from "Rebuild New Orleans, Rebuild The World," Jay Arena, on NOLA Indymedia.
The Iberville Public Housing Development, opened in 1941, was built where the famous Storyville district had stood, next to the French Quarter and directly behind Canal Street, New Orleans’ main thoroughfare. The housing authority evicted over 800 African American families from the Storyville neighborhood to build the then all-white complex. Iberville, which is made up of 858 1,2, and 3-bedroom apartments, was part of seven developments--St. Thomas, Magnolia, Calliope, St Bernard, Florida and Lafitte--that the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) built in the 1940s for low-income working class families. All the developments were segregated, with Iberville, St Thomas and Florida being reserved for whites only.
The Attack on Public Housing in New Orleans
In the 1980s New Orleans had approximately 14,000 units of public housing that was home to over 60,000 people, almost all African American. Approximately 20% of New Orleans’ African American working class resided there. In the 1970s and 1980s, in the face of steep federal cutbacks, residents organized for improved living conditions, jobs, and against police brutality. For example, in 1982 residents took over the HANO central office to demand better services and the firing of the then-director Sidney Cates. Residents also consistently fought against police repression. In 1970 residents organized with the Black Panthers in the Desire development to drive out the cops, who many considered an “occupying army”. The Afro-American Liberation League worked with residents against police assassinations, and terrorizing of residents in the Fischer housing development and the surrounding area in the early 1980s, as well as against the NOPD’s daylight slaying of St. Bernard resident Corey Horton in 1991.
In 1988 New Orleans mayor Sidney Barthelemy stepped-up the attack on public housing residents when his administration released the “Rochon Report,” which called for demolishing half all public housing apartments, especially those in the center of the city.
The Clinton administration provided the local ruling class’s demolition plans a boost by passage and implementation of the so-called “HOPE VI” housing program in 1993, and the elimination of the “one-for one” rule in 1995, which had required the government to rebuild every public housing apartment it destroyed. In the name of “redeveloping” and “improving” public housing into “mixed income communities”, the Clinton administration, with full support from the Republican Congress, demolished over 80,000 public housing units between 1996 and 2002. In New Orleans alone the number of units dropped by over half, to about 6,000 apartments.
In New Orleans--and across the country--developments located on valuable real estate have been the most vulnerable to HOPE VI “redevelopment” schemes. For example, the housing authority, working with private developers in a “public-private partnership”, and with the help of sell-out “community activists”, demolished the entire St. Thomas complex in 2001, which was located along the riverfront and the growing tourist complex of hotels, restaurants, condos, and the convention center. This ethnic and class cleansing drove some 1000 working class African Americans families from the area. The new, privately run development, now called ‘river gardens”, has very few former St. Thomas residents, while expensive condos go up in place of public housing apartments.
Next on the Hit List: The Iberville Housing Development
Real estate sharks and the tourist industry, and their servants at city hall, and HANO, have been working to destroy Iberville for many years. In the late 1980s a “task force” was formed, led by corporate lawyer Donald Mintz, to co-opt the tenants leadership to support “redevelopment”. In 2001 New Orleans Saints owner Thomas Benson floated a plan to demolish Iberville and build a new stadium on the site. In 2004, real estate developer Pres Kabacoff has presented a “final solution” for Iberville. His plan for a “revitalized” Canal Street includes massive displacement of the existing community. The housing authority is cooperating. In October 2004 they released a plan that would reduce Iberville from 853 to only 200 public housing units
The Iberville, like the former St Thomas, sits on valuable real-estate next to the historic French Quarter. The ruling class in New Orleans has carried out a conscious policy to control and remove working class, poor and African American people from the growing tourist complex. The last concentration of working class African Americans in the French Quarter were forced out in the early 1970s. The destruction of St Thomas furthered ethnic cleansing along the riverfront. Other efforts, such as the re-routing of the annual Martin Luther King parade away from Canal Street, and attempts to eliminate Canal Street as the city’s central bus-transfer depot, have all been designed to drive working class people, particularly African Americans, out of site of the tourists.