TELLING STORIES, CHANGING THE CONVERSATION

Silenced in the city: New Orleans residents want more accountability, and to be heard

in Government & Policy by

Residents in New Orleans still navigate the difficult terrain of rebuilding and fair treatment years after levees failed.

Behind Louis Armstrong Park in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans’ Treme neighborhood sits the wooden frame of a home deserted in the early stages of building.

Next door is an abandoned, boarded-up house. Years later, its white exterior turned ashen. Faded red words spray painted on the siding, decorate the two story abode. On the second floor, a window sits open, showcasing black mold that covers rotting beams barely holding up the roof. The house has been sitting in disrepair since August 2005, the year Hurricane Katrina deployed so much water that it compromised levees which resulted in the area’s flooding.

Residents of New Orleans who stayed or returned, still work to rebuild 13 years following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. While there have been growing developments, New Orleanians think that the city’s leadership can do much more.

In late May, Amy F. Shelly attended a council meeting with a group of residents in their swimsuits to protest their lack of access at public aquatic facilities. “The goal was for us to ask the incoming commissioners . . . to begin changing the culture and listening to people,” said Shelly in an interview with WTUL news when she described how previous staff of New Orleans Recreation Development Commission (NORDC) were often incommunicado to discuss issues with the public.

Shelly continued, “We ask that NORDC’s culture change and not be so tone deaf to people who number one, pay their salaries. NORDC is not responsive to certain communities. You communicate with them, they do not answer.”

An urban planner who picked up local advocacy, Shelly makes up a number of residents who express discontent with the treatment of city goers in the rebuilding process.

This past March, East Ward locals protested the city council’s approval of a new power plant set to reside in a largely African-American and Vietnamese district. Last year, short-term rentals spawned by AirBnB, instigated larger problems of affordable housing in a city with over half of families living in poverty. Due to the overwhelming development of charter schools, an ongoing fight in the control of educational institutions persists.

Gritty Gets Grittier

Residents are beginning to realize that the traditional corruption and red tape bureaucracy in New Orleans has become more sanguine. In a Post-Hurricane Katrina society, crises have become cash cows for corporations.

City activists discovered that about 100 paid actors appeared at council meetings to testify on behalf of the new power plant. For residential construction, public housing is being replaced by less dense, mixed income developments built by privately owned, for-profit firms that often charge more than the average family can afford.

As for the charter school takeover of public schools, most institutions have failed abysmally with respect to high teacher turnover rates, low quality services for special needs students and a plethora of other issues leaving parents and students enraged. All the while, some administrators are paid over a quarter of a million dollars, as reported by Huffington Post.

Shelly’s experience with pools providing hours for adults and lap swimming, found similar circumstances with many growing services in the city becoming privatized, like NORDC. She said, “There people making six figures there. They will barely answer you, and can barely write a sentence. It’s mind-boggling because if they were in corporate America, then they would’ve been fired … It gives many of us a little bit of heartburn that they’re not more responsive and not more competent.”

Recent elections have replaced a considerable amount of New Orleans elected officials. The city appointed its first African-American woman mayor and Vietnamese council member. Shelly emphasized, “We’re hoping that the new leadership at some point, weigh in when things occur. And actually support the citizens.”

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