Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Long-Lost Art of Letter Writing: One Lame Duck's Correspondence With Another

It has been reported that Mayor C. Ray Nagin has written an official letter to George W. Bush declaring his reservations about FEMA's emergency relocation plan for the 25,000 Orleans Parish residents affected by dangerously high formaldehyde levels in FEMA trailers.

You can get a copy of that letter here. You can read the T-P article here.

Quickly, I'll recap the FEMAldehyde situation.

Almost two weeks ago, FEMA finally admitted that the trailers they've distributed to victims of Hurricane Katrina have dangerous levels of formaldehyde. The contamination is so extreme, in fact, that they announced impending emergency relocation of tens of thousands of people on the Gulf Coast.

FEMA took a week and announced their plans to begin relocating affected individuals and families to hotels and apartments on a temporary emergency basis. They began formulating plans to carry out this relocation, including public information sessions, which began on Monday.

I'm not saying FEMA created a good or even mediocre plan. I'm just saying they went through the trouble.

Mayor Nagin, for his part, determined just the other day, after FEMA had already begun implementing its emergency strategy, that it was appropriate to say something.

So he wrote a letter to the President.

In it, he rightfully scalds the FEMA relocation strategy. He correctly notes that because New Orleans faces an affordable housing crisis, the citizens in need of emergency shelter due to formaldehyde exposure will become displaced from New Orleans area. It is the first time I can remember hearing or seeing him acknowledge the city's affordable housing shortage or admitting to inflated post storm rental rates.

He states that the situation is "a significant public health crisis."

Nagin refers to a "second great displacement" of New Orleanians that will occur should FEMA's plan not be modified. This is a sad truth. This is the second mass relocation involving tens of thousands of socially and economically disadvantaged people within 3 years. You can come to your own conclusions regarding the human rights implications of that. Suffice it to say, it makes me sick to my stomach.

But Mayor Nagin, in what could also be interpreted as a shrewd way to communicate with our ultra-benevolent President, did not really discuss the human rights of his citizens. Instead, Nagin bemoans the loss of the workforce, which he says would overly stress the economy. He doesn't talk about how the proposed displacement would also cause additional stress to victims who would then be on their own to find a new job in their emergency location or forced somehow commute back to New Orleans from who-knows-where. That's more important to me as a fellow human being than what would happen to the stupid hotels if their dishwasher or their valet is forced to no-show on Friday night.

This is indicative of the callous attitude Mr. Nagin has displayed toward the his most disadvantaged constituents for the entirety of his administration.

Thus, Nagin unveils his own alternative to the FEMA relocation strategy. In addition to a call for free health care for victims of formaldehyde exposure and yet another nudge to speed up the Road Home Program - both worthy requests - Mayor Nagin does briefly lay out a plan to temporarily house the thousands of displaced people right here in New Orleans.

Nagin's solution is to have FEMA pay for the rehabilitation of 3,500 storm-damaged housing units or construction of temporary "panelized units" on vacant lots.

You've got to be kidding me, Mr. Mayor.

Where are the formaldehyde victims going to go in the interim? What are our neighbors to do while you haggle with FEMA about how much to build, for what price, and where? How long are you prepared to make people wait while FEMA renovate damaged homes?

You know what might have been a good idea Mr. Mayor?

Anticipating the easily anticipated.

If I were Mayor of New Orleans, I would have formulated an emergency relocation contingency plan to FEMA about a year and a half ago. That was when it became abundantly clear that the travel trailers that FEMA had purchased and distributed to my hypothetical constituents were contaminated with dangerous levels of a cancerous chemical. Not only would I have pushed FEMA to actually go through with their official tests, something that they postponed for months and months because they knew what they would find, but I also would have had a plan in place for FEMA to help house my citizens in the event that something like this happened.

I would not have demolished the salvageable public housing stock of the city. Instead, I would have suggested that developers interested in mixed-income communities try to focus on the empty lots that HUD and HANO had already abandoned. I would have immediately secured funding to make the standing units livable. By now, I'm sure, enough of those units would be ready and able to help house at least some of our neighbors being displaced by formaldehyde exposure.

Mr. Nagin's passive attitude toward the conjoining crises currently stressing our affordable housing market is a disgrace. His objections to FEMA's relocation strategy are insultingly, yet unsurprisingly, behind schedule. His alternative plan is an incomplete attempt to earn a mulligan for his disastrous role in pushing a poorly vetted and reactionary pro-demolition agenda. That refers to the demolition of public housing AND the absolutely insane demolitions of citizens' private homes against their will.

Did you read all that Mr. Mayor? I just ripped holes through your entire reign of terror on this city. Do you have anything substantive to say at all?

Why don't you get riled up about something useful?

Or you can just come cold cock me in the face. At least then I could look into your eyes to check if there's anything there.

Be well.


Schroeder said...

One wonders if Nagin has ever stepped foot inside a FEMA trailer, a kitchen, or a hotel laundry room.

He could easily have anticipated the needs of residents -- er, workers -- if he had actually ever walked the walk, instead of just talking the talk.

This is what happens when policy decisions affecting people's lives are made based upon knee-jerk ideological beliefs, rather than sound social science, analysis, and dialog.

Thanks for putting the statement out there, and so eloquently.

E said...

Thanks Schroeder.

He also could have easily anticipated the needs of residents if he read some of our blogs!

But we know he thinks blogs are the comments sections of

NOLA radfem said...

Great post.

Everybody knew about the FEMA trailer situation with lots of notice. They did nothing. Nothing.