this David Hammer report from last year about how Mitch's push to get the Loyola streetcar up and running in time for the Superbowl led to cost overruns.  Heiligman makes the same point about how they killed the Freret bus in order to juice the Loyola ridership numbers.
But Rachel Heiligman of Ride New Orleans, a nonprofit public transit advocacy group, said that because the RTA cut off the downtown segments of the Freret and Martin Luther King buses at the Union Passenger Terminal, those bus riders now must transfer to the Loyola streetcar if they want to get to Canal Street.

'What we're doing is really just shifting the ridership from one mode the bus to the streetcar,' Heiligman said.

After those bus routes were cut off at the UPT, the RTA's ridership data show both lost riders, suggesting that customers unwilling to transfer to the Loyola streetcar stopped riding altogether.

The Freret Number 12 bus lost 76,000 riders in 2013, a 40 percent decrease from the year before. The MLK Number 28 bus was down by about 5 percent, while overall RTA ridership was up 12 percent.
Here's the rest of the Rising Tide X discussion on transit issues, in case you missed it Saturday.

Rising Tide X - Transportation Panel from Jason Berry on Vimeo.
 

Now we know who is to blame

Ran across this blame game wall stencil a few months ago just off of Tchoupitoulas Street uptown. It's kind of like watching a City Council meeting.

Who is to blame?

Anyway I wasn't sure we'd ever find out who the artist was but check it out.
In fact, the artist is not even trying to pass his work off as Banksy’s — he signs each piece with his adopted name, “Az,” and has a website showcasing it, Azwashere.com. He also has been featured at local galleries, including Treo and Gasa Gasa, and, in light of the ongoing confusion about his art, agreed to discuss it with Uptown Messenger.

Az is 32, has lived in seven or eight cities, and moved to New Orleans about two years ago. He started tagging about two years before that.

“I was living up in Fargo, and I was so bored that I wanted to make the place look not so much like a stereotypical suburban city,” Az said.

One night, when he was spraypainting the word ‘freedom’ on the back side of an apartment building, a passer-by took note of his license plate. With that, Az got his first attention from the police, and left Fargo soon afterward.

New Orleans, he said, has become a place of “refuge” for him, and he no longer wants to move around. Instead, he and artist Rex Dingler are collaborating on a project called “Not Jericho,” a sort of Craigslist to connect artists with property owners who have walls they want painted.

“New Orleans has been so against murals and graffiti in general, now that they are starting to want more public art, they’re having a hard time finding the artists,” Az said.
The website includes photos of some of his other work around town.  I was hoping to find this Magazine Street meter maid among them, but no.  Don't know whose this is.

Meter Maid Mural

The half is not being told

In one of their trademark "website reports" items yesterday, NOLA.com pointed us to this report in the Louisiana Record.
NEW ORLEANS – Of the $371 million in Deepwater Horizon settlements awarded to local governments last month, Louisiana law firms stand to rake in a hefty percentage of that in legal fees.

The influx of cash to local governments, part of a $687.4 million settlement oil giant BP made to state and local governments across the Gulf Coast due to the oil spill, means big paydays for a handful of politically connected Louisiana law firms.
The article goes on to name several of the firms benefiting from the settlement process. If any of this looks familiar to you, you may have been reading Jason's far more in-depth reporting stretching back over several years now.  If you find time go back and read through the saga. It's been pretty much shut out by the local press for reasons no one can begin to fathom.
 

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Third time is the charm

The St. Charles Streetcar is coming back.  You may have heard this before, though.

After Katrina, for example, it was out of service for two years as extensive repairs were done to the overhead power system.  When it re-opened, the Warren Easton Marching Band was enlisted to herald its return. I'd never seen a band march on the neutral ground before.

Streetcar return 2007

But that only lasted a few short years before it was determined that the whole line would need to be dug back up in order to replace rotting rail ties.

Old Streetcar ties

This project only took three years to complete.
The original idea was to do the upriver half of the line, between South Claiborne and Napoleon avenues, followed by the downriver half, from Napoleon Avenue to Canal Street, with the whole project wrapping up by early 2012. Things did not go as forecast.

The contractor hired to handle the $7 million project almost immediately walked off the job, bringing all work to a halt for a few months. Then, once it resumed, the task turned out to take far longer than expected, and the project was split into multiple phases. 

Third Street barricade


Rail work


But even then, a few short months later, they had to go dig right back in.
Streetcar service through the Uptown area will be interrupted in three phases over the summer in order to accommodate the SELA drainage project, RTA officials told Carrollton residents on Monday night. 
 And so all summer (the tourism offseason, btw) nobody could get across any of the major intersections of St. Charles without hassle.

SELA at Louisiana and St Charles

And, of course, no streetcars ventured out of the first ward.

Do not proceed

Uptown residents, well used now to disappointment,  heard the promise that rail work would finally end in early September and hunkered down for news of an extension.

But then today, things are looking up.
Streetcar service along the entire length of St. Charles Avenue is to be restored this weekend, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

Just don't expect similar relief from construction sites for drivers on New Orleans' storied thoroughfare.

Crews are just about finished installing sections of three new drainage canals below the streetcar tracks that cross Jefferson, Napoleon and Louisiana avenues. But work on the canals will continue underneath the adjacent road pavement for the next few months, requiring drivers to still shift lanes across the neutral ground.

The streetcar should start carrying passengers Sunday from Canal Street clear to the end of the line at South Carrollton and Claiborne avenues, the corps announced Wednesday (Sept. 2) on behalf of the Regional Transit Authority.
Don't get too too excited.  The Uptown Demilitarized Zone is still very much in effect. SELA is not expected to be complete until 2018 (at the earliest.) But just the notion that one small part of the project can finish on time should give some folks some hope.   Maybe we should schedule a parade.

Streetcar parade

Everybody but Vitter

Anybody But Vitter

Getting ready to make a new Governor this fall. Some of the candidates are gonna be on TV tonight
Three of the four major candidates for governor will take part in a forum on the future of higher education on Wednesday.

The discussion, sponsored by Louisiana Public Broadcasting, will air throughout the state on LPB and online at 8 p.m. While there have been several gubernatorial forums already, this one is slated to be the first to air live state-wide.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

This would be especially resilient

This was pointed out to me by a few different people today. Mitch Landrieu typed up a brief essay and distributed it to subscribers to his campaign fund email list. The subject line is "We are resilient." In the email he includes photos of himself hanging out with the three visiting Presidents over the weekend.  The final paragraph is a flourish of his favorite campaign sloganeering.
Together, we're making the New Orleans comeback a reality. Together, there's nothing we can't do if we keep pressing on together -- one team, one fight, one voice, and one city.
 In solidarity,
Mitch Landrieu
Mayor of New Orleans
I also like that he used the word "solidarity."  I noted Sunday that Black Lives Matter organizer Alica Garza dismissed "solidarity" as a passive and powerless political buzzword when she spoke here last week.  So it fits Mitch to a tee.

Anyway what's really interesting,and what people are fixating on, is this part.
All content © 2015 Re-Elect Mitch Landrieu, All Rights Reserved
P.O. B‌ox 57629
New Or‌leans, LA 701‌57
Is something called "Re-Elect Mitch Landrieu" soliciting donations?  Is he going to try the his hand at the third term charter change that eluded both Morials?    Seems unlikely but... you never know.  All the national attention last week might have gone to his head.  Maybe he's still thinking about being Governor.

Venture capital in the next 300 years

Congratulations on resil-ing like nobody never resiled before, New Orleans. As soon as we've all caught our collective breath, the mayor is going to start pushing us to help with his Tricentennial "legacy" project.

The history of the Landrieu administration will be written as a series of steamrolling PR stunts.  1) "We have to do all this stuff in time for the Superbowl!" 2) "We have to do all this stuff in time for Katrina10!" And now we will sprint with Mitch once again to celebrate 300 years of... well.. never quite getting everything done.

It will be a big party, though.  It's hard to imagine there being any Presidents this time. But we're going to have to come up with some sort of buzzword to match "Resilience" anyway. As long as they stay away from anything that invokes the idea of a "Next 300 years" or even a "Next 50 years"  they'll save themselves some embarrassment.

Although, some folks are already making contingency plans
A long-proposed offshore megaport at the end of the Mississippi River could start to take shape next year, with its supporters hailing it as the most significant economic development in Louisiana history.

Leaders at existing ports applaud their optimistic outlook but question whether the project is a viable undertaking.

Backers of the Louisiana International Deep Water Gulf Transportation Terminal (LIGTT) announced Monday (Aug. 31) they have amassed enough private financing to begin the first phase of a $10 billion project. They held a press conference at the Westin New Orleans, complete with champagne and the cutting of a cake shaped like a cargo ship.

The champion of the project is state Sen. A.G. Crowe, the Pearl River lawmaker who crafted a law approved in 2008 creating a public-private partnership to build the port. He serves as president of the board overseeing the port project as an adviser to its management team.

"No doubt this project has had its skeptics," Crowe said. "So did the Superdome. So did the Causeway."
Whoah talk about your Iconic Structures, right?   Of course they've only got $25 million to begin their $10 billion dollar project.  Also this could very well be something of a scam because 1) AG Crowe and 2) This probably isn't the end of this.
Crowe had originally sought investors for LIGTT through the EB-5 visa program, which provides U.S. visas to foreigners in exchange for significant investments. Such funding never materialized and money for the first phase will instead come from the Bank of Montreal and a handful of Wall Street investment firms, some represented at Monday's announcement.
Yeah, well, there's plenty of phases left. And those EB-5s can be a gold mine
(Horn Lake, MS) James Madison remembers when the GreenTech electric car plant moved into a vacant factory near his home in Horn Lake a few years ago.

But he hasn't seen much evidence of their work

"Ain't seen many electric cars come out from over there,"

More than a year ago, a whistleblower told News Channel 3 he didn't make any cars while working at the plant in Horn Lake.

Since then, others have come forward saying the same thing.

That, in part, has prompted a federal investigation into the car maker.

Part of that investigation centers on the companies use of the EB-5 visa program for its investors in China.

Those EB-5 visas allow foreigners who invest half a million dollars in certain businesses, and meet several other criteria, to come live in the United States.

"Ten days, I think about 14 different cities. We put on three to four conferences every day," said former Horn Lake Mayor Nat Baker, who Greentech asked to help sell the company to Chinese investors in 2010.

But he says the company spent as much time selling the visas as it did selling cars.
"It was kind of a 50/50, they presented the cars and they also presented the EB-5."
At the same time, though, maybe they really are looking to build this massive floating port facility in the Gulf. After all, in "The Next 300 Years" industry and government can either invest in protecting the South Louisiana wetlands and the people who live there, or they can make sure they have the infrastructure to keep sucking money out of the area even after it's all sunk beneath the sea.

Or failing that, maybe they'll scam something off of at least the idea.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Honorable NOLAier mention to Sean Payton

Nolier tats


This was a fun way to blow off steam yesterday.
On Sunday, (artist Jeremy) Herbert’s ink won him the designation “Nolier Than Thou,” a satirical and tongue-in-cheek title bestowed during a drinking event hosted by organizers behind the grass-roots organization Rising Tide, which has hosted an annual conference since 2006 to discuss the ever-changing future of New Orleans.

Held at Molly’s at the Market, the contest was created as a way to poke fun at the city’s obsession with its own legitimacy, with residents incessantly grappling with what it means to be a New Orleanian.

“It’s reached a level where it’s worthy of satire — the amount of New Orleans pride everyone who lives here currently has,” Rising Tide organizer and artist Lance Vargas explained, laughing at the notion. “And the deeper you dig into the philosophies behind it, the more absurd it’s going to seem.”
Here's the Facebook invite we sent out.  It describes, at some length, the reasoning behind the contest as well as its mechanics.
Attire to be judged in a 10 point system in three categories:

Resilience: How long have you had it? What's it been through? What is it's current condition? What's it's personal history?

Standing: How legit is it? Is it a rarity? How rare? Did Fats Domino once own it? What's it mean to New Orleans in general?

