Give and take

"Give and take" Continued...

Issue: "Stealth care," Sept. 16, 2006

The diminished staff was responsible for inspecting every public housing unit in New Orleans before residents could return. That meant thousands of inspections. "It just takes time," said White.

In the meantime, HUD offered disaster-housing vouchers to all public housing residents in areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina or Rita. Some 28,000 families from across the Gulf Coast and Texas have used the vouchers to rent units from housing authorities in cities across the United States.

Nicole Gelanus, an urban affairs expert and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, says overhauling public housing in New Orleans is the right thing to do: "No respectable government entity would put people back into that same situation."

Gelanus thinks the mixed-income model is a step in the right direction but says HUD should go farther in its reform. Unlike welfare recipients, public housing residents face no time limits for living in subsidized units. That means some families live in the projects for decades. "That was never the point of public housing," says Gelanus.

Public housing was originally designed to give struggling families a safe, affordable place to live until they could get back on their feet. But decades later, open-ended public housing has "entrenched an underclass population that is dependent on the government for housing permanently," she says. "It's really the last permanent benefit."

HUD hasn't mentioned any plans to reform eligibility requirements, but White did dispel a rumor that families living in public housing in New Orleans would be required to work. Not true, she says: "We want to give everyone a chance to return."

Back in Renaissance Village, some residents are determined to work their way out of their troubles. Tyrone Blanks, who owns a home in the hard-hit New Orleans East, says he makes weekly trips to repair his house. He's back at work and doubts he'll sign up for any lawsuits. "The more adversity I meet, the more it makes me want to work harder and do better," says Blanks. "But I guess I'm old school."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the political beat and other topics as national editor for WORLD Magazine. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.


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