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On July 21st, several news channels in Dallas covered what they referred to as a “riot” or, better yet, a “stampede” for rental assistance vouchers. (See: http://newsone.com/nation/jothomas/section-8-stampede-dallas/) Estimates ranged from hundreds to thousands of people running desperately once the local housing office was open simply for the chance to fill out an application.  Prominent were images of this mass of running people and interviews with those who had been injured.  “Rental assistance at what price?” asks Ron Corning of Dallas, Texas’ (http://www.wfaa.com/news/local/Hundreds-line-up-for-Dallas-County-Rental-Vouchers-125555383.html)

What story is the mainstream media telling?  With words like “riot” and “stampede,” one might think they were talking about a violent, crazed and criminal group.  The reality involved poor and hard working family desperate to keep or put a roof of their heads.  Criminalizing people simply because they are poor is not new, however, in media or in policy.  Families that receive rental assistance live under the constant threat of “one-strike” rules and are required to do monthly community service, whereas wealthier families that receive “rental assistance” through the mortgage interest tax deduction (“MID”) do not).

This is the first time in 5 years that the City of Dallas has opened its Section 8 rental assistance vouchers wait list.  15,000 families were expected to apply for roughly 3,500 newly available vouchers.  Yes, families.  40-50% of recipients of rental assistance are families with children; 15% are seniors; 19% disabled.  While budgets are slashed on the backs of working and middle-class people, and banks get bailed out in the trillions, people who are in need of rental assistance are set against one another in the struggle to survive with only enough assistance to house 1 in 4 of them, and that’s IF they are eligible based on an ever-narrowing set of criteria.

Put another way, we have one of the most severe human rights crisis in many decades, particularly around the human right to housing, and our government stands by mutely while families are forced to participate in a foot race for ever shrinking resources.  Yet, this is not an issue of resources; it is an issue of values and whether we are committed to being an equitable society.  Low-income housing programs receive less than $4 billion, while subsidies for wealthier homeowners, such as the MID, cost the government over $150 billion.  Simply through equitable reforms of federal housing finance policy, rental assistance for those who need it most could be available as an entitlement and we would be one large step closer to protecting housing as a human right.  Rather than forcing families to race in desperation, we should be racing to create human rights based solutions that are equitable and ensure the dignity of all our communities.

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As Survivors Village and May Day New Orleans begins its campaign to oppose the destruction of the last traditional public housing development in the city of New Orleans, a deep sense of dread and fear courses into my mind. Its been only a few years since the last major battle to preserve the four other developments was fought and ended in the brutalizing of activists from across the country and a total violation of the rights of all involved. Since December 20, 2007, many have come to believe that organizing public housing is a lost cause. Others have moved on to other areas of injustice that need to be addressed as much as public housing. Those of us who have organized in public housing for decades and feel that the attack upon Iberville cannot go unanswered must try to find a new approach and apply the hard-learned lessons of the anti-demolition struggle to the conditions that currently exist in Iberville.

Though we probably made many other mistakes that need to be addressed I am putting my focus on three areas. These areas are as follows:

  •  We cannot fight for the people, we must fight with them. As hard as this job will be, we must build a core group of Iberville residents to lead and fight for themselves. Of course, everyone agrees with this, but doing it is hard work. It is much easier to get a few residents to stand in front of the camera while activists do all the real work and decide on what is to be done. The major weakness of the anti-demolition struggle was that although in the beginning there was a strong core group of residents, as residents got scared off, bought off, or just discouraged, and quit, we decided that we had an obligation to move forward without them. That was a failed strategy. In Iberville the hard work to build a core group of residents must be our first step, and every step taken from that point must be decided by that group.
  • We need to diversify our strategy & provide numerous ways for residents and others to be involved: The anti-demolition movement was fueled by a group of extremely sincere and courageous people. It was clear that nothing would happen if we did not disrupt the normal operations of the city – so that’s what we did. Direct Action became the strategy instead of a strategy. All of our efforts were put towards this one form of struggle. We must have a much more diversified approach in Iberville –and one that is chosen by the residents themselves–if we are to make a significant impact. Many people are not in a position to go to jail, get brutalized, or lose their homes, but that does not mean that they don’t want to participate. We must find a way to get them involved.
  • We must have a plan that comes from the people: During the anti-demolition struggle, everyone knew that we were against the demolition of public housing. But it was never clear what we were for. Going into Iberville, once the group of residents are identified and organized, the next step will be those residents making decisions about what they want their community to become. We will then organize around what the people want, and not just be perpetual anti-everything gadflies in the eyes of those we are trying to organize.

These are some of the things that I have identified that we can do better in Iberville.

