Thousands of New Orleans Public
Housing Units to be Destroyed as 200,000+ Low-Income Residents
Amy Goodman interviews Bill Quigley
Democracy Now, June 20th, 2006
Bill Quigley. He is a law professor at
Loyola University in New Orleans, also the director of the Law
Clinic and Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University.
His most recent article is on the website Counterpunch. It's entitled
"Bulldozing Hope: HUD to New Orleans' Poor: 'Go F(ind) Yourself
(Housing)!" Welcome to Democracy Now!, Bill.
BILL QUIGLEY: Welcome, Amy. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you back
and to be with you in the studios of WLAE in New Orleans, where
we broadcast from when we were in New Orleans. Talk about the
whole plan for public housing.
BILL QUIGLEY: Well, it's, you know, HUD.
"Hypocritical urban demolition" really is what HUD stands
for. The federal government in New Orleans has been in the business
of demolishing and destroying housing. And what's happening here
in New Orleans right now is such an outrage, at a time of our
biggest affordable housing crisis ever, that the federal government
has decided that they are going to destroy 5,000 units of public
housing is a disgrace. We have people in this town that are living
in abandoned housing, that are living in houses without electricity
and water, that don't even have completely fixed-up roofs.
And what HUD is doing here is part of
a national policy to destroy public housing and replace it with
this euphemism of mixed-income housing, which is translated for
the people who live there, means they take conventional public
housing, destroy it and then allow about 10% of the people who
used to live there to come back, but it is a great bonanza for
developers, for real estate people, for banks, for construction
groups and the like.
The public housing in New Orleans is actually
some of the most structurally sound property that we have in this
entire city. And the attack is not really on the buildings. It's
not really about the housing. It is an attack on the people who
live in the buildings.
The people who live in the buildings,
the poor, as you heard earlier, the people who attend the public
schools, the people who need the healthcare and the like, those
people who are our sisters and brothers, those people who are
the working poor that keep our community together. Those people
are being attacked on every front, from public education, public
housing, employment, public healthcare and the like. And this
just shows that they have -- that the federal government has no
shame whatsoever, that they would demolish houses under these
The important thing I want to say, though,
is that the residents are not just taking this. They had a march
this past weekend where they marched to an upper income community,
said, "Look, if you want to mix, let's do mixed income. Let's
mix income in your community, you know?" And they held a
big banner in front of a $2 million house, said, "Look, if
we're going to start mixed income, let's start here."
They have set up a survivor's village,
a tent city, outside of a 1,300-unit apartment called the St.
Bernard Housing Development, and on July 4, which I think is a
really important time, on July 4, they have vowed that if the
federal government and local government doesn't let them back
into their houses at this 1,300-unit apartment complex, where
they have put up fences and barb-wire net, that on July 4, they
are going to liberate their own houses and go back, because that's
what's going to be necessary in order be able to take back this
city and take back opportunities for the people who built this
city, whose culture permeates this city, who have kept this city
alive. There's not room for them in the plans that are going forward.
AMY GOODMAN: As you talk about this plan
they have to liberate their own housing, maybe you could comment
on the National Guard coming back to New Orleans and patrolling
BILL QUIGLEY: Yes. You know, the mayor,
the governor, the city council and those folks have asked for
and have received a large number of National Guard, large number
of state police, and that is their response. We had a tragic murder
over the weekend, where five young men under the age of 19 were
killed. And it's a horrifying thing. I think, though, it's very
important to know one of those young men worked at a fast food
place, and he was working at a fast food place because he had
not been able to get back into school. He had shown back up in
the spring, and he was not able to get back into school, because
they said they didn't have room for him, and he should just go
ahead and start in the fall.
If you don't have schools, if you don't
have housing, if you don't have healthcare, if you don't have
electricity, don't have water, then, you know, there is a point
at which people are not going to respond accordingly. So the response
of the community has not been "Let's reinvest in our public
education system." It has not been "Let's reinvest in
our housing system." It has not been "Reinvest in the
healthcare." It is "Let's get some more troops in this
town to try to prevent the looting and the bad things that are
Certainly people need protection. Certainly
security is part of it, but you just can't do that. You cannot
privatize every public institution that we have and just make
it available for people with money and expect the rest of the
people just to sit back or not come home or just be -- allow themselves
to be victimized over and over and over again. It's not going
AMY GOODMAN: You quote the Republican
Congressmember Richard Baker, ten-term Republican from Baton Rouge,
telling lobbyists, when Katrina displaced New Orleans' public
housing residents, he said, "We finally cleaned up public
housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it. But God did."
BILL QUIGLEY: Yes. You know, and sadly
that is the position of an awful lot of our elected officials
and a lot of our local power elite, is that they blame the problems
of New Orleans on the people who are the number one victims of
the problems of New Orleans. They blame the kids with disabilities
for having problems in schools when they're not properly placed.
