Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Northeast Philly Comes To NoLA

As reported in another New York Times editorial this morning, the U.S. House passed a bill authorizing the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Alphonso Jackson to issue tens of thousands of new housing vouchers under the Section 8 program for low-income housing to the residents who lost their homes in the Katrina catastrophe.

And if you live or have lived in Northeast Philadelphia (and other communities, I’m sure), I don’t have to tell you anything about Section 8 housing (named after the section in the U.S. Housing Code that enforces it).

“Section 8 Housing” is a war cry emanating from politicians (primarily Repugs) who try to frighten voters into supporting them by conjuring up visions of low-income residents moving into their neighborhoods and threatening their property values. And where I grew up, this was definitely used with racist overtones, with the fear being that African Americans will move in everywhere and our neighborhoods will become riddled with crime, blight, and rampant drug use.

And though there is plenty of blight in Philadelphia neighborhoods with predominantly an African-American population (as well as other populations), it should be noted that the arrival of “big-box retail” accomplished much of what the politicians brayed about in Northeast Philadelphia concerning Section 8; as a result, we endured depressed property values and a subsequent increase in crime, blight, and rampant drug use (as well as environmental harm, since trees and grasslands all over the place were paved over), proving that, while Section 8 housing is not as “business friendly” as commercial real estate development, the end result can be the same.

But the areas hardest hit by Katrina bear no resemblance to Northeast Philadelphia, I know, and the residents in these places would benefit the most from an expanded voucher program such as the one just passed by the House.

Especially since it’s hard to get a clear picture of what is being accomplished in the blighted areas of NoLA from this “list of accomplishments” from HUD. I see a lot of community development block grant mitigation plan approvals and grant money freed up and distributed, but not much else (and months after the fact as well – and though this ThinkProgress link is over a year old, I honestly cannot imagine that much has changed, especially if we are still at a stage where the displaced Katrina residents still have to qualify for funding to move into a home).

But what is emblematic of the entire lack of coordination and mishandling in the Katrina mess (not exclusively by Bushco, though) is this: as stated in the Times editorial, thousands of families hardest hit by Katrina could lose their temporary aid by September, yet FEMA misallocated some aid money by buying too many trailers that they now have to ditch at “fire sale” prices (and couldn't MSNBC have used an expression other than "flood the market"?).

(I can just picture Messrs. Brown and Chertoff on late-night satellite T.V. hawking these things along with the $99 paint job from Earl Scheib and a Tom Carvel Ice Cream “Cookie Puss,” just before the “Star-Spangled Banner” plays and the test pattern appears…oy).

Update 3/30/07: And speaking of NoLA...

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