Fifteen Most Outrageous Responses by Police after Killing Unarmed People

By Bill Quigley.  Bill teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans and can be reached at

Police kill a lot of unarmed people.  So far in 2015, as many as 100 unarmed people have been killed by police.  Here are fifteen of the most outrageous reasons given by police to justify killing unarmed people in the last twelve months.

First, a bit of background.  So far in 2015, there have been around 400 fatal police shootings already; one in six of those killings, 16 percent, were of unarmed people, 49 had no weapon at all and 13 had toys, according to the Washington Post.  Of the police killings this year less than 1 percent have resulted in the officer being charged with a crime.  The Guardian did a study which included killings by Tasers and found 102 people killed by police so far in 2015 were unarmed and that unarmed Black people are twice as likely to be killed by police as whites.

One.  He was Dancing in the Street and Walking with a Purpose.  On June 9, 2015 an unarmed man, Ryan Bollinger, was shot by police in Des Moines after “walking with a purpose” towards the police car after he exited his vehicle after a low speed chase started when he was observed dancing in the street and behaving erratically.  The deceased was shot by the police through the rolled up cruiser window.  The murder is under investigation.

Two.  Thought It Was My Taser.  An unarmed man, Eric Harris, ran from the police in Tulsa Oklahoma on April 2, 2015.  After he was shot in the back by a Taser by one officer and was on the ground, another 73 year old volunteer reserve officer shot and killed him, all captured by video.  While dying he was yelling that he was losing his breath, to which one of the officers responded “F*ck your breath.”   The police said the officer thought he was shooting his Taser and “inadvertently discharged his service weapon.”  The officer has been charged with second degree manslaughter.  Running away from the police so often provokes police overreaction that the aggressive police response has several names including the “foot tax” and the “running tax.”

Three.  Naked Man Refused to Stop.  A naked unarmed mentally ill Air Force Afghanistan veteran, Anthony Hill, was shot and killed March 9, 2015 by DeKalb County Georgia police after police said he refused an order to stop.  The killing is under investigation.

Four.  Not Going to Say.  On March 6, 2015 Aurora Colorado police shot and killed unarmed Naeschylus Vinzant while taking him into custody.  For the last three months, while the investigation into the killing continues, the police have refused to say what compelled the officer to shoot Vinzant.

Five.  Five Police Felt Threatened by One Unarmed Homeless Man.  March 1, 2015 Los Angeles police shot and killed an unarmed homeless man Charly Leundeu Keunang after five officers went to his tent and struggled with him.  One unarmed homeless man threatened five armed LAPD officers? Los Angeles police have killed about one person a week since 2000.  An investigation is ongoing.

Six.  My Taser Didn’t Work.  On February 23, 2015, an unarmed man, Daniel Elrod, was shot twice in the back and once in the shoulder and killed by Omaha Nebraska police after he tried to climb a tree and jump a fence to escape police who suspected him of robbery.  Police said their Taser did not work, he ignored their demands to get down on the ground, he did not show his hands, and they felt threatened.  Video was not made available and the officer later resigned.  This was the second person this officer killed.  No criminal charges were filed.

Seven.  Armed with a Broom.  Lavall Hall’s mother called the police in Miami Gardens February 15, 2015 and asked for help for her son who was mentally ill.  Lavall Hall, five foot four inches tall, walked outside with a broom and was later shot and killed by police who said he failed to comply with instructions and engaged them with an object. The killing is still under investigation.

Eight.  Throwing Rocks.  On February 10, 2015 an unarmed man, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, was fired at 17 times and killed by police in Kennewick, Washington. A video of his killing has been viewed more than 2 million times.   Officers said he had been throwing rocks at cars, ran away and then turned around.

Nine.  Taser Worked but He Didn’t Stop Moving.  On February 2, 2015, a Hummelstown Pennsylvania police officer shot unarmed David Kassick in the back with a Taser and when Kassick went to the ground on his stomach, then shot him twice with her gun in the back, killing him.  The officer said Kassick, who was running away from a traffic stop, was told to show his hands and not move but continued to try to remove the Taser prongs from his back and the officer thought he was reaching for a gun.  The officer has been charged with homicide.

Ten.  Car going 11 Miles an Hour was going to Kill Me.  Denver police fired 8 times at unarmed Jessica Hernandez, 17, who was killed January 16 after being hit by four bullets.  The police said she drove too close to them when she was trying to get away and may have tried to run them down as she tried to drive away so they shot into the windshield and driver’s windows.  The police said the car may have reached 11 miles per hour in the 16 feet it traveled before hitting a fence.   The police were not charged.

Eleven.  Armed with a Spoon.  Dennis Grigsby, an unarmed mentally ill man holding a soup spoon, was shot in the chest and killed in a neighbor’s garage by Texarkana Police December 15, 2015.  The killing is under investigation.

Twelve.  Armed with Prescription Bottle.  Rumain Brisbon, a 34 year old unarmed man, was shot twice and killed by police in Phoenix on December 2, 2014, after he ran away, was caught and was in a struggle with the officer who mistook a prescription pill bottle in Brisbon’s pocket for a gun.  The police officer was not charged.

Thirteen.  It Was an Accident.  On November 20, 2014, a New York City police officer fired into a stairwell and killed unarmed Akai Gurley.   The officer, who was charged with manslaughter, is expected to say he accidently fired his gun.

Fourteen.  Don’t Mention It.  On November 12, 2014, an unarmed handcuffed inmate was shot multiple times in the head, neck, chest and arms by officers while fighting with another handcuffed inmate in the High Desert State Prison in Carson City Nevada.  His family was not told and did not know he had been shot until three days later when they claimed his body at a mortuary.

Fifteen.  Armed with Toy Gun.  John Crawford was unarmed in a Walmart store in Beavercreek Ohio on August 4, 2014, when he picked up an unloaded BB gun.  When officers arrived they say they ordered him to put down the gun and started shooting, hitting him at least twice and killing Mr. Crawford.  In a widely viewed video Mr. Crawford can be seeing dropping the BB gun, running away and being shot while unarmed.  Likewise, Cleveland police shot and killed an unarmed 12 year old boy, Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy pellet gun on November 22, 2014.  Police said they shouted verbal commands from inside their vehicle in the two seconds before they shot him twice. In both these cases, the police story of shouting warnings and orders looks quite iffy at best.

These are the responses of police authorities who face less than one chance in a hundred of being charged when they kill people, even unarmed people.   These outrages demand massive change in the way lethal force is used, reported, justified and prosecuted.

Locked Out and Torn Down: Public Housing Post Katrina By Bill Quigley and Sara H. Godchaux,

By Bill Quigley and Sara H. Godchaux[1]



  1. Introduction


Hurricane Katrina hit and devastated New Orleans on August 29, 2005.  When the levees protecting New Orleans failed, approximately 80 percent of the city was flooded.  Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levee failures resulted in the deaths of at least 986 Louisiana residents alone, and over 1,600 people in total.  Hurricane Katrina displaced more than a million people on the Gulf Coast.  As the floodwaters receded, displaced New Orleans residents began the difficult process of rebuilding their lives.  Many viewed returning to their homes and communities as a critical step in that process—but that avenue was blocked off to certain individuals in the aftermath of Katrina, as this chapter will discuss, due to an inability to access safe and affordable housing.  Seven years later, many residents are still unable to return to their homes due to government redevelopment decisions, particularly those regarding housing in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Affordable housing was very tough to secure in New Orleans before Katrina. Even though it was poorly managed, public housing was an extremely important part of affordable housing for the very poorest in the community before Katrina, housing 5,146 families, with a waiting list of 17,000 people.  The Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) was so poorly managed that it had been in receivership to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and run by HUD appointees since 2002.  Thus, the decisions made in New Orleans by the local public housing authority were actually decisions made in concert with HUD.