Vibrancy: How does it communicate your Nolism? Would you be stopped on the street and exalted for your Nolism? Does it scream Nolier than thou? Do you have to explain it in your Nolier Than Thou voice with correct pronunciation of New OR-Lee-ANs? How well does it read Nolier than thou?
The three judge panel included one native New Orleanianone pre-K transplant, and one post-K transplant.

NOLIer Judges

Now I don't want to go too far in the direction of impugning the integrity of the process but I am still scratching my head a bit this morning over the fact that this stunningly Nolier collection of objects didn't win some sort of  prize.
Another transplant New Orleanian, who wished to remain nameless, presented a can of Budweiser-bottled filtered drinking water that was handed out along with Meals, Ready-to-Eat after the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

The can of water brought a needed, therapeutic laugh for participants who seemed ready to forget the storm the day after the city was inundated with commemorative events for Katrina’s 10th anniversary.

NOLIER Diorama

That is some vibrant, standing, resilient shit right there. Meanwhile, this guy who just showed up in a T-shirt and rambled on about being from the West Bank ended up coming in third.

West Bank

Then again, nothing in this city makes any sense so what could be Nolier than that?  I feel kinda bad for Sean Payton, though.  Nobody even knew he was playing until after the party was over.
NEW ORLEANS – Head coach Sean Payton said his decision to draw Katrina x-codes on his shirt during Sunday's preseason game against the Houston Texans wasn't planned in advance.

"I hadn't really thought about it, and I don't think anyone else really had," Payton said.

Search and rescue teams used the x-codes in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to mark which houses had been checked for survivors.

Payton said he was reminded Sunday of wanting to learn what each code meant, and it was "just kind of a spur of the moment" choice to honor Katrina survivors by displaying one of the x-codes on his shirt.

"It just seems fitting," Payton said. "I was at the pre-game meal and I started going through and looking up -- everyone who has lived here, many homes still have the insignias on it, east, north, south, west, it was pretty interesting to study or learn how they were used in regards to any home being searched."
Congrats to all the NOLIErs.


Update:  Oh hey here is a link to Scott Colesby's video documentation of the event.

I shot some video of Varg being a jackass I might post later if it's any good.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Palimpsest

Can you read this?

Help

 
It says "Help."  Or, at least it did once. This is a sidewalk I pass over every day. Sometimes I still stop to wonder who needed help here.  I've been thinking about it constantly this week because, well, how can one not?  The national spotlight has burned hot on New Orleans this week. It has, for worse and for better, illuminated some of the fading markers of our trauma like this message in the sidewalk here.

To us it is jarring.  Not because we've "put Katrina behind us" even if some people do make that assertion. How could we, though? It defines everything about what's become of us since. But because we've lived with its scar so long, we've come to understand that it is just a part of our body now. It's still with us. We've just grown accustomed to having it. The attention this week has caused us to feel it in a way we might not have in a while.

We're not reacting well to that. How could we?  The uncomprehending scrutiny of the world outside combines with the avalanche of official bullshit from city leaders to create an echo of that time after the flood when we felt abandoned or betrayed by an entire system at all levels.  So while everything this week seems like it is about us, none of it is really for us.

Our friend Adrastos captured much of this anxiety earlier in the week in a widely distributed post he wrote for First Draft.
People have been in a very tetchy mood here all month. It’s made worse by all the disaster tourist journalists and carpetbloggers popping into town, taking our temperature, and putting their own spin on our story. That makes it their story, not ours. Once again, we live it every day, they’re just drive-by Katrina experts. Go bug somebody else and leave us alone.

Can you see it here? Look closely.

Katrina mark palimpsest


I took that photo this week. There's a search and rescue mark on that wall. You might not know if you aren't looking for it. Here. I'll show you same wall in June 2006.

Entrance with rescue marks

If you've been reading this week, you'll know I've made a project of revisiting the sites of old photos and reshooting them. Here's the link to all of those posts. This post will be one of them too.

Apt door 2015

When I started to write about revisiting the rescue marks, I realized after a while that I had already written a post like this last year.  At that time also I was thinking about what the experience of the flood still meant to those of us who lived through the recovery. 
Katrina and the flood have formed an indelible mark on our lives. It is the palimpsest upon which every story about our city today is written. Nine years later, it is impossible to understand anything happening in New Orleans without talking about how that thing was made possible or necessary by Katrina.
So while the flood isn't the first thing on everyone's mind these days, you don't get too far into explaining anything without dealing with the fact of it in some way. After this week, I'm sure we'll declare it's been put to bed entirely.  This will not really be true. But in some ways I expect it will feel so. And this can be for the better or for the worse.

Here is something Troy Gilbert posted earlier this month that got my attention. It's a previously unpublished interview with Chef Greg Picolo about his post-Katrina experiences. There's a paragraph toward the end where Picolo talks about how the flood changed his outlook on civic life to a degree. 
Asked how he was changed by the entire experience, the Chef answers quickly, “That Greg doesn’t live here anymore. Before I led a very monastic lifestyle. I kind of broke out of the tunnel vision I had before. Today, I have more of a need to connect with people. I needed to lose some of my control. I’m easier going. I have zero patience for bullshit, and now I just don’t get bogged down with stuff.”
I'm certain I am not alone in saying this really hits home. It might be the common denominator of everyone's experience rebuilding New Orleans.  When we got back, we were shaken out of our silos. Each of us in some small way at least had to look around to see who our neighbors were. Who else was here? Who could help? How could we help them? Entire new networks were stitched together out of parts that just weren't possible to bring together before.

I wonder, though, if ten years later, we're starting to sink, bit by bit, back into our own tunnel visions of life in a new New Orleans. As we put the recovery "behind us" is receding from the tighter cross sectional communities we built during that process a good idea? Why might this be important?

Well, for one thing, let's take a look at who does and doesn't think New Orleans has recovered.
According to a survey released Monday by the Manship School of Mass Communication’s Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs at LSU, nearly 80 percent of white residents in New Orleans think the state has mostly recovered.

But three in five black residents — 59 percent — say it hasn’t.

