Thursday, November 06, 2014

The improbability of Ninth Ward self-determination

Thanks again to The Lens for creating these maps of election results. The maps of the New Orleans specific races drill all the way down to the precinct level. It sheds a lot of light on what happened Tuesday; especially with regard to some of these amendments. 

First some background on Amendment 13.

It was introduced back in June during the legislative session.
In an effort to jump-start development in parts of the Lower 9th Ward that have stood empty since Hurricane Katrina, City Hall would get permission to sell off abandoned properties in the neighborhood for $100 each under a proposal that will go before state voters in the fall.

The Legislature approved a constitutional amendment before the 2014 session ended Monday that would allow the sales. Now, the measure will head to a statewide ballot Nov. 4.

The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, a city agency, owns about 600 properties in the 9th Ward but has attracted little interest from potential buyers over the past few years when offering them at market rates.

A constitutional amendment is needed to sell the lots for a nominal $100 fee because the Louisiana Constitution prohibits the loan, pledge or donation of property by the state or a political subdivision. The change approved by the Legislature would carve out an exception for the Lower 9th Ward properties.
The plan was conceived by State Rep. Wesley Bishop.
Bishop said he wants to use the Lower 9th Ward redevelopment plan as a pilot to see if it could work in other areas that have had trouble “repopulating since Hurricane Katrina,” such as the Desire-Florida neighborhood in the Upper 9th Ward. He said the program is patterned after one used in Baltimore, Harlem, New York, and Detroit dealing with blighted areas.

Under the program advanced by Bishop, homeowners living next to each piece of property would get the first opportunity to purchase it. After that, priority would be given to people who have lived in the neighborhood for at least 18 months, followed by veterans, teachers, first responders and former neighborhood residents.

All buyers would have to agree to redevelop the lots and live there for a minimum of five years after construction is complete.

Now there were some clear caveats involved.  The PAR guide outlines all of the arguments for and against each amendment.  There were concerns that the properties, once "donated," would be held by speculators or flipped for profit despite the restrictions in companion legislation aimed at preventing this from happening. There was also the possibility that the whole thing would be disallowed by stipulations laid out in the federal Road Home program through which many of these properties were acquired in the first place.

So it wasn't a perfect idea. But it at least appeared to have been put forth with the goal of helping  some displaced Ninth Ward residents return and rebuild if they wanted to... and, of course, reinvigorating a still much-blighted area.

The key thing to remember about this amendment, though, is that it carved out a specific exception targeted to impact only one neighborhood in one city.  But everyone in the state was asked to vote on its approval. So how did it do?

Well it did pretty well in the neighborhood it actually affected.

Amendment 13 Orleans Parish

I'm assuming you can find the Lower Ninth Ward on a map.  It is a solid green rectangle on the lower, eastern part of the parish here.

Of course, the amendment still narrowly failed in the parish as a whole. But it didn't fail in the Lower Nine. Instead it failed on the strength of a vote pattern that looks at least similar to geographer Richard Campanella's  famous "white teapot."

It isn't clear what the actual effect of the below-market property sales enabled by Amendment 13 would have been. But the voting pattern at least gives us an idea of what voters in Orleans parish thought it might be.  Anyway, we're not going to find out now thanks, in part, to the white teapot.

And thanks, also, to the big red boot.

Amendment 13 Statewide

That's pretty decisive.  Looks like the most decisive people were, again, our friends up in La Salle Parish. 78% of those guys didn't want to see the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority sell any  Ninth Ward properties sold for below market value, no sir.

So, in the only geographic space in the state actually affected by Amendment 13, the measure passed. Everywhere else, not so much.

But take heart, Ninth Warders.  Just today the man who used to run the agency that would have directed this program was introduced as the city's "Chief Resilience Officer."

(Jeff) Hebert's new role as the chief resilience officer takes his ideas to turn New Orleans into a thriving city and puts them front and center with some of the world's leading economies.

"We have been doing a lot of those things already and we have to put a lot of those pieces together into one strategy and then checking with other cities with similar issues and see if there are some creative solutions we can bring home to New Orleans," Hebert said.

The Rockefeller Foundation supported the idea to identify 100 cities around the world and pump $100-million into their improvement efforts to keep them ahead of challenging times.

President of the 100 Resilient Cities, Mike Berkowitz said, "New Orleans has much to teach the world about resilience and the world to teach New Orleans and I think that is the sentiment and what this effort is all about."

Rockefeller Foundation President, Dr. Judith Rodin, said, "Post-Katrina New Orleans in our view has become a case study for the benefit of building resilient strategies."

Herbert who helped work with the city since Katrina's devastation has plans to make 2018, the 300th anniversary of the city, the platform to show how resilient New Orleans has become.

The next steps involves putting together a team to address the needs of the city. After that, they will meet with a global consultant to put a plan into action.
The voters won't let Hebert help residents get back on their feet. But we'll be damned if we're not gonna let him spend some grant money on a team of consultants to build a platform that shows how resilient we are despite it all.  Passing that up would be downright ridiculous. 

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