As city officials Friday morning turned a ceremonial pile of dirt on the asphalt apron that will be the home of a new CVS pharmacy in the Lower 9th Ward, freshly laid sod covered the nearby North Claiborne Avenue neutral ground, framing the bright, nearly untouched concrete of brand-new sidewalks.It really does. Especially as Mitch nears the end of his marathon tour of all national media preaching the virtues of our city's "resilient" recovery as well as slapping down questions about why some of us ended up looking more resilient than others.
But spiffing up some parts of the Lower 9th Ward days before the 10th anniversary of the levee failures and flooding that all but wiped out the neighborhood in 2005 strikes some as less a sign of widespread improvement in the neighborhood and more an attempt to put the city’s best foot forward for visiting national media.
The problems of the Lower 9 can be seen even from that neutral ground: lots abandoned for a decade that remain home only to weeds, though ones that have been cropped down under a city program aimed at reducing blight in the neighborhood, which is separated from the rest of the city by the Industrial Canal and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.
“It kind of makes you wonder why they’re doing it now,” said M.A. Sheehan, of the Lower 9th Ward Homeownership Association.
Landrieu argued part of the problem has also been a lack of interest from the private sector in redeveloping the area.In other words, the Ninth Ward was knocked off the chair and has trouble getting back up so "that's on them."
“It was not in great shape before the storm. And so building back is harder and tougher and it’s going to take longer. It just is. Because we have limited resources. And the market needs to help too. There’s no way the government by itself can rebuild this entire city. And that’s been a real challenge for us,” he said.
Except maybe it's not entirely on them. Because focusing on the fact that a neighborhood "was not in great shape before the storm" does nothing to excuse failure to restore even that poor status. Besides, the disparity in resources between the Ninth and, say, Lakeview, is what our recovery policies should be calibrated to resolve.
The fund, which Cantrell said generates about $3 million a year, is supposed to be used according to a housing plan devised by an advisory committee, though that hasn’t occurred in recent years and the committee no longer exists. Instead, the money is typically just included as part of the general budget drawn up by the mayor and approved by the council.Well now they'll have a CVS. Problem solved.
“This is the council’s ordinance, and to date, we haven’t been following the law,” Cantrell said.
Her proposal would set up a new committee to oversee the fund; it would receive applications from programs hoping to use the money. The committee’s recommendations, which would be tied to both the city’s master plan and a more specific plan for housing, would then be passed on to the council for its approval.
There are no firm rules in the current ordinance on how the money can be used. Supporters, representing nonprofits and a developer, pitched a variety of specific ways they would use the money on Wednesday, including fixing blighted properties whose residents can’t afford repairs, helping to offset the cost of building affordable housing units and helping to close the gap between Road Home funding and the cost of rebuilding for residents still trying to return home.
That gap runs an average of $40,000 a family for those working with the Lower 9th Ward Homeownership Association, said M.A. Sheehan, the group’s housing director.