“White and African-American residents of New Orleans tend to see the past decade in very different ways,” said professor Michael Henderson, who directed the survey. “Most white residents think life in New Orleans is better today — not simply better than the toughest times that followed Hurricane Katrina, but better than it was before the storm even arrived. Most African-American residents do not feel that way.”
So that's uncomfortable. At a time when the calendar tells us it might be okay to close the book on "recovery" we're finding that the work is not all done. President Obama said as much during his visit Thursday.  
So we've made a lot of progress over the past 10 years. You've made a lot of progress.  That gives us hope.  But it doesn't allow for complacency.  It doesn't mean we can rest.  Our work here won't be done when almost 40 percent of children still live in poverty in this city.  That's not a finished job.  That's not a full recovery.  Our work won't be done when a typical black household earns half the income of white households in this city.  The work is not done yet.

Our work is not done when there's still too many people who have yet to find good, affordable housing, and too many people -- especially African American men -- who can't find a job.  Not when there are still too many people who haven't been able to come back home; folks who, around the country, every day, live the words sung by Louis Armstrong, "Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?"
I worry that the class and racial divide in our perceptions of recovery is allowing some of us to sink back into complacency.  I worry that even though we've learned to live with the fact of our altered reality, we are in danger of losing its lesson through active denialism.

Former Times Picayune reporter John McQuaid wrote about this on Medium today
America is an optimistic nation. It has a short memory. Our political system and media don’t really learn very obvious lessons that unspool right in front of everyone’s faces. And so we end up repeating our errors — at least, some of them — to great sorrow.
Memories, even the painful ones, are what make us who we are.

735 Bourbon

Eradicating their marks might be an act of optimism. But it can also be a willful negligence of a more chronic condition.  Out of sight. Out of mind.

735 Bourbon in 2015

But it would be a greater mistake to lose the expanded sense of community that helped us help ourselves these past 10 years.

On Thursday night, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza spoke to a full house at the Ashe center. The subversive power of active community networks was a major theme of her speech.
Garza ran down a list of threats to black lives — blasting neo-liberals, the “racist blowback” of President Barack Obama’s election and reelection and subsequent “bursting of the Obama bubble,” the national affordable housing crisis, climate change, gentrification and the literal threats of violence (and many deaths) of blacks at the hands of white police officers. “The crisis in the Gulf Coast didn’t start when the levees broke,” she said. “Levees have been breaking for black people for a long time now.”

Recovery, then, should include a radical shift of power — an economic, social and political transformation, she said. Black people should seek new forms of power and learn to wield and execute it differently “than those who oppress us” while abandoning “solidarity” and instead taking on “radical conspiracy and collaboration.”
When I heard Garza's speech I took the distinction between "solidarity" and "radical conspiracy and collaboration" to mean the difference between passively receiving a benign official definition of community and actively stretching beyond those limits to create stronger connections.

I also thought about the city's summer long promotion of the term "Resilience" and how impotent the celebration of that buzzword was compared with the countless citizen directed networks and actions that sprouted up in the wake of the flood. If we lose momentum; if we retreat from those participatory actions and rest on our "resilience" we will move in a direction opposite to what Garza is calling for.

Rather than responding to President Obama's call to finish the work of recovery, we are in danger of sliding into complacency. Because we are not Kristen McQueary, we should not want to wait for another Katrina to shake us out of that rut.  In the next ten years, if we're going to help each other, we're going to have to keep shaking each other awake.  And to do that, we'll have to remember some unpleasant things.

Upturned tree

Even if we don't always see them in front of us.

Harmony and Prytania

Friday, August 28, 2015

Dispelling myths

I think this bit of text has been on the Rising Tide website since the very beginning.  It would be a sort of creed.. if anyone knew it was there.
We come together to dispel myths, promote facts, highlight progress and regress, discuss recovery ideas, and promote sound policies at all levels. We aim to be a "real life" demonstration of internet activism as we continue to recover from a massive failure of government on all levels.
Anyway I thought about that when I read this fantastic myth dispelling omnibus at The Lens today.  It's all there. Give it a look.

Also come do Rising Tide with us tomorrow.  It really will be the best yet.

Update: As a companion to that Lens piece, see also this tracing of the "Blank Slate" narrative promulgated through the right wing media over past decade.  

Bonus moment of zen

Hang in there. This nightmare will soon be behind us.  In the meantime, though...


No I didn't want to be in the paper

I didn't agree to be interviewed and I spent a good part of the day yesterday begging them not to run the story.  They acknowledged my objection but told me they were running it anyway because, "we think it's an interesting story."  So now you know what kinds of things the people in charge of presenting the daily news think are interesting.

All I can say is I'm embarrassed. I don't use the internet to get attention. I use it to learn about what's happening. And the way you do that is by shooting the shit with people. This is a public square/corner bar/barbershop... whatever metaphor you prefer for the venue where regular people hang out to share news and information and talk about their lives. It's how social animals like we humans exist in the universe and make sense of it.  Everyone does that. I don't think any one of us should be singled out or shamed for it.

But what's done is done.  Just have to find the resilience to deal, I guess.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Obama's Katrina

obama katrina 10

Thursday. This is the point in the Shitstorm where it begins to rain Presidents.  Today the current President is here. His two predecessors will be in town during the weekend.

President Obama just finished speaking a few minutes ago at the Andrew P. Sanchez & Copelin-Byrd Community Center in the Ninth Ward. Here is the video. Obama says our recovery "inspires" him.  But he also talks about unemployment, poverty, lack of affordable housing, and says there is "more work to be done."

Unfortunately he doesn't have a whole lot new to say about how we're going to do that work.   He did mention climate change briefly, more or less as a slap at our stupid Governor. But he didn't dwell very long on how the rising seas and our dissolving coastline combine to imperil everything he was here to celebrate. To have spent too much time on that would draw attention to the fact that he had no new initiative to announce, no solution to offer to our continuing existential crisis. In fact, as The Lens pointed out this week, the President is already moving to defund our insufficient source of relief there.

But hey, thanks for coming. Hope the chicken was good.

