Gulf Watch: Take action to save NOLA public housing

Next Monday, Dec. 10, is international Human Rights Day. It's also the day when activists in New Orleans are calling for actions opposing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development plans to tear down more than 4,600 public housing units in four complexes across the city -- while replacing them with private, mixed-income developments that will set aside only 744 apartments for low-income people.

The decision to demolish these public complexes, which suffered only relatively minor damage [PDF] during Hurricane Katrina, comes as rents across the city have doubled since the storm -- as has the homeless population.

The activists are asking concerned citizens across the country to join the actions in New Orleans or to take action at home. According to a statement from Kali Akuno, director of the Stop the Demolition Coalition:

What is at stake with the demolition of public housing in New Orleans is more than just the loss of housing units: it destroys any possibility for affordable housing in New Orleans for the foreseeable future. Without access to affordable housing, thousands of working class New Orleanians will be denied their human right to return.

Although this situation is unique and urgent in the city of New Orleans, it does not occur in isolation. The plans for redevelopment here are part of a national assault on public housing, in which tens of thousands of homes have been demolished in the past decade.

Organizers are asking supporters from across the country to organize demonstrations at local HUD offices and other government buildings. They are also asking them to make calls to government officials demanding the reopening of public housing in New Orleans. Among those leaders they are asking people to call:

* New Orleans City Council Member Stacy Head, who has been a leading force in pushing for the tear-downs. Her number is 504-658-1020.

* New Orleans City Council Member Shelley Midura, who is being asked to oppose the demolitions and support the reopening of public housing. Her number is 504-658-1010.

* D.H. Griffin, the North Carolina-based contractor hired to demolish the Lafitte complex. For locations of the company's offices across the South, click here. The toll-free number is 888-336-3366.

* U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who's blocking passage of the Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act (Senate Bill 1668). Sponsored by his colleague, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), the measure would require any demolished public housing units to be replaced by other units available to low-income residents. Vitter can be reached in Washington at 202-224-4623 and New Orleans at 504-589-2753.

* Members of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, where SB 1668 is currently stuck. They are Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) at 202-224-6361, Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) at 202- 224-5941, Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) at 202-224-5623, Robert Bennett (R-Utah) at 202-224-5444, Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) at 202-224-2315, Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) at 202-224-4343, Tom Carper (D-Del.) at 202-224-2441, Robert Casey (D-Pa.) at 202-224-6324, Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) at 202-224-6142, Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) at 202-224-2823, Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) at 202-224-6342, Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) at 202-224-3424, Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) at 202-224-4224, Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) at 202-224-1638, Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) at 202-224-3041, Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) at 202-224-4744, Jack Reed (D-R.I.) at 202-224-4642, Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) at 202-224-0420, Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) at 202-224-5744, John Sununu (R-N.H.) at 202-224-2841 and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) at 202-224-2644.

Send information about any solidarity actions to with "Solidarity" in the subject line. If you have any questions, contact the Stop the Demolition Coalition at or call 504-458-3494. For more information on the issues at stake and planned protest actions, visit the websites of Defend New Orleans Public Housing, Justice for New Orleans and the People's Hurricane Relief Fund.