Despite these staggering numbers of people in need of public housing, HANO and HUD promoted the demolition of thousands of public housing apartments with unmet promises to replace the numbers of units.

Once Katrina hit, there was an express decision by political and business leaders in the city, as well as HANO and HUD, to use this as an opportunity to demolish public housing in New Orleans.  Public housing residents who wanted to return were locked out of their apartments and forced to live elsewhere.  HANO swore it lost track of even where the former residents were displaced to so real follow-up was impossible.  Despite years of litigation, lobbying and demonstrations, HUD demolished thousands of much needed apartments and to date has only replaced less than 10% of the units.  This has aggravated the affordable housing situation in New Orleans as rents are up and opportunities are down.  Plus, the demolitions totally denied the idea of home and neighborhood.  HANO lawyers openly said that residents were better off in bigger apartments in Texas than the ones they had lived in for years in New Orleans.  The idea that a home is more than the four walls was foreign to HUD and HANO and the leaders of the city.  There is much literature supporting the position that displacement wrecks social networks that are so important for all people, but especially families whose lives are economically precarious.  Neighbors, families, schools, churches, community groups all play a critical role.  To the extent that social networks are dependent on the people who lived there for years, these too were demolished.

This chapter examines low-income housing in New Orleans prior to the storm in Section II, with a particular emphasis on public housing before Katrina in Section III.  It then looks at the overall effect Katrina had on low-income housing in New Orleans in Section IV and the political response to the storm in Section V.  Section VI examines what happened to public housing tenants both during Katrina and in its aftermath.  Section VII discusses the role of HUD in response to the storm, particularly its decision to demolish, and not replace, a majority of the public housing in the city.  The litigation which ensued over HUD’s demolition decision, and its ultimate failure to save public housing, is summarized in Section VIII.  And the resulting state of low income housing in New Orleans seven years after Katrina is described in Section IX.  This chapter shows how redevelopment after Katrina, far from being used as an opportunity to remedy the pre-existing affordable housing crisis in the city, actually cut off opportunities for thousands of families to return to the city and added to the exclusion of African-American families from New Orleans.

  1. Low-income Housing in New Orleans Pre-Katrina


Even before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005, the city had a substantial problem with affordable housing.  According to data from the 2000 Census, two-thirds of extremely low-income households in New Orleans paid more than 30% of their income in rent—meaning that such households bore excessive housing costs under federal standards.[2]  Over half of very low-income households spent at least 50% of their income on rent.[3]  Furthermore, New Orleans’ affordable housing stock was already shrinking before Katrina—making low-income housing hard to find for residents.[4]

Renting was the most important housing option for the people of New Orleans before Katrina, partially because rental prices in New Orleans were some of the lowest in the country, and because such a large number of people lived below the poverty line.[5]  In fact, 53.5% of all housing in pre-Katrina New Orleans was renter-occupied, while only 46.5% of housing was owner-occupied.[6]  Compare this with national numbers: in the United States as a whole, only 33.8% of all housing was renter occupied, while 62.8% was owner-occupied.[7]  Thus, rental property made up an important part of the New Orleans housing market before Katrina, especially for low-income residents.  A majority of the property damaged by the hurricane consisted of rental property, including over fifty thousand apartments in New Orleans alone, further exacerbating affordable housing problems in post-Katrina New Orleans.[8]

In New Orleans, there were 5,146 occupied traditional public housing apartments prior to Katrina and virtually 100% of these households were African-American.[9]  Furthermore, there were nearly 9,000 subsidized housing voucher apartments.[10]  Together, these housed over 14,000 families and a total of 49,000 people.[11]  A 2000 report shows that 88% of those living in all types of subsidized housing in New Orleans were African-American.[12]  Both the public housing and the voucher programs are managed by the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) in accordance with federal law and regulations established by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).[13]   However, due to gross mismanagement and the squandering of federal money, HUD placed HANO in receivership in 2002.[14]  As such, HUD has managed the day-to-day operations of HANO since 2002.[15]

Before Katrina, New Orleans had the second highest level of poverty concentration in the United States and families participating in government-assisted housing programs in New Orleans lived in poorer neighborhoods on average than those nationwide.[16]  In 2000, about one-fourth of New Orleans’ neighborhoods were considered to be ones of extreme poverty, meaning at least 40% of their residents lived below the poverty line.[17]  37% of all New Orleanians lived in neighborhoods of extreme poverty.[18]  Additionally, low-income African-Americans lived in neighborhoods of extreme poverty concentration at four times the rate of low-income whites.[19] And the numbers were even worse for those participating in government-assisted housing programs.  In fact, 46.9% of voucher users in New Orleans lived in areas of over 30% poverty concentration and 97.4% of public housing residents lived in such neighborhoods.[20]  Comparatively, nationally, only 22.2% of voucher users in the top fifty metropolitan areas lived in areas of over 30% poverty concentration, as did 66.1% of public housing residents.[21]  Thus, most New Orleans families who received government assisted housing lived in areas of extreme concentrated poverty.[22]

Generally, these areas marked by extreme concentrated poverty and high racial segregation were the ones hit the hardest by Hurricane Katrina as the poorer neighborhoods in New Orleans are generally the lowest-lying in the city.[23]  More than three-quarters of the high concentrated-poverty areas were flooded.[24]  Additionally, in Orleans Parish, 272,000 residents, or 73% of the population affected by the hurricane, were African-American.[25]  A majority of those affected were low-income renters.[26]  As such, low-income, overwhelmingly African-American residents of the city of New Orleans were disproportionately affected by the hurricane, and many are still struggling to find affordable housing and rebuild their lives in the city.

  • Public Housing in New Orleans Pre-Katrina


Public housing in New Orleans was designed as clusters of mostly two and three story buildings with six to eight apartments in each.[27]  These complexes were not the dense high-rise towers found in other major cities.[28]  New York Times Architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff criticized plans to demolish these public housing apartments on November 19, 2006, describing them as: “Modestly scaled, they include some of the best public housing built in the United States.  Solidly built, the buildings’ detailed brickwork, tile roofs and wrought-iron balustrades represent a level of craft more likely found on an Ivy League campus than in a contemporary public housing complex.”[29]

Public housing apartments in New Orleans pre-Katrina rented for very modest rents, which were tied directly to the individual residents’ incomes.[30]  Most tenants did not pay separate utility charges—these were included in their monthly rental payments.[31]  Furthermore, most leases were essentially for life, unless someone in the household was caught breaking the law.[32]  These public housing complexes were more than just four walls and a roof to sleep under to their residents—they were close-knit communities.[33]  Many residents had lived in these communities for decades—their whole families lived there, their friends, their support groups.[34]  As discussed further below, the storm, the displacement of residents from their homes, and the subsequent demolition of these complexes completely disrupted and destroyed these communities that were so important to the residents.[35]