The other thing that happens when a President comes to town is traffic gets jammed up for a while.  But we're used to that by now.  Both because the streets are already impassable due to every construction project imaginable happening simultaneously, and because we can remember when the feds put all sorts of things off limits.

Federal City

That is another view of the post-Katrina FEMA camp I mentioned in an earlier post today.  The photo is from late December 2005. It's one of my favorites from that time. I went back there a few weeks ago to try and recreate the scene. It's less forbidding now.

St. Louis St. at Jax lot

It's time to retire the phrase "culture bearer"

Second lining
Uptown second line. December 18, 2005.  Grainy flip phone photo. This was the first second line I saw after Katrina.  For all I know it was the first post-storm parade period. 

"Culture Bearer" is meaningless wording that suggests we're thinking of people as tourist attractions first and citizens separately. Pigeonholing people like this creates arbitrary divisions, misapprehends the value of neighborhoods and takes away their power. It's one reason the "Musicians' Village" project always seemed strange to me.

 Would the city even care about displacement if it wasn't related to tourism?
The changing demographics that come with a real estate boom raise questions about the future of the city's cultural identity. What happens when the next Danny Barker passes away? Will the band have to be bussed in from eastern New Orleans or another community miles from the historic neighborhoods and cemeteries that gave birth to the jazz funeral tradition?

Will tourists still flock if the culture begins to feel manufactured rather than authentic? In a region where tourism employs about 40,000 people, the answer to those questions is more than academic.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration says it recognizes that displacement caused by rising housing costs presents a problem and points to a variety of efforts it has undertaken to address the issue, for those it identifies as culture bearers and for residents in general.

Besides that, the term itself betrays the very essence of participatory street culture.  Folk art and music are created by specific individuals. But they have meaning because the are inspired by and tell the story of.. well, the folk.  Everyone in your neighborhood is a "culture bearer" there. Why even make the distinction?

And now your moment of zen



Camp FEMA

FEMA Camp

That photo was taken of the Jax Brewery parking lot in December of 2005.  By this time the water was all long gone but 80 percent of the city was a shambles.  People were filtering back into town to tend to their properties or clean out apartments. But the rate at which this happened depended on each individual's resources.  Many would never catch up with "pace of progress" as this Lens report out this morning on post-Katrina demolitions demonstrates.

Accommodations in town were scarce. FEMA was delivering trailers, paying for hotels, even housing people on cruise ships. FEMA employees were stationed in makeshift "Disaster Recovery Centers" at various points around town to process aid and distribute food and supplies. If I remember correctly the tents in the photo above weren't a DRC but more of a base camp for various federal agencies operating in town.

Today it's back to being a parking lot. Most of the tourists who walk by here every day probably couldn't imagine the scene back then.

Jax lot 2015

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Katrina envy

Ray of Hope

Nobody could have predicted there would be Katrina envy
A member of the Chicago Tribune editorial board is wishing for a "Hurricane Katrina" to strike and help clean up what she sees as her own corrupt city.

Kristen McQueary, who is an actual member of the Chicago Tribune's actual editorial board, met with Mayor Mitch Landrieu and somehow came away with the notion — well, I'm not sure what's more wrongheaded, that Katrina "fixed" things in New Orleans or that a Chicagoan would want the people of Chicago to go through something similar:
Envy isn't a rational response to the upcoming 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

But with Aug. 29 fast approaching and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu making media rounds, including at the Tribune Editorial Board, I find myself wishing for a storm in Chicago — an unpredictable, haughty, devastating swirl of fury. A dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers. A sleeping city, forced onto the rooftops.
So that's kind of jarring.  But is it really all that different from what we've heard from conservative pundits like Ms. McQueary right from the beginning of the post-K ordeal?  The right wing campaign to use the deaths of some 1800 people as an opportunity to "fix things" in New Orleans is not a difficult thread to trace.

For instance, here is an article by New York Times columnist David Brooks published on September 8, 2005.  Its headline is, "Katrina's Silver Lining" 
As a colleague of mine says, every crisis is an opportunity. And sure enough, Hurricane Katrina has given us an amazing chance to do something serious about urban poverty.

That's because Katrina was a natural disaster that interrupted a social disaster. It separated tens of thousands of poor people from the run-down, isolated neighborhoods in which they were trapped. It disrupted the patterns that have led one generation to follow another into poverty.

It has created as close to a blank slate as we get in human affairs, and given us a chance to rebuild a city that wasn't working. We need to be realistic about how much we can actually change human behavior, but it would be a double tragedy if we didn't take advantage of these unique circumstances to do something that could serve as a spur to antipoverty programs nationwide.
Brooks goes on to recommend that a recovering New Orleans take as a model this social engineering experiment developed in (irony) Chicago. 
The most famous example of cultural integration is the Gautreaux program, in which poor families from Chicago were given the chance to move into suburban middle-class areas. The adults in these families did only slightly better than the adults left behind, but the children in the relocated families did much better.
So mere days after the storm, while flood waters are still actually draining out of the city, Brooks tells us that Katrina is an opportunity. It has provided us a "blank slate" to do "something serious about urban poverty."  And that serious thing we should do is move poor people out to the suburbs.  Scowl if you want but this was remarkably prescient. Especially for David Brooks.

At the same time that Brooks was writing that column, advice was also pouring in from libertarian think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute where tank thinker James Glassman could barely contain his enthusiasm for building "the ultimate libertarian city" upon our blank slate.
The inevitable commission that will oversee the rebuilding must realize that the world’s best designers, developers and innovators will be drawn to the city only if they are relatively unrestricted. New Orleans could become a laboratory for ideas like tax-free commercial zones and school reform. This is the ultimate libertarian city and the last thing it needs is top-down planning. Many of the city’s great attractions–the Jazz Festival, D-Day Museum and blackened redfish, for example–are of recent vintage.

I’m optimistic. New Orleans has a unique chance to make a fresh start and, in fact, become more like cities that do work (Chicago and Phoenix come to mind) while retaining its spirit of mystery, absurdity, beauty and decadence.
Brooks and Glassman were really proud of Chicago back then.  But now McQueary wants to "blank slate" it and start all over for some reason.  What the hell happened there?

In any case, such calls of opportunity did not go unheard locally.  They began to echo among our social and political leadership almost immediately.  Here is a quote from former Bring Back New Orleans Commissioner James Reiss I first read in September of 2005.
A few blocks from Mr. O'Dwyer, in an exclusive gated community known as Audubon Place, is the home of James Reiss, descendent of an old-line Uptown family. He fled Hurricane Katrina just before the storm and returned soon afterward by private helicopter. Mr. Reiss became wealthy as a supplier of electronic systems to shipbuilders, and he serves in Mayor Nagin's administration as chairman of the city's Regional Transit Authority. When New Orleans descended into a spiral of looting and anarchy, Mr. Reiss helicoptered in an Israeli security company to guard his Audubon Place house and those of his neighbors.

He says he has been in contact with about 40 other New Orleans business leaders since the storm. Tomorrow, he says, he and some of those leaders plan to be in Dallas, meeting with Mr. Nagin to begin mapping out a future for the city.

The power elite of New Orleans -- whether they are still in the city or have moved temporarily to enclaves such as Destin, Fla., and Vail, Colo. -- insist the remade city won't simply restore the old order. New Orleans before the flood was burdened by a teeming underclass, substandard schools and a high crime rate. The city has few corporate headquarters.

The new city must be something very different, Mr. Reiss says, with better services and fewer poor people. "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically," he says. "I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again, or we're out."
If you've followed this blog over the years you'll know I've never let it drop.  There I was hundreds of miles away still wondering what in New Orleans was left for me to come back to and already I could read about plans for a "new New Orleans" and who might be welcome back there.

And this became a regular theme among the city's well placed decision makers throughout the rebuilding process. Sometimes it would merely sit in the background as every NOLA Entrepreneur Week implicitly celebrated the replacement of the black middle class with younger whiter transplants and/or "volunteer entrepreneur" grifters. Or as the Cowen Intsitute or Leslie Jacobs regularly feted the firings of 7500 public school teachers.

Often, though, it was right out in the open. Shortly after the storm, Baton Rouge based Congressman Richard Baker expressed gratitude that "God" had finally "cleaned up public housing in New Orleans."

Pres Kabacoff might prefer Baker and God send some of the credit his way. Kabacoff hasn't minced words about the favors the flood did us either. For instance, there was the time he told us that poor people were a "drag on the city's economy" who needed to be moved out of the way of an "urban renaissance" led by his development company.   Or the time Kabacoff told us we didn't really want "the kind of people who if their refrigerator stops working their life falls apart" My fridge went out on me earlier this month.  If I hadn't managed to reset the motor myself, it would have been a pretty serious hardship. Maybe Katrina should have blown me out of here too.

It's not exactly clear what Ray Nagin meant in 2008 when he told a columnists' convention, "There is big money to be made in a storm."  Nagin eventually went to jail over relatively small beans. But Nagin did also spend a lot of time encouraging people to "buy some dirt" in post-Katrina New Orleans in anticipation of "this economic pie that is getting ready to explode."

These are things you might expect any cheerleading mayor to say.  Heck, they even turned out to be correct observations and sound investment advice.  But the boosterism in the wake of the disaster did jibe well enough with David Brooks's "silver lining" narrative to make the premise seem true to a lot of people.  Owen Courreges made a similar observation this week about Mayor Landrieu's own triumphalist rhetoric which has been burning at billion watt intensity all summer long.  
In his “State of the City” address given this past May, Mayor Mitch Landrieu boasted that New Orleans is “no longer recovering, no longer rebuilding.” Citing a laundry list of improved statistics, Landrieu continued: “It didn’t happen by accident. It is all part of our larger approach to government — cut, reorganize and then invest the savings in what matters most so we can grow.”
It's worth noting again that McQueary's "Chicago needs a Katrina" column was based on impressions formed during her audience with Landrieu.

Mitch isn't the only New Orleans ambassador sending these signals out into the world, though.  Here is a criminally lengthy and pretentious ESPN Magazine feature by Wright Thompson where we find the reanimated corpse of Chris Rose brought back down from the attic to share with us the following wisdom.
Since Katrina, life on the wealthy side of that fence has improved. The New New Orleans really is a safer, wealthier place with more responsible institutions. "Almost everything's better," Chris Rose says. "You know, it's the one thing that no one can speak. Nobody dares write it ... but how many people said, 'It's the best thing that ever happened to New Orleans.' Now, here's the problem: It was rich white people who were saying that when we weren't even finished burying our dead. We still hadn't even found our dead and people were saying that. Now, you look back and you gotta think about what it was like in 2005, our crime, our corruption, our police, our education. They're all better now. Would they have improved had we not had this intense, overwhelming catastrophe, which forced us to not only rebuild and recover and repopulate but also reimagine ourselves? Would that have happened? I think it's safe to say no."
The reason the lady in Chicago thinks Katrina is the best thing that ever happened to us is because our mayor basically told her that. The reason he thinks that is because a lot of his political allies as well as some subtly smug and selfish people like Chris Rose have told him that is what they believe also.

It's fine to call out McQueary's Katrina envy column as the obviously crass, insensitive, right wing propaganda that it is.  But don't overlook the fact that local Katrina pride is very much the same thing. 

Marty McFly life preserver

Great segment on CSPAN's Washington Journal this morning with Deray McKesson.



You might be aware that McKesson will speak at this year's Rising Tide Conference Saturday August 29 at Xavier University.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Resilience March

Street signs

We're just about done with Tuesday. Let's see how far along that puts us in the Shitstorm by now.  Oh yes. Today was Resilience Day.
FEMA director Craig Fugate said he loves the word because it means whatever you want it to mean.

And if you've been paying attention over the last couple of weeks, you'd think he was right. "Resilience" has replaced similar words, or been used in sentences where it didn't necessarily need to appear, to define the City of New Orleans' philosophy as it prepares for the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the federal levee failures. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has planted his "resilience" seed (or some form of it — "resilient," "resiliency") in speeches throughout his terms as mayor. (And if you're keeping score at home, you can add "vibrant," "new Orleans" and "NOLA for Life" to Landrieu's list.) The word has seemingly grown into a jungle of word salads with business lingo and jargon-y nothing phrases that have taken over dozens of panels, events and speeches this week. Its overuse implied it not only didn't mean anything but that there wasn't anything to be "resilient" about. But the word now defines a plan that the city will look to over the next decade and beyond.
FYI: The city's Chief Resilience Officer makes $172,000.

You laugh but, according to this Slate article, the guy might have some work to do.
After Katrina, the second line became a symbol of New Orleans’ resilience. But the survival of the parades—and the neighborhoods the revelers called home—is far from assured.
That can't be good. I mean, if you lose the "symbol of resilience" what else to resilience really is there worth having?

Anyway, this isn't an article about "resilience." It's an article about gentrification even if it doesn't know that it is. Despite the media hyper-focus on the fate of "culture bearers" who do interesting things that tourists might like to see, the escalating costs of living in New Orleans affects an entire class of people.  The fact that the "culture bearers" in question happen to be a segment of that class merely makes this an attractive story for a national outlet.

The reason this caught my attention, though, was the particular piece of resilience theater the article opens with; an "All Star Second Line" organized on MLK weekend in 2006.
Meanwhile, displaced second liners, many of whom had no transportation of their own, were renting cars and even chartering buses to get to the parade. Vallery made a desperate call to City Council President Oliver Thomas, who had strong ties to the clubs. Thomas thought this second line might be the last one the city would ever muster, that the tradition itself was at stake. “That’s why, for me, it had to happen,” he told me later. He convinced the Nagin administration that the parade would be more manageable than a crowd of people who found their way back from exile only to discover it had been canceled. He helped secure a permit for a route contained in NOPD’s First District, a loop around Treme, regarded by some as the oldest black neighborhood in the country, and a bit of the Seventh Ward, birthplace of Jelly Roll Morton and Sidney Bechet.

Two days later, around 300 club members and three brass bands filled St. Claude Avenue in front of the Backstreet Cultural Museum. The club members wore black shirts that said “renew orleans” across the chest. Father Jerome LeDoux came out of St. Augustine Catholic Church to bless them. Thousands of people surrounded the clubs, spilling onto side streets. From the front porch of the Backstreet, Jackson announced that the second-line community was coming home. If the club members had affordable housing and basic services, she said, they would bring the city back to life.

Then a bass drum thumped, the horns started to play, and the parade proved the point. Empty streets filled with people, shoulder to shoulder, flowing around piles of moldy sheetrock on the curbs and onto porches of vacant houses with holes in their roofs. Dancers spun, popped, and jumped on the hoods of drowned cars. Thomas danced along with them. “We exorcised Katrina” that day, he recalled. It was considered by many the biggest second line ever. The parade gained momentum turning onto Claiborne Avenue, and it felt to me as if the force of these thousands of people was reshaping the city. Jackson remembers the turn onto Claiborne as “the greatest moment of my life.
Yeah I was there to see that moment.  Here's the parade coming down Claiborne.

Banners 

Here it is later on Rampart.

Armstrong Park

Oh and hey look. I forgot I shot video.  It's not much.. that camera didn't take the highest quality video... but, well, here.

2nd line Rampart St Jan 15 2006

Here's the parade turning from Claiborne, probably onto Esplanade, I don't remember the route exactly.  This video quality isn't great but you do get a little bit of the sound of the drum echoing under the overpass.

2nd line Claiborne Jan 15 2006

Another thing you might remember about the Claiborne overpass was the parking area beneath it had, by this time, become a repository for flooded vehicles.  I got some pictures of those that day.

Claiborne Overpass

Claiborne Ave

There was also this abandoned boat sitting on the curb at Bayou Road.

Boat

"Beached" boat

And that's where I went on Friday to revisit the scene.  The boat and cars have been cleared away. Marie Laveau seems rather indifferent either way.  She was always pretty resilient, though.

Claiborne and Bayou

QOTD

Ferry boats passing one another

Justin Augustine:
"Please ride, ride, ride, ride, ride'' the Algiers-Canal Street ferry, Transdev chief executive Justin Augustine said. Riders – and plenty of them -- are what it will take to keep an expanded weekend schedule on the ferry beyond a four-month pilot project.
From Oct. 12 through Feb. 14, the ferry will run:
  • Fridays from 6 a.m. until midnight
  • Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. until 10 p.m.
  • Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The French conglomerate's officers announced the extended schedule during a meeting of the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority board Tuesday (Aug. 25), after Louisiana state Sen. David Heitmeier, D-Algiers, told Algiers Point residents about the upcoming changes over the weekend.
I dunno...  $2 each way for the possibility of getting stranded because the thing doesn't run 24 hours like it should sounds dicey.

I know, I know, I just said I was too busy doing Rising Tide stuff to post over here.  But did you know there's a transit panel at Rising Tide this year? If you're reading about ferries, this might be relevant to your interests.  Check it out

Where's my Yellow Blog today?

Sorry. I'm busy promoting and stuff.

Back later. Stay resilient.

Monday, August 24, 2015

What happened on Day 300

Coliseum Square Baptist Church 5

This was the Coliseum Square Baptist Church on Camp Street in the Lower Garden District. The church dated to 1854. I took these pictures in December of 2005. Hurricane Katrina didn't do this damage, though.  The building had been derelict for some time before.  It would have to be demolished eventually after it was badly damaged by a fire the following June.

Coliseum Square Baptist Church 1

Coliseum Square Baptist Church 3


Here's a bit of post-Katrina blogging nostalgia for you.  Our friend Maitri Erwin used to be in the habit of counting each day after the flood. She got all the way up to Day 1306 when she and her husband moved away for work related reasons in 2009.  (They're frequently back in town for various events and such.)