Many of you that will read this on the blog fought in the anti-demolition struggle, or have been involved in other housing struggles: what are your thoughts on these issues? Going into Iberville we need all the fresh Ideas we can get, please share yours.

by M. Endesha Juakali, JD

See the flyer being used in our work organizing Iberville here

The property at 3820 Alfred Street has always been the focal point of the St. Bernard community. As the headquarters of the New Day Black Community Development Organization, it provided economic assistance, advocacy against injustice, day care services, job banks, GED programs, a youth club and many other social, political, and recreational services. There is not much left of what used to be our community physically, but the spirit, culture, and love for St. Bernard still lives. The FIGHTBACK center is the perfect place for the yearly Mothers’ Day reunions that the Big 7 parade has become.

Below are some pictures from this year’s parade and an interesting commentary by Endesha…..

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Regaining our culture of cooperation and struggle!

by M. Endesha Juakali

New Orleans and the St. Bernard community has always been a place where people enjoyed each other and loved a good party. But there is another part of our culture that I remember that seems to have disappeared lately. The original purpose of social aid and pleasure clubs was to assist the community and those who needed help. They were also called benevolent clubs because they were used to feed the hungry, help with rent and assist those in the community who were in need. A very large part of their benevolent activity was to bury indigent members of the community. The concept was that poor people could pool their pennies, nickels , and dimes into a sort of safety net for everyone. Therefore when they would come out yearly to embrace the pleasure side of the equation, the entire community had a good reason to party with the membership.

It seems that the current generation of participants have forgotten the original intent of these SOCIAL AID AND PLEASURE CLUBS. The aid part came first and the pleasure is at the end. Since the hurricane and levee breaches, the black community and all neighborhoods have been under constant attack by the forces of white supremacy and injustice. They have thus far been successful in their plan to turn back the hands of time.

 This necessitates a return to our roots, not only with helping each other, but also the community spirit to struggle against injustice.

The same brothers and sisters that put together the second line clubs also challenged the national guard tanks in 1968 with rocks and bottles after the murder of Martin Luther King. They were the ones that put together the Black Youth for Progress (BYP), and represented us in the historic period that saw segregation fall and issued in the Black political progress that has been overturned since hurricane Katrina.

The culture of St. Bernard has been based on helping each other, fighting for our rights, and having a good time. We are still having a good time once a year, but life is not about just partying…even in New Orleans!


SURVIVORS VILLAGE

SPRING CELEBRATION AND

TREE PLANTING CEREMONY

 

On Sunday, March 20, 2011 we will plant trees at the FIGHTBACK center in honor of Troy Avery and Ms. Gloria Irving & create a living testament to the hard work and sacrifice that they gave to the St. Bernard community.

 

This will be followed by a celebration of the continued struggle that we will wage in their honor and memory.

 

WE INVITE ALL OF OUR FRIENDS AND ALLIES TO

JOIN US AT THE FIGHTBACK CENTER

FOR OUR FIRST DAY OF SPRING CELEBRATION.

 

Date: Sunday March 20, 2011

Time: 3 pm. until ??

Place: The FIGHTBACK Center

3820 Alfred St.

New Orleans, LA

 

please bring a dish/drink or both to share if you are able

On Saturday, February 12, 2011 there was another spirited and successful work day at the FIGHTBACK center. The amount of work that has been accomplished in the last year is amazing, and I am truly grateful to the group of volunteers who have become passionate and consistent workers at the center.


The building at 3820 Alfred Street is the last vestige of the history of the struggle that was waged for decades in the St. Bernard community. It was really wonderful interacting with the many former residents of the community who came over to discuss the history of the building with the Delta corps volunteers during an earlier workday on MLK Day. I had forgotten some of the contributions that this building has made to the community and how many people had special times and events associated with it that they were anxious to share with others.


Since 1989, when the building was purchased by the New Day Black Community Development Corporation until now, this building has had only one purpose, to serve the people. Based on what was shared on MLK day it did its job well. As the headquarters for the movement, a daycare center, open office space for community residents, drug prevention services, youth recreation and social services, sponsoring sports teams and Sunday functions, headquarters for armed struggle against drug dealers during the crack epidemic, church services and other functions that even I didn’t know about.


I am looking forward to continuing this history in the future. The entire movement to stand up for the rights of people to safe, decent and sanitary housing post-Katrina was launched from this building, and the upcoming struggle for the right of the community to determine the future of this area will be based at this building.  I am very thankful to those that have seen and accepted my vision for the future use of the center.

On March 20, as spring returns to the earth, I plan to plant a liberation flag in front of the center and fruit trees for Mama Glo and Troy Avery, two passionate and strong community warriors who we lost in the past year. I hope to see you there.

Endesha

Another work day was held on Saturday, Feb 12. We cleared the back yard of all debris, and it is now ready for planting of a community garden. The reusable wood from the demolished portion in the back of the building has been separated into neat piles, and we have a good start on removing the nails from it. Here are some pictures from the workday:

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Survivors Village joins with other groups nationwide this Valentines Day to stand against the proposed cuts to housing.  Click on the link below to read more and HAVE A HEART!

Fact Sheet on Pending Housing Cuts

Also see this press release from the National Low Income Housing Coalition

Update 2/22:   For more info on the House budget proposal:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/16/2012-budget-housing-aid-house-gop_n_824189.html