Wednesday, April 09, 2008

"Bad Intelligence"

Today's article in the Times Picayune is a watershed disclosure that validates the warnings of public housing advocates that opposed the demolition of the city's "big four" developments.

Many demolition opponents, myself included, made appeals to stave off the issuance of knockdown permits based on human rights issues related to the affordable housing crisis.

But this post isn't about the affordable housing crisis.

This post is about the word "intelligence."

What does that word mean?

Well, one definition, perhaps the one used most commonly, refers to a human being's individual capacity to process ideas.

Another definition of the word "intelligence" has become especially familiar for people that read the news. It was faulty "intelligence," or available information that lead Bush administration officials to justify claiming that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction during the campaign to win Congressional authorization for the invasion of Iraq.

In New Orleans, the Housing Authority of New Orleans, run by HUD and Alphonso Jackson, contracted out the redevelopment of the C.J. Peete, B.W. Cooper, Lafitte, and St. Bernard projects to private companies to build mixed income communities with a certain percentage of housing units being sold at market rates.

I refer you to audio testimony from Rev. Marshall Truehill:

Audio posted by Matt Olson to NOLA Indymedia (1.0 megabytes)

What Rev. Truehill brings up is not made up. HUD and HANO have already knocked down projects and failed to follow through on redevelopment promises. Just drive by the Magnolia section of C.J. Peete or go to Imperial Drive. There is no redevelopment.

No condos, no big box retailers, no single-family homes, no mixed income communities, no affordable housing. No nothing.

Only weeds.

Now, Rev. Truehill did not make those statements yesterday. He and others were saying this months and months ago, before City Council steamrolled approval of the demolition permits. Opponents of demolition demanded finished and detailed plans from the developers. Many people raised the specter that the redevelopment plans were incomplete, that there weren't the legal guarantees necessary to ensure that the city wouldn't be left with its pants down in an empty lot, or that the city wouldn't be left its pants down in a gated community that doesn't provide an adequate number of affordable units.

For instance, did the developers even have financing plans in place to fund reconstruction?

Even Mayor Nagin believed this concern to be a legitimate one. He refused to sign the demolition permit for Lafitte for weeks and weeks because he found that HUD hadn't provided the necessary "redevelopment financing, planning and contingencies."

But it wasn't just the Lafitte plans that were incomplete. In a letter to Alphonso Jackson, Mayor Nagin wrote that though he had decided to approve the demolition plans, he was still expecting the delivery of some important information from HUD. (I'll highlight the key phrases)

As a demonstration of good faith, the city will allow HUD to proceed with the demolition of C.J. Peete and B.W. Cooper housing developments without interruption. However, we will expect you to provide the following written documentation to the city by the end of the year or as soon as possible:

B. W. Cooperredevelopment financing plans, executed development contracts,

redevelopment and repopulation timelines. A MOU with the resident council will not be

required since residents are part of the development team.

C.J. Peete-- redevelopment financing plans, executed development contracts,

redevelopment and repopulation timelines and a signed redevelopment MOU with the

resident council.

In keeping with our earlier agreement and the conditions of the motion approved by the City Council, demolition permits will be granted for the remaining public housing developments – St Bernard and Lafitte — after the following conditions are satisfied, which should occur on or before February 28, 2008:

Documentation of redevelopment financing plans, executed development contracts and
signed MOUs with the resident councils.

So literally, LITERALLY, the City Council approved of the demolition of a huge portion of New Orleans' public housing stock in the midst of an affordable housing crisis WITHOUT THEMSELVES DEMANDING DOCUMENTATION OF REDEVELOPMENT FINANCING PLANS.

Now, of course, it didn't take long for the Mayor to get the "documentation" he needed and he approved the demolition of all of the public housing complexes in question.

I'm sorry that took so long, but I thought it was important context for today's article:

The rapid decline in financial markets has upset plans developers made last year to remake the public housing developments with a mix of public and private money. Since the City Council voted to demolish the complexes late last year, a spiraling credit crisis has made banks uneasy about making new loans. Meanwhile, the value of low-income housing tax credits that will be used to finance the projects has declined.

In recent weeks, the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency, the state entity handling the award of tax credits, has said that any affordable housing developers who have not yet closed on their financing plans may find themselves unable to do so.

Ah ha! The developers are now acknowledging that they might have trouble redeveloping the sites that we handed over to them.


In December, Mayor Ray Nagin required developers to submit copies of financing plans before the city would issue demolition permits, but those were not signed deals proving that the financing was actually in place.

The Times-Picayune filed a public records request for copies of the financing plans submitted by each developer, but the mayor's office did not make them available within three days as required by law.

Ah ha! Mayor Nagin confronted the problem of not having "documentation of redevelopment financing plans" by writing a letter demanding documentation in exchange for the permits. He ultimately issued the permits after he was provided documents that were apparently "not signed deals proving that the financing was actually in place."

And, on top of that, the Mayor is now violating public records laws, which is something we should all take very seriously. (I'm sure it's not the first time)

Regardless of who's to blame, financing is not yet in place for the housing that is supposed to be constructed in place of Lafitte, St. Bernard, C.J. Peete and B.W. Cooper.

How long are those lots going to be empty now? As long as those at Magnolia?

Read the whole article. It's an important one.

Let's talk about "intelligence" again.
This time let's talk about the distinction between "bad intelligence" and "no intelligence" using the two uses of the word "intelligence" that I began this post talking about.

I'm going to lay it out this way:

If you have "no intelligence," it means that someone is deficient in its capacity to process ideas or that someone possesses no pertinent information on a given subject.

If you have "bad intelligence," it means two possible things.

One type of "bad intelligence" is information a person has on a pertinent subject turns out to be incorrect or misleading.

The other type of "bad intelligence" does not speak to an individual's capacity to process ideas. Rather, to have "bad intelligence" in this sense inherently means that one possesses the ability.
"Bad intelligence" refers to a willful use of one's capacity to process ideas to manipulate those with "no intelligence" in the second sense that I described for that word.

To put it more bluntly, what I'm saying is that the elected officials of the City - the Mayor, but particularly City Council - willfully manipulated the demolition permit process and took advantage of residents of New Orleans that don't have access to the same information. They did not quietly approve of a Mayor's pet project of which they had little knowledge or interest. Rather, City Council aggressively pursued this plan. They were all aware that the redevelopment plans did not include financing plans. They were all well aware of the investigations swirling around HUD's Alphonso Jackson. They were all aware that one part of the investigation surrounding Mr. Jackson involved his dealings in, amongst other places, the city of New Orleans.

Thus, on Monday, when Mr. Lolis Eric Elie of the Times-Picayune attempted to ask members of City Council to defend their vote to approve of the demolition plans now that Mr. Jackson has resigned, they refused to speak with him.

"I don't like this line of questioning. It's adversarial."
"I don't need to explain anything. This conversation is over."
"He is not available for an interview on this topic," his spokesperson told me.

Today, at the end of Lolis Eric Elie's Wednesday column, there was a clarification submitted from the obviously embarrassed office of Councilman Arnie Fielkow:

New Orleans City Councilman Arnie Fielkow said that he has declined to comment on issues related to the council's vote on the advice of attorneys. There is a pending lawsuit related to that vote.

Oh, a lawsuit? Related to the vote that you presided over as Council President? Related to the vote to approve the demolition of the city's public housing?

Yes. There is a lawsuit filed because City Council, in its haste to pass the demolition permits and the shaky redevelopment plans, bypassed our city charter's requirement that the City Planning Commission give recommendations on matters related to public housing demolitions.

Thus, when City Council isn't approving of awfully suspicious demolition and redevelopment plans, they're breaking the law in their haste to do so.

What a convenient reason not to explain why nobody had the courage to stand up and ask basic questions relating to Alphonso Jackson's credibility and involvement in crafting the plans or choosing the developers.


In the meantime, while members of City Council are running for cover to avoid having to answer questions related to Mr. Jackson, Mayor Nagin still has the courage to embarrass himself and the city with public comments reflecting his own willful ignorance of current events.

Keep in mind that Alphonso Jackson just resigned in disgrace in the face of multiple investigations:

When I first came into office, I met with Alphonso, who was the undersecretary at the time. And everything dealing with HANO and HUD was on hold, nothing was moving forward. And he got those projects jump started. And it was about 600 or 700 million dollars worth of redevelopment that was going on prior to Katrina, and now going out, he's pretty much gotten just about every major housing project done . . . To me, that's going to be his legacy.


Bill Quigley has a much more accurate take on Alphonso Jackson's legacy:

HUD Secretary Jackson leaves a legacy of destruction in New Orleans. He used the Housing Authority of New Orleans as his personal pinata _ smashing it every time he wanted more money for a friend or contractor. He personally initiated the demolition of 4,500 low-income apartments during the worst housing crisis in the region's history.

He bullied the Mayor and City Council of New Orleans with repeated threats to cut off funds unless they went along with his demolition plans. He will never be forgotten by the thousands of families who are unable to return to New Orleans because of his draconian cutbacks in subsidized housing which will be 2/3rds less than before Katrina when all the plans are completed.


We miss Ashley.


Anonymous said...

please see

and download and read

"Final Economic Impact Report from Dr. James Richardson"

it is all about the housing crisis! The lack off affordable housing is cited as nola's greatest economic threat repeatedly. this is used to rationalize huge public expenditures for riverfront park improvements to attract completely undefined theoetical future development which will cause such an upsurge in our economy it will generate almost 24,000 jobs. when you look closely you see for $294 million, we get 851 'research and education' jobs and 22,906 tourism jobs. disconnect, much?

there is also a disconnect within the analysis regarding who we are trying to attract (a "creative class"), where they presumably will live, and what jobs they will have.(page 6) it looks like they are hoping creative class members (scientists etc) will come down here for 2 service industry jobs each that they will have to work to afford their Sean Cummings condo.

BTW, City Council members sit on the NOBC board and have probably received and accepted this report, which flatly contradicts their positions on public housing.

thanks for the great post.

Leigh C. said...

Yes, sir, I second that great post assessment by Anon.

I am also now wondering what will happen with the uptown church closings. Perhaps the Archdiocese needs to give the city council some tips...oh wait...they're booting parishioners outta their parish churches that they are attached to. I think they took THEIR cues from the city.

Oops. Bad intelligence.

jeffrey said...

Well as long as no one crashes their Volvo into any condos, I'm sure everything will be okay.

Anonymous said...

condos and modulars. they have no business replacing good buildings with modulars, which do NOTHING for the local workforce. plus the product depreciates, unlike historic buildings. they are also harder to finance, insure and maintain.