Demolition of the final 'Big Four' complex stirs up memories of the past and anxiety about the future of N.O. public housing
Friday, April 11, 2008
By Katy Reckdahl
Forty years ago, Mary Joseph was helping families at the Lafitte public housing development as a home counselor.
On Thursday morning, Joseph, now head of the Children's Defense Fund of Louisiana, sat in her car not far from the Lafitte's Tonti Street court, watching yellow backhoes ripping into the development's buildings.
She felt sorrow as she recalled the late 1960s and early 1970s in the complex, across Orleans Avenue from the offices of prominent civil rights leaders A.P. Tureaud and Dutch Morial and from the frequent civil rights meeting spot, Dooky Chase restaurant. She had been inside nearly every apartment and knew the families well, she said.
Like many who came to view the destruction, Joseph and her co-worker Glenda Harris also talked about the post-Katrina squeeze on affordable housing.
They wondered how much of that shortage could be addressed with the mixed-income housing planned for the sites of the now-demolished "Big Four" housing developments.
Down the street, a group of protesters stood listlessly, holding signs. Among them was lawyer Tracie Washington of the Louisiana Justice Institute, who said she and other attorneys challenged the demolitions in every court, but failed.
She wondered whether the mixed-income developers' plans would shrink now that the value of low-income tax credits used to finance the plans has declined.
Joseph said housing officials should examine the city's needs as a whole, rather than just at replacements for demolished complexes.
"We need a unified housing plan," she said. said. "We are chipping away at this, development by development."
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A Gathering to Honor Lafitte and Protest Its Destruction on Friday April 11, 2008. From left to right: Glenda Harris, Mr. Joseph, Mary Joseph, Tracie Washington and Lauren Bartlett