Charles Jackson, media coordinator for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), was anxious last week as today’s anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approached. The city had declared that on this day it would seize whatever homes had not yet been cleaned-up or reclaimed in order to resell and/or demolish them – without even notifying the former residents.
"We are trying to get the deadline extended to November," Jackson said. "Why hit people with another act of devastation on the anniversary? How about a little compassion?"
But compassion has been in as short supply as clean water in the Lower 9th Ward over the last year. ACORN had 9,000 member families in New Orleans when Katrina hit, and one year later 7,500 have not yet returned. It looked as though they might not have homes to return to at all.
However, yesterday marked a small victory for ACORN. The New Orleans City Council amended its seizure order so that residents with homes scheduled for gutting and cleaning by ACORN (or 15 other groups) will be deemed in compliance (it should be noted that the city is not providing any funds to groups like ACORN for this vital work). For homes not yet scheduled for clean-up, the city will attempt to contact the owners twice in 60 days before proceeding to take possession of the property. Jackson says that ACORN didn’t get everything it wanted with this compromise but at least it stopped the bulldozers for now.
"We had already fought to get the anniversary deadline amended so that the Lower 9th residents and the elderly were exempted due to hardship," Jackson says. "But what about New Orleans East and other parts of the city? We’ve literally got neighborhoods with thousands of homes where we’ve been able to get, maybe, one family back. Lower-income families can’t even afford the transportation to come back here. Now at least we’ve gained a little more protection for struggling families we are working with."
The work to protect homeowners, tenants and neighborhoods began in the immediate aftermath of the disaster when Mayor Ray Nagin announced that the city would demolish approximately 50,000 homes in the wake of the flooding. In December, the city was set to bulldoze the first 2,500 homes when ACORN members won a settlement requiring that homeowners be notified and given the opportunity to appeal before any action is taken.
That same month, ACORN launched its "Home Clean-Out Demonstration Program" to handle the work that the government is still failing to do. ACORN crews clean out debris, gut the interior of homes, eradicate mold and provide roof repair free of charge (ACORN spends an average of $2,500 per home). Without this remediation, many of the homes would deteriorate beyond repair. Which, perhaps, is exactly the result being hoped for by some power elites in the city.