Back on Day 300 she was lamenting the loss of the church.  Maitri's post echos concerns of local preservationists asking that the long vacant building be saved, though it's seems like the fire had made the matter a fait accompli.
One might argue that brand new development over blighted property, however historic, provides that much-needed influx of capital, but for how long? It is an egregious exercise in Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish when we turn our historic properties over to demolishers, condo developers and boxy buildings only for our city to lose its real value over time. People will not visit New Orleans to tour the former location of a church or period house, much less empty lots or modern housing which mimics any city in America in the process of gentrification.
Again, it's pretty clear that after the fire, saving the building probably wasn't an option. But the confusion and frustration on everyone's part (which was pretty typical of the time) is palpable. Brian Denzer recorded interviews with the district fire chief on the scene as well as a neighbor named Rene Padilla. Padilla sounds like he'd been involved to some degree in neighborhood efforts to save the building although he also doesn't seem to have a whole lot of good information. "Somebody's gonna build some awful looking condos there," says Padilla who is himself a transplant condo owner from California. Later in the interview he adds,  "I heard a rumor that the school next door has plans to build there right away."

Well, if that was the case, they've got a funny idea of what "right away" might mean.  I visited the spot last weekend and found an empty lot there. You can still see some of the bricks and what's left of the church's foundation.

Here's one last look at the church facade.

Coliseum Square Baptist Church 4

And here's the view from approximately the same spot on the sidewalk today.

Colisesm Square Church bricks

Who did we rebuild this city for?

There's a lot of crap from the national outlets this week about the Katrinaversary but this FiveThirtyEight article really nails something that keeps getting.. if not missed.. sorely deemphasized even in the local telling of this story.  And that is, our oft-celebrated "bran gain" of young (white)  'treps from all over the country isn't really a gain so much as it is a replacement.
More than 175,000 black residents left New Orleans in the year after the storm; more than 75,000 never came back.2 Meanwhile, the non-Hispanic white population has nearly returned to its pre-storm total, and the Hispanic population, though still small compared with other Southern cities, has grown by more than 30 percent. Together, the trends have pushed the African-American share of the population down to 59 percent in 2013, from 66 percent in 2005.3

But it isn’t just that there are fewer black New Orleanians; their place in the city’s economic fabric has fundamentally changed. African-Americans have long accounted for most of the city’s poor, but before the storm they also made up a majority of its middle class and were well represented among its doctors, lawyers and other professionals. After Katrina, the patterns changed: The poor are still overwhelmingly black, but the affluent and middle classes are increasingly white.4 Moreover, what remains of the black middle class is graying. Many of the middle-class African-Americans who returned to the city were retired or nearing the end of their careers; younger black professionals, meanwhile, fled the city in search of better opportunities elsewhere.

The aging of the black middle class stands in stark contrast to the influx of young, educated — and overwhelmingly white — professionals who have reshaped the city in the years since Katrina.5 Between 2011 and 2013 alone, New Orleans added nearly 10,000 college graduates under age 40. Many of them have been drawn by the thriving startup scene that emerged in the wake of the disaster; at a time of declining entrepreneurship nationally, New Orleans now has one of the highest business-formation rates in the country.
The article also takes note of at least one deliberate act that facilitated this shift. 
“When you fire all of the New Orleans public school teachers and its personnel, you’ve given a big whack to the middle class, because teaching was one of the professions where African-Americans knew they could go to school and come out with a job,” said Beverly Wright, a Dillard University sociologist. “Teachers were a treasured possession of the middle-class black community.”

Update:  Just to make the point more clear. This is from the Advocate this afternoon.
Public school teachers in New Orleans are considerably more likely to be white, inexperienced, without local roots and lacking formal teaching credentials as a result of the charter school movement that has remade public education in the city since Hurricane Katrina.

Those are the conclusions drawn by Tulane University’s Education Research Alliance for New Orleans in a report released Monday.
Elsbet says, "Being white is the credential" 
 

"Gimme my stuff"

This is an excerpt from an essay by Sarah Broom published in The New Yorker. It is about her family's decade long struggle with recovery after losing her mother's house in the flood.
My mother and I make the trip to the Road Home office, where even the caseworker is surprised that we’re still in limbo. It’s too late, he says—they’re closing down the program. I plead and insist: my mother was sixty-four when the process began; she’s seventy-four now.

As long as we owned the land, my mother could sell it to Road Home in exchange for a grant that would allow her to buy another home. But the program had become an endless loop, bungled and exhausting, seemingly designed to wear you out. My mother tried to make it go. So did my brother Eddie, who has a big job at an oil plant where daily he makes things go.

Because we children were all part owners of the Yellow House, we had to transfer our stakes to my mother. The law firm contracted by Road Home to close the file suddenly changed. Its requests for materials were unclear. My mother would call me in New York, speaking in vague avoidance: “Those people said they need another paper or something.” Without the means to hire lawyers, very little advanced.

Days before I arrived, my mother called the law firm and was told that her case had been closed for nonresponsiveness. They had made a single unanswered call.

I tell all of this to the caseworker. My mother stays silent, peeking at the man as if from behind a veil. We take all the required steps to reopen the case. The caseworker promises that he’ll do his best—he seems hopeful—but we’ve heard nothing since then about the status of our case, which is really the question of whether my mother will ever live in her own house again.

Recently, the city notified us that our property would be sold for nonpayment of back taxes if we did not appeal within sixty days. My mother called me, upset, saying, “You know I’m not all that business-minded.” All I could think was to call the Road Home number and leave another message. “Please tell us what to do,” I said.
Road Home was supposed to help homeowners like this cover the cost of rebuilding.  It was insufficient to the task, though, and the result has been a drastically uneven recovery. Those who could muster the resources and the credit to keep themselves afloat long enough to make programs like Road Home work for them were able to come back.  Those who couldn't were left behind.

Mitch Landrieu has been asked about that a lot this month.  His answer to Buzzfeed was, "we have limited resources. And the market needs to help too."  OK. But "the market" is what's caused the discrepancy in the first place.  When we design programs like Road Home, you'd think we'd try to account for the inherent inequalities of the market.   But that may be too much to ask for Mitch, who said this today at the "Atlantic NOLA" conference.




After 10 years I guess it's still rude for some of us to ask for our stuff back.