Of the pre-Katrina 5,146 occupied public housing apartments, 3,077 units were located in the four biggest public housing developments—C.J. Peete, Lafitte, St. Bernard, and B.W. Cooper (collectively, the “Big Four”).  Before Katrina, there was a waiting list of 17,000 families to get into public housing.[36]  As such, even before Hurricane Katrina, HUD recognized that “[t]he need for additional public and affordable housing in the New Orleans community is at crisis proportions.”[37]

However, despite this assessment, for many years prior to Hurricane Katrina, HANO and HUD had been working on forcing low-income African-American families out of public housing in New Orleans by drastically reducing the number of public housing units from over 13,000 in 1996 to approximately 5,000 occupied units by 2005.[38]  Two thousand units of public housing had been empty for years leading up to Katrina, supposedly awaiting demolition.[39]  This pattern of reducing available public housing units in New Orleans continued despite the fact that there were long waiting lists for both public housing and Section 8 rental assistance in New Orleans, and thus, the supply of public housing was being exponentially outstripped by the demand.[40]

Following national trends to eliminate public housing complexes and create “mixed income” residential communities in their place, HANO and HUD were in the process of demolishing public housing in New Orleans even before Katrina hit, despite the overwhelming demand for it—i.e. the 17,000 families on waiting lists.[41]   One notable example of this demolition was the St. Thomas housing development in the Irish Channel of New Orleans—once home to 1,510 low-income families.[42]   St. Thomas was demolished in 2000 under the HUD Hope VI program with the promise that the displaced residents would be returning to a beautiful redeveloped mixed income community called River Garden Apartments.[43]  It is now home to a Wal-Mart and hundreds of little houses.[44]  One hundred eighty two apartments of the 660 units of new housing were reserved for public housing eligible families.[45]  A mere 100 out of the 1,510 families who used to reside in St. Thomas have been allowed to move back in.[46]  Many of these families had to force their way back in with litigation by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.[47]

For instance, one tenant who lived in St. Thomas before it was torn down in 2000 had gotten her application approved by HUD to move back in before Katrina hit.[48]  After the storm, this tenant applied four times for an apartment, even taking a bus back from Houston where she had been evacuated, only to be told there was no room for her.[49]  Another time she was denied because she was unemployed.[50] Sadly, the truth revealed HANO had leased forty-four of the sixty-three apartments set aside for public housing residents to HANO employees after Katrina instead of allowing the low-income public housing tenants back into their apartments after the storm.[51]  Because of HANO and HUD’s actions, this particular tenant was forced to live in her car, sometimes with her five-year-old child or else stay with other family members living on $234 a month in food stamps and $188 in general welfare.[52]

So what happened to the other thousands of former residents of St. Thomas?  Most former residents were shifted to the Section 8 voucher program which as discussed further below is fraught with discrimination against low-income African-American renters making vouchers an inadequate alternative to public housing and leaving such residents with few options for housing.[53]  Others moved in with relatives or ended up homeless.[54]  The St. Thomas/River Gardens example of what these mixed-income redevelopments really meant for public housing tenants was widely known before Katrina and eerily foreshadowed what was in store for New Orleans public housing after Katrina.

  1. Katrina Damage to Public Housing


Hurricane Katrina destroyed or caused severe damage to approximately 150,000 housing units in the city of New Orleans.[55]  Of these units that were damaged or lost in Hurricane Katrina, 112,000 (or 79%) consisted of affordable to low-income housing.[56]  Furthermore, most of these units were rental properties.[57]  A majority of these units have not been replaced or repaired as the post-Katrina redevelopment plan seeks to limit the construction of affordable housing.[58]

While Katrina destroyed much of the low-income rental property in the city of New Orleans, most of the public housing in New Orleans suffered only minimal damage.  Though the extent of damage would later be contested by HANO and HUD, it was not controversial in the months before HUD announced demolition would occur.  In fact, HANO initially announced that most developments could be opened with some work and they intended to clean, repair and re-open public housing.[59]   HANO first made estimates for repair and rehabilitation which were much less expensive than demolition and redevelopment.[60]

Though HANO later attempted to rationalize its decision to demolish thousands of public housing units by stating they had sustained significant damage from the hurricane, in direct contradiction to its own earlier statements that much of the public housing suffered only minimal damage and was in fact salvageable, this was soon proven to be untrue.[61]  As part of federal litigation to halt the demolition of the Big Four, John Fernandez, an Associate Professor of Architecture at MIT, inspected 140 public housing apartments in the Big Four and testified in court that he found “no structural or nonstructural damage . . . that would reasonably warrant any cost-effective building demolition.”[62]  Furthermore, he concluded “[j]ustifications for demolition on the grounds that these buildings can no longer function as safe and humane housing for the people of New Orleans are not credible.”[63]

This is important because the justification for demolition of public housing required by law is that it must be certified that it is unsuitable for housing purposes and no reasonable program of modification is cost-effective.[64]  But since HUD had already announced demolition was coming, the rationale followed and changed.

After it was revealed to the public that the buildings were not in the state of disrepair that HANO and HUD originally represented, HANO modified its rationale for demolition.  HANO then suggested that it would cost significantly more to repair the buildings than to raze them and start over.[65]  However, these statements again proved to be false.  Internal HANO and HUD documents revealed that the cost for repair and renovation for each of the Big Four housing developments was significantly less than for demolition and redevelopment.[66]  The Housing Authority’s own documents showed that Lafitte could be repaired for $20 million, even completely overhauled for $85 million, while the estimate for demolition and rebuilding many fewer units would cost over $100 million.[67]  Likewise, St. Bernard could be repaired for $41 million, substantially modernized for $130 million, while demolition and rebuilding fewer units would cost $197 million.[68]  B.W. Cooper could be substantially renovated for $135 million, compared to $221 million to demolish and rebuild fewer units.[69]  In fact, HANO’s own insurance company reported that it would take less than $5,000 each to repair the C.J. Peete apartments.[70]

The extent of damage was drastically inflated after HUD announced that the properties were to be destroyed and remained in controversy until demolition.

  1. Political Response to Damaged Public Housing


“We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans.  We couldn’t do it, but God did.”     

–Richard Baker, U.S. Congressman (R-La.), just days after Katrina.[71]

Immediately after Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush and other national political leaders repeatedly expressed the same goal: to rebuild New Orleans for all interested residents and to give displaced residents an opportunity to return to their homes.[72]  In furtherance of this objective, on December 30, 2005, Congress directed HUD to preserve all housing, which would include public housing that received project-based assistance.[73]  As discussed in detail below, HUD acted in direct contravention to this Congressional mandate by refusing to reopen and repair public housing and subsequently approving its demolition.[74]  Additionally, such actions went directly against the idea of providing displaced residents of New Orleans the opportunity to return home.  As the Rev. Jesse Jackson stated in a speech given in the aftermath of Katrina, “the right to return is hollow without a plan for transportation and a place to stay.”[75]

In a similar vein, political leaders in New Orleans and across the state of Louisiana had their own agenda for public housing after Katrina—one greatly influenced by prominent business leaders in the city.[76]  Such leaders looked at the hurricane as an opportunity to redefine the contours of the demographics of the city, as well as a business opportunity to improve the city for its middle- to high-income residents and its well-connected business leaders by turning former public housing property into prime commercial developments.[77]