The jails are full. Now they're blaming the judges for not putting
higher bonds on people when we've had three jury trials in our
criminal law system since last August. Our criminal law system
is broken, along with all the rest of these things, and all it's
about is blaming the victims.
And I think there's a real lesson here
for the rest of us in the United States, because what's happening
in the Lower Ninth Ward, what's happening in New Orleans with
Katrina, is graphic and it's illustrative because it's so condensed
and it's so easy to see, but these same exact forces of privatization,
of imposing stigmas on poor people, of keeping people out of neighborhoods,
of destroying our public housing, destroying public healthcare,
destroying public education, those things are happening in every
community across this country, and there is a real lesson here
for people. Not only should they give us solidarity in New Orleans,
because we need that, particularly on July 4 for the next thing.
But to understand that what is happening
to New Orleans is what we have done to the people of Iraq, what
we have done as a country to places outside of our country and
what we are doing, maybe slower, a little more subtly, in every
major city in this country. The people of New Orleans say, you
know, if our government is treating us this way, can you imagine
how they are treating the people of Iraq? Can you imagine how
they are treating the people of Afghanistan? Can you imagine what's
going on in Central and Latin America? And there is a lesson here.
It's a teaching lesson for us about the priorities of our country,
the priorities of the people in power, and the way that they are
willing to marginalize and just discard the needs of poor and
working folks in this community, but in communities all across
Why do we have a minimum wage of $5.15
an hour, you know, in this day and age in the richest country
in the history of the world? Why do we have people that are living
in abandoned housing, without electricity, without water, and
at the same time we are going to destroy 5,000 units of public
housing? This is a disgrace! But these people are saying they're
doing it for our good. They're doing it because they know what's
better. It's paternalism. It's so-called tough love. It is an
attack on the people who built this country and the people who
built our communities.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill Quigley, law professor
at Loyola University. A census was done looking at the four months
after the Hurricane Katrina that found New Orleans has become
considerably whiter, older, less poor, not because people have
more money there, but because those who are poor are no longer
there. Do you think that there is a kind of plan here to use New
Orleans as a social experiment, to look at a privatized city in
BILL QUIGLEY: I think absolutely that
there is. New Orleans has become the national laboratory for charter
schools. We have more charter schools than we have anything else,
and that's continuing to grow. We have become the laboratory for
destruction of a public healthcare system. We are now at the point
where we are the laboratory for the destruction of public housing.
Every one of our public institutions that were destroyed have
not been rebuilt, and that is done consciously in an attempt to
And privatization makes sense for people
who have resources. It makes sense for people who want to own
those resources, but it does not make sense for people who have
a sense of community, of the common good and a role of government
to provide an opportunity for people who are left out of the normal
maximization of profit forces that are in the market.
And New Orleans -- if people don't understand
it, what is happening to New Orleans is coming to your community.
Maybe it's going to come slower. Maybe it's going to come a little
more subtle, but it is the laboratory to take what the lessons
that our country is imposing on the rest of the world and to plant
them in the United States and they are calling them success. That's
the thing. They are destroying our community. They are displacing
our elderly, our disabled, our poor, and they are saying it's
success and this is what we have to do in order to save ourselves.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill Quigley, the black population
in New Orleans has gone from over a third of the population being
black to just about 1/5 of the population. What about the right
of return? Do you see people returning?
BILL QUIGLEY: Well, the numbers aren't
exact -- it was about two-thirds, a little over two-thirds black.
And it's a little bit less than 50% at this point. But everybody
is asking for the right to return. They're starting to demand
the right to return. The people who are back, as you said, are
whiter, more affluent, more old than the way the city was before.
They're perfectly happy with the city that they have now. And
they do not want their quality of life diminished or diluted by
letting back in those people.
And those people are the people who are
in public schools. Those people are the people who are in public
housing. Those people are the people who need public healthcare.
But those people are also the people who clean our streets, clean
our hotels, cook our food, take care of our parents, are the cashiers,
are the servers, are the waitresses, the working folks who keep
our lives together. So we want their services, but we don't want
to have them live in our community anymore. And so it has racial
angle, has a very definite class angle, and it also has a significant
corporate privatization angle, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill Quigley, I want to thank
you for being with us. If people want to follow what's happening
in New Orleans, read articles, learn about projects that are there
for rebuilding, is there a place you can recommend that they go
on the web?
BILL QUIGLEY: There are a couple of places
they could go. There's one called justiceforneworleans.org, which
is all one word. Common Ground Collective maintains information
on that, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill Quigley, we'll link
to these sites at democracynow.org. And I want to thank you very
much for being with us. Law professor at Loyola University, director
of the Law Clinic and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola.