Today, I had a long and productive conversation with Mack, the ED of the community center in the lower 9th. He's really trying to lead a comeback of the neighborhood, FOR the people who lived there prior to Katrina. This was something that came up way back on my first trip down here. In terms of rebuilding here, it's important to plan for who you are rebuilding for. Maybe you've heard of Making It Right, a green development initiative launched (at least in part) with help from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. These houses are remarkable...but the problem relates to property taxes. These homes aren't given to people. Even if they previously owned their homes (and the lower 9th had one of the highest rates of home ownership in the nation prior to Katrina), they need to pay for their new MIR home. And many cannot pay the the property taxes...two people are now in danger of losing their new homes because of that.
Prior to Katrina, 65% of the ward residents were seniors (and again, homeowners). Four and a half years later, 5% have returned. One high school has reopened. City officials question why opening a school should be a priority, if there are no children. But there are children in the lower 9th ward! And when you ask people who were displaced to Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, etc, the number one reason they haven't moved back (if they have kids) is because of NOLA's dysfunctional school system...sigh...
And now I sit here wondering, after my conversation with Mack, where we hashed out a lot of things around community building, asking people to craft a vision together and stick to it, giving up their own agendas in the process, and why the fuck was it so easy to evacuate all of these people to different places around the country but without any plan on how to get people back home afterwards...and why is it up to a neighborhood ED of a community center to lead the effort in helping people track down their neighbors, and ask simple questions like 'what's preventing you from coming back?', and having to photocopy these questionnaires on a xerox machine?
"How do we do it?" Mack asks. When someone falls back into the mindset of 'my needs, and my organization, and my this and that', hit them with it again...keep the vision in mind, keep the vision in sight, hit them with it again, and again, and again. And be willing to tell people when it's time for them to leave the group. This is way too important for any one person or organization to be pissy about turf or credit. And the money that's been poured into this area? Well, it hasn't really happened. What money, I ask? Home after home, block after block is still a freaking disaster area. As far as people like me and Mack are concerned, if the money isn't helping people directly get back into their homes, the homes that they owned, then what's the point? Keep it. Everyone I've met down here working on this stuff (really working on this stuff, not looking for a media event) made less than $10K last year. These are the people out every day mowing lawns at empty houses to keep the City from being able to take the property. People like Mack, who simply wants people to take a block-by-block attitude to rebuilding this area. Thousands of volunteers have been here, billions of dollars were supposedly spent on "rebuilding" after the hurricanes. It has been the greatest failure imaginable. Four and a half years later, we've forgotten.
And now I am sitting here watching the news, and New Orleans was just awarded the 2013 Super Bowl, and the legislature approved $84 million in stadium renovations at the Superdome...are you fucking kidding me?? Oh, my GOD.