Today, members of the Vermont Workers’ Center visited the Vermont offices of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to protest HUD’s plans to demolish thousands of units of public housing in New Orleans, without guaranteeing former residents replacement housing or even allowing them a meaningful voice in the process of rebuilding affordable housing in New Orleans. It appears when HUD officials heard we were coming they shut down the whole office. When we arrived at 11am here’s we found the office closed down, with a sign saying they would return at 4pm, yes 4pm!  

We delivered this statement:

Just over two years ago, New Orleans was devastated by the lethal combination of Hurricane Katrina, one of the most powerful hurricanes in recent memory, and the blatantly racist and classist neglect of the federal government for the city’s low-income, overwhelmingly African-American residents. In the wake of this disaster, and with the federal government seemingly abandoning its obligations to Gulf Coast residents, many Vermonters stepped up to do what we could. The City of Burlington adopted Moss Point, Mississippi as a sister city, Burlington’s Imani Center coordinated a truckload of donated food and household supplies, and many made the trek to New Orleans to work with grassroots organizations such as Food Not Bombs and Common Grounds. 

For two years, federal, state and local governments have not lived up to their responsibilities to the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Hundreds of thousands of people are homeless or exiled. Instead of receiving the infrastructure and services to allow for the safe return of Gulf Coast residents, the region remains in ruins, peoples’ livelihoods destroyed and entire communities displaced. We are outraged that four large public housing complexes are to be destroyed in the city of New Orleans. We understand that this represents the demolition of over 4600 homes, while only 744 units are expected to be rebuilt. This comes at a time when 52,000 families throughout the Gulf Coast region are about to be forced out of trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

Hundreds of people who have been kicked out of their homes are resisting these demolitions. They have had no say in the decision of HUD to destroy their homes, they have been barred from participating in their local city council meetings and pepper sprayed when they try to make their voices heard. As working-class Vermonters we stand in solidarity with these activists and demand an end to the destruction of public housing. Our city of Burlington, Vermont has long required that developers tearing down existing housing units replace them one-for-one, with strict guidelines about providing affordable housing. While this has not by itself solved the affordable housing crisis in Burlington, we believe it is a good principle, and we demand that HUD, at a minimum, adhere to it. We also strongly encourage our U.S. Senators to do everything they can to ensure passage of the Gulf Coast Recovery Act (SB 1668), which would require Gulf Coast recovery efforts to abide by these principles. 

It is becoming increasingly clear that affordable housing is being eliminated all over the country. From the Old North End of Burlington Vermont to the 9th Ward of New Orleans we stand together to resist the process of gentrification. We are holding HUD responsible for this racist attack on poor black communities in New Orleans and demand that money spent on destruction be put towards rebuilding the affordable, public housing that was damaged over two years ago by Hurricane Katrina

After we delivered the statement we went outside and leafletted people in the community before taking two delegations to Senators Leahy and Sanders to push for their support of Gulf Coast Recovery Act.

We also got got some good media coverage including Channel 5 and Vermont Public Radio (hear interview with Workers’ Center leader Jonathan Kissam on VPR news) and we were welcomed on to Burlington’s newest community radio station, The Radiator. Here is Workers’ Center Director James Haslam in the radio booth:

More info: on the struggle to defend public housing in New Orleans:

More info on the Gulfcoast Recovery Act: