Friday, July 31, 2015

We failed

Hang in there, guys. Only one month left in the #Katrina10 commemoration, celebration, whatever it is.  I know some people are getting testy.  Which is weird to be because everywhere you look, one very important Civic Leader after another is telling us how great everything is.

The mayor appeared in Buzzfeed this week to do that some more.  But also he
couldn't help but take the opportunity to snap at his critics, or at least at his incoherent mischaracterization of them. 
Landrieu went further, arguing “there’s some people who have this sick mentality that all the bad things kind of help make the good things. That’s wrong. I think that’s wrong. I don’t believe you need poverty to make culture … Lots of people conflate good things and bad things. It’s good for neighborhoods to have housing that’s improving. It’s bad for everybody to be priced out of the market. It’s good for neighborhoods to be diverse and not just racially monolithic. It’s bad when it flips one way or another.”
But no one has argued that "you need poverty to make culture." The complaint is that our policy solution to the problem of poverty has been to remove the poor people.
Twenty-year-old Jonquille Floyd is on the hunt for an apartment. Like many New Orleanians without much of a formal education, he works in the hospitality industry, washing dishes at a touristy French Quarter restaurant.

It's minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, plus some lagniappe from the wait staff who share tips with him for fetching water and the like. It's not his long-term plan. He's going to school in the fall to study welding.

In the meantime, he has to find a place to live. At his pay, he thinks he can afford something in the realm of $650, with some help from Covenant House, the shelter where he lives now.

Not that long ago, Floyd might have been able to afford a spot around Treme or Bywater, some place where his commute would be an easy bus ride or a jaunt on the skateboard he takes around with him for short trips. Instead, he's looking at places on the West Bank, out in Jefferson Parish and in eastern New Orleans. Even there, it's shaky, he said.

Floyd is one of many low-income workers being priced out of the city's historic core, neighborhoods where the working poor were once able to find cheap housing. It was often substandard, but it was close to work, allowing residents to sidestep the expense of a car and a public transportation system that leaves much to be desired, especially for those living in far-flung neighborhoods.
Nowhere in this article does anyone say, "We need Floyd to stay poor so he can make culture'" Well okay, actually that is precisely what his employers are saying by offering him an unlivable minimum wage. If Mitch wanted to yell at somebody's "sick mentality" maybe he should start with his close friends among our Hospitality Leaders.

Instead he purposefully misconstrues critics who have merely pointed out all along that the city's development strategy over the course of the recovery has emphasized building nice things for rich people and tourists while ignoring ... or actively exacerbating the affordable housing crisis.

New Orleans was always going to be rebuilt. Billions of dollars in federal investment guaranteed that. Our job as a local polity was to make sure that the benefits of that recovery accrued equitably; that they worked more to lift people out of poverty than to lift the poor out of the way of "opportunities" for the wealthy.  For the most part, we failed to accomplish this.

That doesn't mean things can't happen now to rectify these failures. But the first step is recognizing the failure for what it is.  Maybe after the self-aggrandizing Katrina 10 tributes are over, we can talk more seriously about that.

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