Monthly Archives: December 2007

UPDATE: Demolition of public housing complex halted in New Orleans; City Council hearing next week

From the Associated Press, December 14
NEW ORLEANS: Demolition of three New Orleans public housing complexes, slated to start this weekend, was halted Friday amid complaints about the scarcity of housing for the poor after Hurricane Katrina.

The Housing Authority of New Orleans, which is run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, agreed to postpone the start of demolition pending a hearing Thursday before City Council. Opponents of the tear-down plan had filed a lawsuit contending that the council’s consent was required by the city charter….

Read the full article here

Another interesting article from the day before about the protests in New Orleans.bullhorn.jpg

An excellent update on the fight in the courts. It’s well worth reading all the way to the bottom to see the individuals–including John Edwards and the Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana–and more than 100 organizations (the AARP, Volunteers for America, Oxfam America, Amnesty International USA, Catholic Charities USA, and the Unitarian Universalists among them) who have come out against demolition until HUD comes up with a plan to replace all the housing units.

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The Garden of Hope

The desktop image on my computer screen is a photograph of a garden, sunny and lush with stands of foxgloves, rhododendron and daisies; a path leads away from the viewer toward the green shade of an arbor. The name of the garden is El Jardin de las Esperanza—the garden of hope. I put the picture up a couple of years ago as a reminder of a wonderful late October afternoon Isabell and I spent together. It was 1999 2ab_esperanza.jpgand Isabell was living in New York; I was in the city on business. I stayed in Isabell’s tiny basement apartment in the South Bronx. She had taken a year off from college and many of her friends were older than she was, squatting buildings, hopping freight trains, working in community gardens. Isabell was entering into a whole, complete alternate universe that I was only beginning to understand.

One afternoon Isabell and I took the train into Manhattan and spent a couple of hours in Esperanza. It was autumn so there wasn’t much blooming, but the garden was still lovely, crisscrossed, though it wasn’t large, with paths and benches and arbors. As we walked deeper into the garden the ambient noise of New York traffic faded away; somewhere nearby 7bc_esperanza.jpgchildren were laughing. We knelt side-by-side on the woodchip path, digging up clumps of weeds and Isabell gave me some background on the garden. It had been founded by a neighborhood grandmother named Alecia Torres who began by clearing rubble and trash from a narrow vacant lot on 7th Street near Avenue C. This was during New York’s financial crisis when thousands of buildings were simply abandoned. Arson was common—many people believed that owners were torching their buildings for the insurance money–and the burnt out lots left behind frequently became neighborhood trouble-spots. By 1977 when Alecia Torres began her garden New York had 25,000 abandoned lots. All over the city people began to take the initiative with neglected open spaces, and gardens with wonderful names—the All People’s Garden, the Garden of Eden, the Children’s Garden of Love—sprang up. In stressed and under-served neighborhoods like the Lower East Side, which had close to 80 gardens by 1990, community gardens were true oases, providing not just green space but a place for people to meet and work on community problems.

In the meantime, New York City pulled out of its fiscal crisis and property values began once again to climb. Developers started nosing around once-untouchable neighborhoods, repackaging them as hip and trendy “scenes”. In 1994 newly-elected mayor Rudy Giuliani instructed the New York Department of Housing Preservation & Development to identify lots to sell at auction, and a relentless assault on community gardens began. Although the city owned 11,000 unbuilt-on lots, the city’s community gardens were first in line for auction. The common argument was that the gardens needed to make way for affordable housing, though very little affordable housing seemed to come out of the garden sales. The fact that they had already been cleared made the gardens more salable, as did the fact that they were in neighborhoods that were increasingly appealing to developers—never mind that it was often the gardens themselves that had helped to stabilize those neighborhoods. As the Giuliani administration went into its second term, it also became clear that many of the gardens were de facto incubators for community activism—another fact that hurried them to the auction block.

The day Isabell and I weeded in Esperanza a gentle man named Aresh was working on a 13-foot high 8-foot wide wire mesh and canvas frog whose wide black, yellow and red snout hung out over the chain link near the entrance to the garden. Nearby some children were gathered around a battered wooden table painting papier-mache frog masks. The frog, Aresh explained, was a coqui; in Puerto Rican tradition the little coqui often takes on much bigger adversaries and frightens them away. The children were going to be part of a parade that weekend, one of many events being mounted around that time to try to save the garden from development. After a couple of hours the shadows lengthened and Isabell and I dusted off our knees, washed our hands, put the trowels and clippers away in the garden shed, and walked to the subway. The next day I flew home.

I didn’t think much more about Esperanza. A couple of years ago, however, I was researching something on line that reminded me about that pleasant afternoon in the garden. Out of curiosity I Googled “esperanza garden new york”. I found a picture of the garden, the same one I now use as the image on my desktop. Under the picture in bold red letters was written “Status: BULLDOZED February 15, 2000.”

“I didn’t know they’d torn Esperanza down!” I said to Isabell the next time I saw her.

“What did you think, Mom?” she said. “We talked about what was happening when we were there.”

“I know,” I said, “but I didn’t think they’d really do it.”

“Of course they were going to do it,” Isabell said. “They were always planning to do it. It was just a matter of when.”

Isabell filled me in on what had happened in the months between October and February. By the time I visited it the garden had already been sold at auction to a developer who had bulldozed four other gardens on the Lower East Side and had put up “80/20” housing—80 percent of the units could be sold at market value and 20 percent were set aside as affordable housing. After ten years that 20 percent could also be sold at market prices. Early in November the garden group was sent a five-day eviction notice. Commumity gardens had found an advocate in the New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who sought an injuction from the State Supreme Court against demolition plans, arguing that the gardens, should have the legal status of parks.

But while the legal arguments were being prepared and the wait began for the February 15 hearing, the gardeners and their supporters mounted their own inventive defenses. It turned out, for instance, that the coqui I had admired that day had been designed to double as a look-out tower, with windows for eyes and room to sleep three; inside were hidden the tools of non-violent civil disobedience—locks, chains, and cement-filled blocks to which people could lock themselves; a cheerful 20-foot tall steel sunflower at the back of the garden had another lock box hidden high in its petals. Neighbors and other activists began camping in the garden around the clock in the winter cold in case the bulldozers came without warning.

The court appearance in Brooklyn was scheduled for February 15. By the evening of February 14 it was clear that the bulldozers were coming; the next morning the police had to forcibly remove more than a hundred garden defenders, cutting some of them loose from their lock boxes and dragging them away. Bringing down the coqui with metal-cutting chain saws. In the end 31 people were arrested. That afternoon the judge in Brooklyn issued a temporary restraining order, but it came forty minutes too late. The garden with its medicinal plants, its playful coqui, its paths and benches and 22-year-old rose bush, had been bulldozed into the ground. The developer lost no time putting up a seven-story brick apartment building with health club, lounge and high speed internet; a two-bedroom apartment rents for $3,500 a month. With a sense of irony that is almost breathtaking, he named the new building Eastville Gardens.

The day after the garden came down then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani was quoted in The New York Times as saying “If you live in an unrealistic world then you can say everything should be a community garden.” His version of the realistic world came to light a couple of months later in another article in The Times: the mayor had received $46,800 in campaign contributions from the developer, and the developer had been given exclusive rights to the garden site without the normal competitive bid process. By then, of course, it was too late. The garden was gone.

    The Sierra Club sponsored a documentary on New York’s community gardens with Esperanza–its life and its death–as the centerpiece.  It’s 28 minutes long, but well worth watching.

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Dear D.H. Griffin


Dear D.H. Griffin,

I was outraged to find out that a company based here in Greensboro is receiving 3 million dollars to destroy public housing in New Orleans.

jaws.jpgWhy is DH Griffin profiting off of displacement of low-income people? Wasn’t the hurricane bad enough without adding to it by destroying more homes?

This time of year many of us are trying to keep in mind those who are considered less fortunate than us, those who don’t have homes, those who have been displaced. What are you and your company thinking about? Profits?

The brick buildings your company plans to destroy made it through
Hurricane Katrina when many other buildings did not. They provided thousands of units of low income housing for residents. If you destroy them as planned, they will be replaced by mixed income housing offering only a few hundred units of affordable housing. You will be participating in the continuing disaster of Katrina.

If you could prevent Katrina from happening again, would you do it?

Think about how you would feel not being able to afford tosign.jpg
live in the city you’ve lived in your whole life. Imagine being
displaced, possibly homeless or living in another city with relatives,
and then to find out that a company miles away from your hometown plans to destroy the perfectly good housing that you used to live in…and for what?? For 3 million dollars. For some extra profits. For some money.

I bet your company has some kind of holiday charity drive or corporate giving this time of year. But can anything make up for the lost homes your company plans to destroy? Will the companies donations even come close to the 3 million dollars your company will make off this deal?

This holiday season, please consider your and your company’s role in this atrocity. Please pass on this message to whomever in the DH
Griffin corporation needs to see it.

Please know that there are probably hundreds of others around Greensboro who feel as I do but did not take the time to write you a personal e-mail.

Many thanks for reading and I look forward to see whether or not your company will go through with this unjust plan. I hope not.

Isabell Moore
Greensboro, NC

Isabell, I applaud you for your compassion for this subject, but
complaining to a contractor who bid the work along with probably 20 other demolition contractors, is not who you need to blame. The
decision to demo the building(s) was that of the N.O. Housing Authority, not ours. I am sure that the government will again provide a suitable alternative for the people affected.

[Name omitted]
D. H. Griffin Companies
4706 Hilltop Road
Greensboro, NC 27407
Tel: 336-510-4067
Fax: 336-632-3047
“To improve is to change; to succeed is to change often” – Churchill

Dear [Name omitted],

Thank you for your speedy response.

Firstly…I don’t live in New Orleans, I live in Greensboro and your
company is based here. Your company is my connection to what is
happening down there. That is why I am communicating with your company, because it is the place in this whole thing that I feel I have the most stake and connection. I think every person and every company participating in the demolition of perfectly good housing has some control over the outcome, including you and your company, and including even me as someone who heard about the situation.

Secondly…What you’re saying sounds to me like you agree that the
demolition of low-income housing in New Orleans is bad, however you don’t feel responsibility to try to stop it. Or perhaps you feel you don’t have the power in this situation to stop it? Your company chose to bid on that work. Where is the line? If other people are doing something that will result in something terrible, does that make it okay to participate as well? Is there any kind of work that your company would say was so unjust that it was not willing to accept money to do it?

Would you accept money to demolish the house of a family member, if he or she was dependent on that housing, counting on it, could not return home without it? Where is the line? What obligation do we have to do all we can to stop something unfair and inhumane?

right.jpgLastly…Unfortunately the government does not have any plans to provide a suitable alternative to the people affected. They have contracted with various demolition companies to destroy 4,600 public housing units in four complexes across New Orleans and then plan to replace them with private, mixed-income developments that will set aside only 744 apartments for low-income people. Your company has been hired to
demolish the Lafitte project, where the current 896 low-income units will ultimately be replaced by only 276 low-income units. That leaves 620 units that will not be replaced. That’s 620 families without housing this holiday season.

Did you or anyone you know give to the Red Cross or other charities when Katrina hit? How is what you’re involved in now consistent with the compassion that many of us felt for the people of New Orleans as we watched the tragedy unfold on our televisions?

Many thanks for engaging in this dialogue. I hope that whether or not you agree, you will pass on to others in your company the fact that many of us in Greensboro are extremely concerned about the role your company is playing in increasing the misery of New Orleans families.

I hope you and your company consider pulling out of the deal. The
reward will be much greater than any profit your company could have gotten.

I encourage you to watch this video and see for yourself that the
housing is in quite good shape. For a fraction of what HUD is paying
you and the other companies, those buildings could be refurbished and thousands of families could be home in time for Christmas.

Isabell Moore

Thank you for your response. I will forward your comments to our
company management. I hope that you have a blessed day.
[Name omitted]
D. H. Griffin Companies
4706 Hilltop Road
Greensboro, NC 27407
Tel: 336-510-4067
Fax: 336-632-3047
“To improve is to change; to succeed is to change often” – Churchill

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Meet The Chickens

Our flock began last spring as six little chicks in a cardboard box in the living room. They graduated to larger chix.jpgand larger boxes and finally, when the weather was warm enough, to the handsome coop and pen that Mark, Jodi, Crystal and Will built under the crape myrtle tree in the back yard. Then came a dark, suspenseful week as the chicks made their way into puberty and suddenly a few rusty tentative cock-a-doodle-doos broke out. In the end Moussa, Pecky and Hobart proved to be roosters. 406-farm1.jpgFortunately Jodi was able to find homes for all three of them plus Hildebart—Hildebart was not a rooster, but she and Hobart, both puffy, poodle-looking Silkies, had grown so close Jodi didn’t want to separate them. That left just Mayflower and Rad until the second generation, all old enough to be for-sure hens, arrived.

The hens have been laying for a couple of months now. There aren’t quite enough eggs to feed the whole household (Stef, the last die-hard vegan in the house, wouldn’t eat them even if egg-box1.jpgthere were) but there are usually at least a few eggs available every day in the carton in the pantry. The coop design includes a little flap-down door that opens directly into the nesting boxes, so it’s easy to collect whatever might be there; sometimes when I go out in the early morning to let the chickens out of their coop I find a still-warm egg in the box. Even better, Skye happened to open the door this weekend just as Jean was extruding out one of her large pale brown eggs. Big excitement!

THE CAST OF CHARACTERS

mayflower1.jpgMayflower: Skye gave Mayflower her name when she was a fluffy chick under a heat lamp in the living room, but now Skye thinks that feisty little Mayflower—she’s one of our three bantams—should be renamed “Cocky” because she’s always itching for a fight. It’s typical of Mayflower that when a hawk swooped down in the yard a few months ago all the other chickens ran through holes in the fence, but Mayflower tried to hold her ground. (She couldn’t: the hawk beat her up pretty seriously around the face, but fortunately Crystal heard the commotion and intervened before permanent damage was done). Mayflower was one of the six original chicks; the bushy little tufts of feathers where her cheeks would be if she had cheeks, and her small blue-green eggs indicate that she is an Ameraucana, or at least has a lot of Ameraucana in her.

rad1.jpgRad: Rad is our other bantam Ameraucana; Crystal chose the name because she had always wanted an animal named Rad. Like Mayflower, she lays small blue-green eggs, but unlike Mayflower she’s gentle, sociable and even—I have this on Skye’s authority—cuddly. will-and-rad1.jpgShe’s silvery gray with cheek tufts that are even more pronounced than Mayflower’s.

cutiequeen1.jpgCutie Queen: Our third bantam, Cutie Queen is the mystery bird of the flock, a loner who often seems to have a lot on her mind. She’s the hardest to catch, also the last to be herded into the pen, and the chicken who seems most fond of heights. Skye originally named her Cutie Pie, but then considered that the word “pie” might have uncomfortable associations for a chicken. Cutie Queen is one of the later arrivals—she came nearly full grown, or at least full grown enough for us to be sure she was a hen. She tends more towards the Auracana, with a stumpy tail and almost nonexistent tufts; her eggs are pale pink.

coco1.jpgThe Coucou: The Coucou Maran is the only chicken who doesn’t have a name—she’s Jodi’s to name, but Jodi says that after having to give up Hobart and Hildebart, she’s superstitious about naming another chicken. Somehow it suits the magisterial and exotic Coucou to have no name. Handsomely feathered in black and gold, she’s quite clearly the dominant chicken—she chases ‘gota the cat, and sometimes she even chases us. If she were a true Maran she would lay deep chocolate brown eggs, but she must have some Auracauna in her because her eggs come out a muted green color that Mark calls “mint chocolate.”

harriet1.jpgHarriet: Harriet and Jean, both Barred Rocks, look very similar but you can recognize Harriet by her pale white legs. She may or may not be the biggest chicken in the flock—some people say that the Coucou is bigger, but Skye says that Harriet is wider than Mark’s head and therefore larger than all the other chickens. Harriet is certainly the most enthusiastic eater, the first to investigate when someone scatters some wheatberries or a handful of kale on the ground. Will named Harriet for his grandmother; it happens that Harriet is Skye’s grandmother’s name too. (“Actually,” Skye says “Harriet’s a very common name for grandmas,”) One of the most vocal chickens, Harriet is a runner and a squawker with a grating voice that sounds like a perpetual sore throat. She and Jean lay brown eggs that look the most like what you’d find at the grocery store.

jean1.jpgJean: We all learned something the other night at house dinner when I was interviewing the housemates about the chickens. “Jean can swim,” Skye said. “How do you know?” we all asked. “Well,” Skye said, “I was giving the chickens a flying test to make sure they could fly in case a hawk came, and Jean kind of slipped and went into the pond.” Consternation! The pond is hardly even that—a small former fishpond that we use mostly to grow duckweed, a good source of protein for the chickens—but still…. “She swam!” Skye said defensively. “A quarter of the way across the pond! She even did it twice.” Twice! More consternation. Skye explained. “I was telling Lily about it”—Lily is Skye’s six-year-old friend–“and she wanted to see it too, so she threw Jean into the pond and Jean swam. She likes it.” I think after the discussion that followed Skye is pretty clear now that Jean’s aquatic career is over. “Her legs sort of look like a duck’s,” Skye said as a parting shot, but I think even she recognized the weakness of the argument. It is true that Jean’s legs are yellow, but that’s about it as far as her duckiness goes. I named Jean for my dear former mother-in-law who died this past August. I think she would have enjoyed the honor.

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