About two dozen protesters temporarily seized control of the offices of the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) on Aug. 31, protesting the lack of public housing in the city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The demonstration was led by public housing advocate groups and local residents, and spurred National Guard soldiers and local police to seal off neighboring streets while negotiating with the protesters.
The protesters demanded to speak with HANO Chairman Donald Babers, who was away from the office traveling on business, according to Adonis Exposé, HANO’s director of communications. After about two and a half hours, the protesters walked out peacefully, chanting “no justice, no peace.”
HANO announced in June 2006 that it would demolish four of the city’s largest public housing developments— St. Bernard, Lafitte, C.J. Peete, and the B.W. Cooper—and replace them with mixed-income neighborhoods. HANO is currently under the control of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The redevelopment plans prompted an ongoing civil rights lawsuit led by the Louisiana Justice Institute on behalf of HANO residents. The redevelopment plans are on hold until at least Nov. 26, when the lawsuit goes to trial.
Prior to the hurricane, about 5,100 families lived in public housing in New Orleans; today, the number of occupied units is 1,561 as of Aug. 8, according to HANO. The protesters wanted the old complexes rehabilitated and reopened as they were before Hurricane Katrina, instead of as communities that mix market-rate and workforce housing with affordable housing. Redevelopment plans at C.J. Peete, for instance, call for a total of 410 units, with some of those market-rate units, compared to the 723 affordable housing units the development had before the hurricane.
The protests coincided with the two-year anniversary of the hurricane’s landfall in New Orleans. Local advocacy groups like Common Ground Collective, the Louisiana Justice Institute, and People’s Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition held an “International Tribunal” from Aug. 29 to Sept. 2, which put government officials on mock trial to mark the anniversary.