A demonstration over the rights of former public housing residents turned into direct action today as more than 70 people streamed into the rental offices of Columbia Parc, the new name of the former St Bernard public housing development.
The crowd included dozens of former public housing residents, including former St Bernard residents like Stephanie Mingo and Sharon and Kuwana Jasper; civil rights lawyers like Bill Quigley and Davida Finger; activists from grassroots organizations like Stand with Dignity, Safe Streets Strong Communities, Critical Resistance; and many others. Their demands were simple: "they promised us that former residents would be able to move into these new units," said activist Stephanie Mingo. "They lied. Now we're trying to hold them to their word." Activists complained that Columbia Parc has placed unreasonable requirements on former residents, making it practically impossible for any of them to find homes in this supposed "mixed income" development that was built over their former homes.
More than 1,500 families lost their homes when the St. Bernard development was torn down. Activists say that 130 units in the new development were supposedly set aside for former residents, but even that small number has not materialized.
The action was the beginning of a weekend of actions organized by local housing rights organizations Survivors Village, Mayday New Orleans, and others. More actions are planned for Saturday and Sunday morning, starting at 9:00am.
The actions in New Orleans are part of a month of actions in support of the right to housing that have been taking place across the US, from New York City to Portland, OR to Madison, WI, Chicago, IL, San Francisco, CA, and several more. These actions have all been organized by local groups affiliated with the Take Back the Land Movement (TBLM). TBLM is a network of local organizations dedicated to demanding people's fundamental human right to housing housing and community control over land.
M. Endesha Juakali of Survivors Village says the reason for these actions are simple. "You've got 20,000 homeless people in New Orleans and 60,000 empty houses," he says. "It's basic math."