In fact, New Orleans’ post-Katrina redevelopment plans were mere thinly veiled attempts to rid the city of its most unpopular residents, reduce the government’s role in providing housing to the poor, and create business opportunities for New Orleans’ elite.[78] Sentiments expressed by some of New Orleans’ political leaders confirm this.  For example, U.S. Congressman Richard Baker (R-La.), just days after Katrina, stated, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans.  We couldn’t do it, but God did.”[79]  Similarly, former City Council President Oliver Thomas admitted he was talking about African Americans when he said, “[w]e don’t need soap opera watchers all day,” and if displaced residents want to come back, they better want to work.[80]

Furthermore, in 2007, the U.S. Congress considered two important pieces of legislation on low-income housing issues that proposed to (1) save public housing in New Orleans; and (2) provide for one-for-one replacement of any public housing units destroyed.[81]  Given the serious shortage of affordable housing after Katrina along the Gulf Coast, this would have been an excellent policy from a housing point of view.[82]

The House of Representatives passed H.R. 1227, “The Gulf Coast Hurricane Housing Recovery Act of 2007,” on March 21, 2007 with bi-partisan support—with 302 voting in favor and 125 opposed to the bill.[83]  However, after this early victory, the Senate version of the bill,[84] proposed by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), was stopped short by the opposition of Louisiana Senator David Vitter (R-La.).[85]  While the Senate bill originally had the support of both Louisiana Senators (Vitter and Landrieu), HUD and Vitter withdrew their support for the bill in September 2007.[86]  Ultimately, as a result, the bill died in the Senate.[87]

While Vitter vaguely cited the reason for withdrawing his support as his belief that the proposed legislation would merely recreate the same public housing complexes as existed before Katrina with all their problems, it is likely that Vitter’s political objectives were the driving force behind his opposition to the bill.[88]  At the time, Senator Landrieu was coming up for reelection, and it served Vitter and the Republicans Party’s interests to ensure she would not lead a bill which would gain her the support of many Louisianans.[89]  Furthermore, it served Republican political interests to stop the returning of poor, African-American residents to the city of New Orleans—a demographic that votes overwhelmingly Democratic.[90]

Thus, in the aftermath of Katrina, both local and national political leaders ignored the needs of public housing residents displaced by the storm.

  1. What Happened to Public Housing Residents During and After Katrina: An Unequal Opportunity to Return


What happened during the storm to the 5,146 families who occupied public housing pre-Katrina?  Some evacuated before the storm hit; those who were left behind were bussed to shelters and then were forced to leave the city after Katrina hit.[91]  Many ended up in shelters in Houston or Atlanta; others were scattered elsewhere across the country.[92]  From these shelters, some were moved into temporary housing, and others moved in with friends and family.[93]  Relatively little cohesive information exists on what happened to public housing tenants during the storm.  HANO has not even been able to locate 20% of the 3,077 former Big Four households.[94]

Public housing residents who were able to travel home to New Orleans in the months following Hurricane Katrina came home to find that HANO had locked them out of their homes.[95]  Most of the housing developments were boarded up, with steel bars blocking some of the doors and ten-foot high fences topped with barbed wire blocking off the perimeters of some housing developments.[96]  Tenants at first were generally not even allowed in to retrieve their personal belongings.  As such, public housing residents trying to return home were not kept out of their homes by damage from the hurricane or flooding, but instead were shut out by HANO.  As discussed earlier, the storm and its aftermath did little structural damage to the developments in which most residents lived.  With moderate repair and cleanup, the government could have allowed the majority of public housing residents to return to their homes.  Yet by October 2006, a year after the storm, only 1,038 public housing units had been reoccupied—approximately 20% of the units occupied before Katrina.[97]  The rest remained closed by order of HANO, under guidance from HUD.[98]

Displaced HANO residents were absorbed into assisted housing across the country, for what most thought was a temporary stay.  HANO did not try to collect rent from residents and responded to all inquiries by deflecting answers about when people could return.   Residents did not have a meeting with HANO about the impending demolitions until November 29, 2006, months after HUD announced their decision to demolish.[99]

While HANO delayed reopening the public housing complexes, residents waited to return to their homes, unable to start rebuilding their lives while they waited for answers from HANO.[100]  This prolonged displacement forced many residents to incur costs and hardships they did not have when they were living in public housing.[101]  Families were split up and scattered across the country.[102]  Furthermore, displaced residents found it hard to get jobs in their new cities as displaced persons were often discriminated against and stigmatized.[103]  Unemployment rates for evacuees remaining displaced tripled those who returned to New Orleans.[104]  This resulted in those displaced falling even deeper into poverty.[105]   For example, one year after Katrina in Houston alone, less than 20 percent of Katrina evacuees were employed, but 60 percent were employed before Katrina.[106]

An independent analysis of the post-Katrina public housing crisis issued July 2006, nearly one year after the storm, confirmed: most displaced public housing residents wanted to return; almost 80 percent of the subsidized apartments were damaged leaving over 16,000 families without housing; and HUD and HANO severely decreased the availability of both public housing and housing vouchers.[107]

Federal regulations do not allow demolition of public housing without a plan being submitted to HUD, notice to residents, and a number of other prerequisites.[108]  However, on June 14, 2006, with no notice to the residents, nor any opportunity for residents to be heard, nor even an application for demolition filed, HUD announced in a press release that it would demolish more than 5,000 public housing apartments in the St. Bernard, C.J. Peete, B.W. Cooper, and Lafitte housing developments.[109]  This promised to be the largest demolition in the city’s history, destroying more than 70% of New Orleans public housing stock.[110]

Shocked residents fought back against HUD’s planned demolition of their homes—many promised to fix up their apartments themselves if given the chance.  Litigation was launched by residents.  The court actions, described Section VIII, infra, offered many opportunities for residents to turn out and show their opposition to the demolition.

One public housing resident at a public hearing ordered by the federal judge hearing the challenge to demolition in November of 2006 stated: “I want my house back.  If I could have, I would have cleaned it. I clean for a living, and I’m proud of it.”[111]  And residents were not the only ones resisting the demolition—they were soon joined by preservationists, housing experts, and other community activists who expressed their support of preserving much of the Big Four, especially emphasizing renovating the complexes as the best way to address the housing crisis and recognize former residents’ right to return to the city.[112]  In fact, as The Advancement Project’s Judith Browne-Dianis explained of the movement to preserve the Lafitte housing complex, “[i]t’s not about damaged units, it’s about whether low-income African Americans are welcome in New Orleans.”[113]

It should be noted that New Orleans public housing residents were not necessarily against the idea of mixed-income housing—many were just fearful that they would not be in the mix, that low-income public housing would not be available for everyone in need of it in the short-term and were concerned that there were no guarantees of long-term subsidized housing for former residents for the future.[114]  As Tracie Washington, then Gulf Coast Director of the NAACP Advocacy Center, pointed out: “It’s not that people don’t want mixed-income housing . . . It’s that people need places to live for the short term and that evacuees have to be able to get back to New Orleans to have a place to reside in order to be a part of the long-term rebuilding process.”[115]  Such fears were not unfounded based on New Orleans’ troubled history with razing public housing and replacing it with mixed-income communities before Katrina.  As River Gardens showed, only a small fraction of the families who had lived in these developments would be allowed to return once the mixed-income units were in place.

There were multiple protests staged at the Big Four complexes with residents and activists blocking demolition machinery and proclaiming that housing is a human right.[116]

The last step in the decision about the demolition of New Orleans public housing ultimately came down to a city council meeting at city hall on December 20, 2007 where New Orleans’ leaders voted on whether to raze the Big Four.[117]  Louisiana law mandated that demolition permits be approved by the City Council and residents fought and won enforcement of this measure in December of 2007.[118]

Supporters of public housing, many who had traveled from all over the country back to New Orleans for the meeting, were for the most part denied a chance to speak and most were not even allowed in the building.[119]  Some who insisted on speaking were arrested.[120]  A lot of the frustration came from the feeling that there was a lack of real consideration of public opinion and public input in the decision-making process to demolish the Big Four.[121]  And ultimately, the council voted unanimously to demolish the Big Four and within weeks, several public housing developments across the city were torn down.[122]


  • Response of HUD


One month after Katrina hit New Orleans, HUD got off to a bad start in New Orleans when, on September 29, 2005, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, who was in charge of the development of a public housing plan for New Orleans, as well as the enforcement of fair housing opportunities and furthering fair housing in the use of federal funds, stated that post-Katrina New Orleans “is not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again.”[123]  On April 24, 2006, Jackson further stated that “only the best [public housing] residents should return. Those who paid rent on time, those who held a job and those who worked.”[124]  Perhaps that explains why eighteen months after Katrina, over 80% of the 5,146 New Orleans public housing apartments remained closed by order of HUD.[125]  Furthermore, although 4300 families were given vouchers, given the difficulty of finding safe affordable housing, only 1,800 housing vouchers were in use in the city of New Orleans.[126]  These actions significantly reduced the housing opportunities for the thousands of public housing families that remained displaced because they could not come home, as well as many others who were in need of housing in the city.

Then, the HUD Secretary, in violation of many of HUD rules and regulations, publicly announced that thousands of public housing apartments were going to be bulldozed.[127]  Without going through the required application process which includes an application for demolition by HANO, without warning or notice or consultation with the residents, without making any arrangements with residents for them to try to arrange a purchase and renovation of their homes, HUD announced June 14, 2006 that four major public housing developments would be demolished: Lafitte, B.W. Cooper, C.J. Peete, and St. Bernard (together, the “Big Four”).[128]  At this time, HUD indicated it was dedicated to replacing all units occupied before Katrina.[129]

HUD made this decision to immediately destroy over 3,000 units of affordable public housing despite findings from the Louisiana Hurricane Task Force that there was an urgent need for over 30,000 affordable rental apartments in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of the storm, and despite the Congressional mandate to preserve all housing in New Orleans.[130]  Perhaps in an attempt to mitigate critics of its decision to act against the needs of the residents of New Orleans, HANO also announced in June 2006 that it would reopen 1,000 public housing units in the city within 90 days.[131]  However, HANO never delivered on this promise.  By October 19, 2006—about 120 days later—only an additional thirty-six public housing units had been reopened and reoccupied.[132]  One year later, on June 14, 2007, only an additional 423 units had been reopened and reoccupied.[133]  In fact, the full 1,000 units promised never came into being, further hurting public housing residents who wanted to return to their homes.[134]

Until the HUD announcement that demolition had been decided, HANO, as noted above, by its own assessment after the storm, found that many public housing units could have been preserved with some repairs.[135]  HANO even expressed its intent to clean and repair public housing units at the Iberville, C.J. Peete, B.W. Cooper, and Lafitte public housing developments.  Instead, HANO boarded up and fenced a number of these buildings, not allowing former residents back into their homes.[136]  Furthermore, HANO failed to perform even basic maintenance to many units that suffered little or no damage.[137]  As such, neither HUD nor HANO followed Congress’s mandate[138] to preserve all housing to the extent feasible.[139]

  1. Demolition or Rehabilitation?

HANO did not even submit its first application to demolish the public housing developments until October 17, 2006, 125 days after HUD had already publicly announced the demolitions.   HUD reported that it reviewed HANO’s demolition application under 42 U.S.C. § 1437p and its implementing regulations at 24 C.F.R. § 970.  HUD decided that all the developments were obsolete and unsuitable for housing, brushing aside HANO’s earlier plans to repair the apartments and the expert testimony offered by residents outlined above.  HUD approved the demolition on September 21, 2007, two years after the storm.[140]

HANO argued that the thousands of apartments should be demolished based on 24 C.F.R. § 970.15 which allows application for demolition when the housing is no longer suitable for housing and no reasonable program of modification is cost effective to return the dwelling to useful life.[141]  Residents argued that repair was entirely possible and cost-effective based on HANO’s own survey and estimates.  HUD disagreed and allowed the demolition.

  1. Consultation and Offer to Residents

Federal regulations required HANO to consult with residents about its plan to demolish.[142]  Further, any public housing authority which plans to dispose of property is required to offer it for sale to resident organizations, unless certain exceptions apply.[143]  In violation of these rules, HUD announced the demolition 125 days before HANO even made an application.

Residents objected in court to the absolute lack of notice or consultation in the October 2006 plan for demolition filed with HUD.  After a conference with the federal judge hearing the objections to the demolition, HANO was ordered to hold what they called a public hearing on November 29, 2006 to get input from residents.  However, at that meeting there was no back and forth between residents and HANO.  HANO essentially held an open microphone where residents could come up and air their questions or support or objections but no response at all was made by HANO officials.   Similar meetings were held in outlying cities and HANO also met with the pre-Katrina resident counsel board in December 2006.  Even though residents overwhelmingly asked to return home, these meetings were enough consultation for HUD, which found this sufficient to approve demolition.[144]

Likewise, at least one of the major developments was the subject of a resident based application for sale, triggering the requirement that the public housing agency give residents an opportunity to purchase the property proposed for demolition.[145]  Residents of the St. Bernard Development teamed up with the AFL-CIO to make an offer to redevelop that property after it was clear HANO and HUD were bound to demolish it.  HANO and HUD found that the regulation requiring offering the property to resident organizations was not applicable based on an exception in 24 CFR 970.9(3)(ii) and no negotiations were entered into with the resident organization.[146]

  1. The Failures of the Federal Demolition Procedure

Another clear example of the abuse of the process engaged in by HUD and HANO is the actual application for demolition.  HANO submitted its final version of its application to demolish the Big Four on September 20, 2007 and HUD approved the demolition plan on September 21, 2007—just one day after the completed plan was submitted.[147]

Throughout the application process, HANO and HUD cited a number of reasons for their decision to raze thousands of units of public housing—each of which turned out to be untrue.  First, HUD attempted to rationalize its decision by claiming the buildings had sustained irreparable damage during the storm, directly contradicting its former assessments that much of the public housing stock was salvageable.[148]  When this was proven to be untrue by the inspections of housing experts, HUD changed gears and cited the argument that the demolition would give New Orleans public housing families a fresh start.[149]  But a fresh start where?  HUD’s decision to not use a one-for-one replacement system virtually assured that many such families would not be able to make a fresh start in New Orleans as there would not be enough affordable housing available for everyone.

The HUD-approved plan provided for the replacement of the razed units with significantly fewer public housing units.[150]  According to the plan, the St. Bernard development which had consisted of 1,400 units would be replaced with 595 units and only 160 of those (11% of the original number of units) would be for public housing.[151] The C.J. Peete development which had consisted of 723 units would be replaced with 410 units; only 154 (21% of the original number of units) would be public housing units.[152]  B.W. Cooper originally housed 1,546 public housing units.  These would be replaced by 410 total units, of which only 154 (10% of the original number) would be public housing units.[153]  Lafitte would be downsized in a similar way.[154]  As such, HUD decided to spend hundreds of millions of Katrina assistance funds to end up with far fewer affordable apartments.[155]

Over the protests of many former residents, in early 2008, after getting the City Council’s blessing, HUD began demolitions on the Big Four.[156]  All together, the agency knocked down 3,077 apartments that had been occupied before the storm.[157]  As discussed further below, HUD’s demolition and redevelopment plans permanently displaced a significant number of low-income African-American residents from New Orleans as they were essentially denied an equal opportunity to return to the city.

HUD’s actions suggest that its goal from the start was to get out of the business of public housing, and it used the storm as an opportunity to expedite that process.  By razing over 3,000 public housing units that it had poorly managed before the storm and contracting out the management of the replacement units to third parties, HUD and the federal government have essentially removed themselves from the public housing sector.  But at what human cost?

  • Litigation to Re-Open Public Housing


Together, residents of public housing and many community leaders fought HUD’s decision to demolish public housing in New Orleans.

On June 27, 2006, less than two weeks after HUD made its first public statement about Big Four’s demolition, a class action lawsuit was brought in federal court against HANO and HUD on behalf of the New Orleans public housing residents who were shut out of their homes following Hurricane Katrina.[158]  The suit alleged that by failing to reopen housing units that were not damaged by Hurricane Katrina, failing to repair other units, and declaring that most of the existing public housing stock in New Orleans would be demolished, HANO and HUD violated their “obligation to provide non-discriminatory access to safe, affordable housing for low-income families and breaching their contractual commitments and statutory obligations to public housing residents of New Orleans.”[159]  The litigation was essentially a contest between a Fair Housing challenge by residents versus HUD and HANO’s claims that statutory rights authorized them to demolish.

The suit claimed that the actions of HUD and HANO to demolish four of New Orleans’ largest public housing developments was action taken with the intent to rid New Orleans of some of its poor African American residents.  Specifically the complaint alleged that HANO and HUD’s failure to repair and reopen the developments from which the tenants were displaced violated (1) the Fair Housing Act, alleging disparate treatment, disparate impact, and a breach of the duty to affirmatively further fair housing; (2) the U.S. Housing Act of 1937; (3) the HANO lease agreements; (4) the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, alleging discriminatory intent under the Equal Protection Clause; and (5) various state laws, including constructive eviction and breach of contract.[160]  The plaintiff residents asked the district court to immediately enjoin the planned demolitions, to compel HUD and HANO to repair and reopen the public housing units, and to award plaintiffs monetary damages for economic loss and emotional distress.[161]

Plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order against the planned demolition was denied on November 22, 2006 because the court found that residents who received vouchers could not show irreparable harm.  The court directed defendants to hold public hearings with residents as demanded by statute.[162]

In February 2007, the court denied the residents’ motion for a preliminary injunction to halt the demolition of the Big Four, finding no irreparable harm, and dismissed plaintiffs’ Housing Act claims. The court decided that residents’ could maintain private right of actions under the Fair Housing Act for claims of discrimination against HUD and HANO but did not offer sufficient evidence of discriminatory intent or effect and denied plaintiffs’ motions.   The court denied plaintiffs a private cause of action under Section 1437 of the U.S. Housing Act and granted summary judgment for defendants for claims under it.  The court also decided that since HUD had not yet approved the demolition application of HANO, the injury to residents was not imminent and denied the motions for relief.[163]

After the September 2007 HUD approval of HANO’s application for the demolition, plaintiffs moved for another temporary restraining order to halt the demolition.[164]  The district court again denied plaintiffs’ request to enjoin the demolition.[165]  Plaintiffs appealed this decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and asked for temporary injunctive relief pending the appeal, but the Fifth Circuit denied the requests and ultimately upheld the district court’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims and its denial of an injunction to stop the demolition.[166]

A last gasp state court injunction stopping the bulldozers was granted when it was discovered that demolition required approval of the New Orleans City Council, which had not been given.  A city council meeting was rapidly convened at city hall on December 19, 2007, and New Orleans’ leaders dutifully voted to raze the Big Four in a raucous meeting where people were tasered, many residents were locked out, and others were arrested.[167]

Demolition commenced and even calls to halt public housing demolition from United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Housing and Minority Issues could not stop it.  The U.N. advisors found that the demolitions increased poverty and homelessness, did not meaningfully involve the residents in the decision-making, and clearly had a racially discriminatory impact on the community.[168]

  1. Low Income Housing in New Orleans 2012


As a result of Katrina and the inadequate and discriminatory rebuilding process that followed, some of the most vulnerable groups have faced the steepest obstacles to returning to New Orleans.  Such disparate opportunities for New Orleans residents to return to their homes have created rapid demographic shifts in the population of the city.  Low-income communities and people of color now make up a smaller percentage of the New Orleans population than they did before storm.[169]  Data collected in the 2010 Census revealed there were 118,526 fewer African Americans living in New Orleans in 2010 than in 2000—making up 60% of the city’s population in 2010, as compared with 67% in 2000.[170]

Such population shifts as well as the housing decisions made in post-Katrina New Orleans have had a monumental impact on low-income housing in the city. For starters, the landscape of public housing in New Orleans in 2012 is essentially unrecognizable from what it was pre-Katrina.  The Big Four have been almost completely razed—with a few buildings here and there still being phased out.[171]  The complexes have all been replaced with mixed-income housing communities and renamed: C.J. Peete is now Harmony Oaks; St. Bernard is now called Columbia Parc; Lafitte is Faubourg Lafitte; and B.W. Cooper is now Marrero Commons.[172]

HANO’s own data shows that relatively few former residents have returned to the Big Four since Katrina.[173]  In fact, only roughly half (1,512) of the Big Four’s 3,077 households have even returned to New Orleans.[174]  Of these, only a few hundred, or roughly 7% of the original families have returned to the four sites: 70 households at C.J. Peete have returned, 93 at Lafitte, 65 at St. Bernard, and a few dozen more at B.W. Cooper which is just now filling its new apartments.[175]  And of the 1,565 families who have not returned to New Orleans, there is relatively little information on where they are living and why they have not returned to the city—although it seems likely that a major reason is the destruction of their former homes.[176]  Alarmingly, in the seven years since Katrina hit, HANO has not been able to locate 20% of the 3,077 former Big Four households.[177]

Inherent in the actions of HANO and HUD was their belief that traditional public housing for many was inferior to newer mixed income housing for fewer.  Residents were absolutely clear that they were not opposed to mixed income housing – they just wanted to be assured that they were going to be able to return to affordable housing in their neighborhoods.  The national conversation about mixed income housing replacing concentrated public housing appears to be heavily in favor of removing, relocating and not concentrating poor people.  However, the New Orleans experience after Katrina was that returning to home, to neighborhood, to neighbors, to church and school and community ties and bonds are extremely important.  They may be even more important to people of little economic means who often survive only by family, church and community relationships.


In some ways, the fate of New Orleans’ public housing and its residents is not all that different from other public housing complexes that have been razed and replaced with mixed-income communities elsewhere in the United States.  Generally, few public housing residents make it back to the new sites after their transformation.[178]  A study by the Urban Institute of eight redevelopments nationwide found that only 19% of public housing households return to their rebuilt complexes.[179]

However, in other ways, the story of the Big Four is remarkably different from other redevelopments done by HUD throughout the country.[180]  The Big Four were emptied of their 3,077 households in a matter of days during Katrina and their residents were scattered widely across the United States with no plan in place for how or where to house them in the interim.[181]  This is different from other demolitions in which residents are systemically moved out and placed in alternative housing and where most residents move only a few miles away.[182]

As such, the demolition of public housing in New Orleans has had a huge impact on a number of once-vibrant New Orleans’ communities.[183]  HUD not only razed people’s homes, but also their close-knit communities, social networks, and support groups.[184]  While community is important for everyone, experts say that such networks are particularly important for the elderly and the poor because they rely more heavily on neighbors for everyday assistance and stability.[185]  One former Lafitte resident described his community as a place where “[e]verybody knew everybody knew everybody” and where neighbors helped each other out.[186]  Another Lafitte resident described how “[p]arents helped each other.  You know, if it was cold outside and a kid’s nose was running, the nearest parent would grab a tissue.  They say it takes a village to raise a child.  We had that village.”[187]  And even during Katrina, neighbors in Lafitte took care of each other.[188]  Just look at the numerous stories about people swimming through floodwater with elderly neighbors on their backs to get them to safety.[189]  These stories and feelings are not just unique to Lafitte—former residents of all the Big Four complexes have similar stories.[190]  And seven years later, these former communities are scattered throughout the country, making it hard for former residents to rebuild their lives both here in New Orleans and in the cities to which many relocated.[191]

The storm and the subsequent destruction of the Big Four also had a number of consequences on low-income housing outside public housing in post-Katrina New Orleans.  The severe reduction in the number of public housing units available has resulted in an increased reliance on vouchers for affordable housing in New Orleans.[192]  Many experts agree that the Housing Choice Voucher Program has been an ineffective replacement for public housing in post-Katrina New Orleans.[193]  This can hardly be considered a surprise to HANO and HUD, as by their own Pre-Katrina assessments in 2003, they noted that “[r]elocation experience also demonstrates that Section 8 is not always a viable option for displaced residents transitioning from public housing.”[194]

The Housing Choice Voucher Program has failed to be an effective replacement for public housing in New Orleans post-Katrina for a number of reasons.  To begin with, there is currently not enough available, affordable housing in New Orleans for all former public housing tenants to rent.[195]  One reason for this is the shortage of rental units in post-Katrina New Orleans.  Hurricane Katrina destroyed about half of the entire rental housing stock in New Orleans and, to date, a majority of the damaged rental property has not been replaced.[196]  Thus, post-Katrina, the demand for the remaining supply of rental housing increased and, as a result, rents skyrocketed across the metropolitan area.  To illustrate, rents have increased approximately 44% since Katrina, compared with 4% nationally during this same period.[197]

Importantly, the supply of affordable housing is even smaller for former public housing residents who now participate in the voucher program.  This is because many landlords across the New Orleans metropolitan area either refuse to accept Section 8 vouchers outright, as they are not required to, or add insurmountable requirements for voucher holders in the lease terms, making it impossible for voucher holders to rent the units.[198]  A 2009 report by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) found that landlords were refusing to rent to families with vouchers about 82% of the time.[199]  As such, in the first few years following Katrina, thousands of housing vouchers went unused because landlords throughout the city refused to accept them.[200]  A 2006 survey of all listed apartment rentals in the newspaper found that only five out of the two-hundred listed landlords were willing to accept Section 8 vouchers and had an available apartment.[201]

Racial discrimination impacts this process as well.  Of the landlords who do accept housing vouchers, many refuse outright to rent to the former public housing tenants (who are virtually all African American) based on racial discrimination which unfortunately still plays a significant role in the New Orleans rental market.[202]  GNOFHAC’s 2009 report explains that a lot of the discrimination against Section 8 voucher holders is driven by racism and stereotypes about low-income African Americans.[203]  For example, GNOFHAC’s report found that many landlords in the city would accept vouchers from white women, but told African-American women they did not accept vouchers.[204]

A final reason that vouchers have been an ineffective replacement for public housing is because vouchers generally do not cover costs such as security deposits or utilities, which tenants generally did not have to pay in public housing.[205]  Like rents, the price of utilities increased by at least 33% after Katrina, making payment of these costs an insurmountable barrier for some tenants, especially those below the poverty line, to be able to afford their Section 8 apartments.[206]

The lack of available affordable housing since Katrina caused an explosion of New Orleans’ homeless population after the storm.  Despite the significant decrease in the post-Katrina overall population of New Orleans, the city’s homeless population soared to 70% higher than it was before the storm.[207]  Currently, according to an annual homeless count by UNITY of Greater New Orleans, New Orleans has a homeless population of roughly 11,500 individuals, ranking New Orleans second in the rate of homelessness among U.S. cities.[208]  In fact, New Orleans’ homelessness rate is nearly three times the national average.[209]  The reasons for this exponential increase in homelessness in New Orleans since the storm include the scarcity of affordable housing for New Orleans’ significant low-income population.  Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that many individuals’ family and community safety nets were permanently displaced by Katrina, taking away the people whom they relied on in tough times.[210]

  1. Conclusion

Lessons from the tragedies in New Orleans demolition of over three thousand public housing apartments and dispersal of three thousand families can be learned.

Be transparent and democratic.  The authorities must tell people what is going on, even when they are not sure of the outcome.  Public housing and government officials should seek input and guidance throughout the process, listening before making final decisions.  Keep people informed in all stages of the process and allow them to participate and consult in real time.

Prioritize displaced people and keep close track so people can participate in decisions about their homes and neighborhoods.

Rethink demolition of public housing and instead consider rehabilitation so people can return.  Rethink mixed income housing if the real price of that is widespread displacement of long-term residents of a neighborhood.   Place and neighborhood have real values for people.  Community is an important resource for all people as schools, churches, healthcare, jobs, friends and family are just as important as bricks and mortar.

If authorities decide demolition is called for and mixed income housing is going to take its place, tell the residents honestly that most residents will never return to their neighborhood.  Try to relocate as many back or as close to the neighborhood as possible.  Prioritize the return of people who lived there and allow them to restart relationships and community ties.

The story of public housing in New Orleans post-Katrina violates most ideas of transparency, accountability, and participation.   Whether you agree or disagree that the former public housing developments were bad ideas and that mixed-income housing is the preferable method, there is no question that the way the old New Orleans public housing developments were replaced in the aftermath of Katrina essentially blocked many residents from knowing what was going on and from being able to return to their homes.  This was unnecessary as the public housing units could have been used instrumentally in helping some of New Orleans’ most vulnerable populations return home.  Instead, the decisions about the fate of public housing were used systemically as a way to keep these people out.  Currently, things are not looking a lot better for New Orleans housing seven years later, nor for the future, as the affordable housing crisis in New Orleans continues.
[1] Bill Quigley is Janet Mary Riley Professor of Law at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law and was part of the legal team representing displaced public housing residents in New Orleans challenging the demolitions.

Sara Godchaux is a 2012 graduate of Loyola University New Orleans College of Law where she was an editor of the law review and awarded the Outstanding Ignatian Law Student award for distinction in scholarship and service.

[2] Susan J. Popkin et al., Urban Inst., Rebuilding Affordable Housing in New Orleans: The Challenge of Creating Inclusive Communities 2 (2006), available at  According to HUD:

The generally accepted definition of affordability is for a household to pay no more than 30 percent of its annual income on housing. Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care. An estimated 12 million renter and homeowner households now pay more then [sic] 50 percent of their annual incomes for housing, and a family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States. The lack of affordable housing is a significant hardship for low-income households preventing them from meeting their other basic needs, such as nutrition and healthcare, or saving for their future and that of their families.

