In New Orleans, Demolition Begins on Public Housing

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Funded by FEMA, the city of New Orleans is undertaking the demolition of all but one quarter of the 1941 Lafitte Housing Project, in addition to three other historic housing complexes.

Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation

This week, bulldozers are chipping away at  three historic public housing projects in New Orleans, and workmen are doing preparatory demolition work at a fourth.

The B.W. Cooper, St. Bernard, and C.J. Peet housing complexes, and part of the Lafitte complex, built in 1941, all of which contain 4,500 units, will become landfill fodder.

In a Mar. 10 op-ed column in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the National Trust for Historic Preservation  urged the city to  suspend the demolitions.

"We continue to believe it is possible and desirable to use the historic housing projects as the basis for carefully planned mixed-income redevelopment in which new construction is blended with rehabilitated older buildings, and streets are opened to facilitate better integration with surrounding neighborhoods," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "However, our proposals have been drowned out by demands that almost every building be eradicated--as if destroying the structures themselves would eliminate the failed social and housing policies they symbolize."

Surrounded by an angry crowd of protestors, the city council voted on Dec. 20 in favor of the demolitions of the Lafitte, C.J. Peete, B.W. Cooper, and St. Bernard Parish housing developments.

"Any arguments I tried to make for the retention and contnued long-term use of any of the buildings on the basis of historic preservation, architectural merit, structural soundness or sustainability were fruitless in a public arena filled with rhetoric about the evil nature of the buildings, their dilapidated appearance, the alleged high cost to remediate and repair, and the success of national developers at showing examples of their work in other communities," said Walter Gallas, director of the New Orleans Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who testified before the city council in December.

Moe met with with the HUD Secretary himself, who acknowledged that he had personally approved the demolitions about six months before the agency initiated Section 106 compliance. 

Preservationists point to the former St. Thomas public housing site, where five historic buildings were converted into 37 units of low-income rental housing. They warn that the June 30 cutoff for FEMA-funded demolitons in New Orleans is fueling a surge in last-minute demolitions.

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