Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Well-Studied and Thoughtful

I'd like to take this opportunity to respond to Councilwoman Stacy Head's statements attempting to clarify her comments related to personal choice and the continued use of FEMA trailers.

On March 27th, there was a report in the Times-Picayune that described a new city plan to set a deadline for people to move out of their FEMA trailers.

Stacy Head, cited as an architect of the policy, described the need for the plan like this:

"At what point are we going to say that in New Orleans it's not OK to live in a trailer as a lifestyle choice?" she asked. "There are many, many trailers in the non-flooded areas (where) people just would rather live there than deal with a house that they didn't put any money into for a long time before that."

I first wrote about the quote the day that I read them on the 27th of March. I did so again on March 31st.

I found the quote to be extremely offensive and out of touch. I still do. It angered me that she could insinuate that those still stuck in formaldehyde-contaminated FEMA trailers are merely being lazy given high rents, Road Home holdups, the recent imperilment of new affordable housing developments, and the other seemingly endless challenges that this city struggles to address.

But I tried not to base my criticisms of Councilwoman Head's words on a platform of political correctness.

Instead, I urge everyone to look at the actions and policies that inform Councilwoman Stacy Head's language and sentiment.

Councilwoman Head now has an established track record of hostility when it comes to the recovery issues facing working people.

Stacy Head's offensive and patronizing language in discussing this particular issue merely underscores a consistent combativeness toward New Orleanians affected by the affordable housing crisis.

There was that incident at City Hall where she blew kisses to antagonize public housing protesters.

But more importantly, how about her inexplicable opposition to the compromise bill that Senator Landrieu tried to pass in Congress?

The Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act required one-for-one replacement of all public housing units lost in demolition. It was an attempt to ensure that the new mixed income communities would still provide the same stock of public units for poor families in New Orleans.

Given the affordable housing crisis in New Orleans, the GCHRA seemed like a political no-brainer. Not only would it allow the redevelopment plans to go forward with lessened opposition from housing advocates, but it would do something to address the affordable housing crisis in the medium term by guaranteeing thousands of new units.

And for most, the bill was a no-brainer.

The bill was supported by the Mayor, all but one from City Council, Governor Blanco, Senator Landrieu, and the entire Louisiana congressional delegation, save for Senator Vitter.

“If we don’t get the federal government to commit to help develop work force housing, we’ll be a city that stays at 250,000 people because we won’t get enough workers to come back to the city and help it grow,” Landrieu said.

Another LESS conservative version of the bill actually passed the House of Representatives WITH the support of current Governor Bobby Jindal and conservative Rep. Richard Baker of Baton Rouge.

The Senate version never made it to the floor because of the opposition of Vitter.

However, he was not the only official hostile to the bill. There was one more person.

Councilwoman Stacy Head of District B.

No matter how many times I’ve tried to explain to Stacy no one is interested in rebuilding the old-time, dilapidated public housing,” Landrieu said. “Everyone except for her and Sen. Vitter seems to understand we need places for our policemen and teachers to live. I’m talking about law-abiding citizens that can’t afford $1,500 in rent.”

Councilwoman Head stood strong with David Vitter against common sense compromise legislation addressing the affordable housing crisis.

Thus, Stacy Head's response to Alan Gutierrez's email requesting clarification should not surprise anybody.

The quote was accurate. There are people who should have moved out of trailers by now who have not. There are trailers being RENTED on Freret Street as we speak. Frankly, I find that disgusting. What kind of a cretin takes a FREE FEMA trailer and RENTS IT to someone. If you have a friend or relative that needs housing, let them use it for FREE! Attack that kind of behavior rather than challenge well-studied and thoughtful policy discussion! As was made very clear (if anyone listened), the council wants to assure that people who are in trailers because of Road Home delays, insurance issues, construction nightmares and the like have time to resolve their issues. We also made it clear that we are urging FEMA and churches and non-profits to help those people resolve their issues.

Stacy Head
Councilmember, District B


She asks us not to "challenge well-studied and thoughtful policy discussion." Instead, she asks us to attack those renting out their FEMA trailers.

My first immediate linguistic reaction is that I think it is almost hilarious that we now have a politician begging us to stop having substantive and intelligent policy discussions in favor of emotional attacks against vague law-breakers. In my experience following politics, normally, officials have publicly encouraged an intellectual discourse amongst their constituents while underhandedly playing to people's emotional fears. This time, we actually have the politician directly telling us to stop questioning the policy and telling us to behave more like conservative talk radio. Maybe that happens more commonly in majority Republican areas, maybe Stacy Head thinks she mostly represents Republicans. I don't know. I have a bemused look on my face right now.

More substantively, Stacy Head, in the original Times-Picayune article, and again in her response at Think, discusses the illegal renting of FEMA trailers. She estimates that 30 percent of the trailers in the city are being rented. I did the math quickly in my brain to try to estimate what they would mean, if her number is accurate. That same article says there is around 7,200 trailers in Orleans Parish. That means approximately 2,300 are being rented. If you then imagine there are three people living in each trailer (a conservative estimate), then there are about 7,000 people living in illegally rented trailers.

I'm sorry, Councilwoman Head. I do not believe that the 7,000 people forced to rent poisonous FEMA trailers because affordable apartments are not available are cretins. I don't consider them to be criminals.

Nor do I consider the people renting the trailers out to be cretins. They're engaging in the free market recovery. They're providing affordable housing options in a city with few. They're meeting a market demand that our municipal government seems content to ignore.

Now perhaps rented FEMA trailers are causing a problem. Things relegated to an underground economy do tend to lead to other social challenges. Councilwoman Head does seem to blame, at least in her email to Alan, the trailer landlord more than the renter. She is disgusted that people would try to profit from the situation and suggests that desperate families in need of places to live should be allowed to stay in the trailers for free.

Well I'm wondering now whether or not Stacy Head would commit to waivers in any locally-based legislation implementing a deadline to vacate FEMA trailers. Perhaps, for instance, she would grant amnesty and extensions to all of those living illegally in FEMA trailers that are doing so for free. Perhaps she would work to legalize the lease of FEMA trailers so that the cretins renting them out could be brought under the same regulations and taxes facing the above-ground housing market. Maybe she'd be willing to pass legislation that would fine profiteers and earmark that money directly toward vouchers that might help families secure viable long-term housing.

For whatever reason, I imagine Stacy Head would be against entertaining those policy ideas. Instead, I believe she'll continue to ignore the realities of the affordable housing crisis.


jeffrey said...

God forbid anyone ever accuse Stacy Head of being "too nice" to flood victims.

E said...

Yes, people are just clamoring for less recovery help all over this city.

Cold Spaghetti said...

Great post, totally agree.