See U.S. Dep’t of Housing & Urban Dev., Affordable Housing, (last visited Nov. 30, 2012).

[3] Id.

[4] Judith Browne-Dianis & Anita Sinha, Exiling the Poor: The Clash of Redevelopment and Fair Housing in Post-Katrina New Orleans, 51 How. L. J. 481, 485 (2008).

[5] Jeffrey Meitrodt, Rising Rent, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Oct. 15, 2006, at A-1.

[6] Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, Orleans Parish: Housing and Housing Costs, available at

[7] Id.

[8] Fifty-one thousand rental homes in New Orleans were seriously damaged in Katrina.  See Office of Policy Dev. & Research, U.S. Dep’t of Housing & Urban Dev., The Impact of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma on the Gulf Coast Housing Stock, U.S. Housing Market Conditions, May 2006, at 9, available at

[9] Browne-Dianis & Sinha, supra note 4, at 488.

[10] Housing Authority of New Orleans, Post-Katrina Frequently Asked Questions 1-2, available at

[11] Id.

[12] Browne-Dianis & Sinha, supra note 4, at 481-82.

[13] Complaint, Anderson v. Jackson, 2007 WL 4414479 (E.D. La. 2007) (No. 06-3298), 2006 WL 2032744.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Stacy E. Seicshnaydre, How Government Housing Perpetuates Racial Segregation: Lessons from Post-Katrina New Orleans, 60 Cath. U. L. Rev. 661, 674 (2011).  Before Katrina, over 125,000 people in New Orleans lived below the poverty line (27% of the population).  Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.  See also NAACP, Housing in New Orleans: One Year After Katrina, available at (“Before Katrina, New Orleans had the second-highest rate of African American concentrated poverty in the nation, with 37% of the city’s African American population living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty.”).

[20] Seicshnaydre, supra note 16, at 676.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] NAACP, Housing in New Orleans: One Year After Katrina, available at

[24] Id.

[25] Seicshnaydre, supra note 16, at 676.  See generally Martha Mahoney, Law and Racial Geography: Public Housing and the Economy in New Orleans, 42 Stan. L. Rev. 1251 (1990) for an excellent history of public housing in New Orleans.

[26] Id.

[27] Flaherty, Floodlines: Preserving Public Housing in New Orleans, supra note 27.

[28] See Nicolai Ouroussoff, All Fall Down, N.Y. Times, Nov. 19, 2006, § 4, at 1, 14.

[29] Id.  Others agreed with this assessment, including Susan Popkin, a researcher with the Urban Institute, who concluded: “These public housing buildings are some of the most sturdy housing in New Orleans, and I’m hesitant to see them torn down.” Katy Reckdahl, Like a Ton of Bricks, Gambit Wkly., Oct. 24, 2006, at 9.

[30] See generally Molly Thompson, Comment, Relocating from the Distress of Chicago Public Housing to the Difficulties of the Private Market:  How the Move Threatens to Push Families Away from Opportunity, 1 Nw. J.L. & Soc. Pol’y 267, 286-87 (2006).

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

[33] Katy Reckdahl, Razing a Community, Gambit Wkly., Oct. 31, 2006, available at

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

[36] Id.

[37] U.S. Dep’t of Housing and Urban Dev., PHA Plans: Annual Plan for Fiscal Year 2003, at 6, available at

[38] Id.  In 1996, there were more than 13,500 public housing units in New Orleans.  However, in 2005 when Katrina hit, only 5,146 families were living in public housing.

[39] See U.S. Dep’t of Hous. and Urban Dev., PHA Plans, supra note 37, at 7 (indicating that more than 19,000 families were on the waiting list for Section 8 and 6,790 families were on the public housing waiting list in 2003).

[40] Id.

[41] The demolition of public housing in New Orleans began in the 1990s, beginning with the Imperial Drive scattered site and then moving on to some of the bigger developments such as the Desire, Florida, Fischer, and St. Thomas housing developments—all which were replaced with smaller mixed-income developments.  See Katy Reckdahl, Public Housing: The Times Picayune covers 175 years of New Orleans history, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Jan. 29, 2012, available at

[42] Sara Gran, Point of View, Nobody Home: Agencies in Charge of Housing New Orleans Poor Prefer Not To, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Oct. 30, 2006, at B-5.

[43] Id.

[44] Id.

[45] Richard Webster, River Garden residents march in protest, management pushes back, NEW ORLEANS TIMES-PICAYUNE, January 24, 2013, at B-1.

[46] Id.

[47] Gwen Filosa, Tenant Admitted to River Garden After Suing, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Dec. 7, 2006, at B-1.

[48] Id.

[49] Id.

[50] Id.  The tenant had been employed at Loyola University before being injured in a car accident. Id.

[51] Id.

[52] Id.

[53] The Institute for Southern Studies, 4 Years After Katrina: Housing Crisis Continues, Low-Income Renters Face Discrimination, Aug. 1, 2009, available at  See also Section IX, infra.

[54] Id.

[55] Press Release, La. Recovery Auth., Comprehensive New Study Reveals Updated Population No. in Storm-Affected Parishes, Oct. 5, 2006, available at

[56] Browne-Dianis & Sinha, supra note 4, at 485 (citing National Low Income Housing Coalition, NLIHC Estimates 71% of Units Lost in Gulf Coast Were Low Income, Sept. 20, 2005, available at

[57] Id.

[58] Id.

[59] FEDERAL HOUSING REPONSE TO HURRICANE KATRINA, Hearing Before the Committee on Financial Services of the U.S. House of Representatives, February 6, 2007, Serial No. 110-1, p. 183-184 (citing  Housing Authority of New Orleans, Post-Katrina Frequently Asked Questions (April 2006)).

[60] Testimony of Judith Browne-Dianis before the Congressional Hearing on FEDERAL HOUSING RESPONSE TO HURRICANE KATRINA, Hearing Before the Committee on Financial Services of the U.S. House of Representatives, February 6, 2007, Serial No. 110-1, available at (citing Housing Authority of New Orleans: Preliminary Recovery Plan for the Redevelopment and Repair of Public Housing Properties: Summary).

[61] Browne-Dianis & Sinha, supra note 4, at 490.

[62] Declaration of John E. Fernandez, Anderson v. Jackson, No. 06-3298 (E.D. La. Oct. 23, 2006), available at http://

[63] Id.  The testimony concludes in relevant part:

Therefore, the general conclusions are: demolition of any of the buildings of these four projects is not supported by the evidence of the survey, replacement of these buildings with contemporary construction would yield buildings of lower quality and shorter lifetime duration, the original construction methods and materials of these projects are far superior in their resistance to hurricane conditions than typical new construction, and with renovation and regular maintenance, the lifetimes of the buildings in all four projects promise decades of continued service that may be extended indefinitely.


[64] Specific Criteria for HUD Approval of Demolition Requests, 24 CFR § 970.15 (2013).

[65] Press Release, Advancement Project, Government Waste May Prevent New Orleans Residents From Returning, Jan. 8, 2007, available at

[66] Id.

[67] Id.

[68] Id.

[69] Id.

[70] Id.

[71] Charles Babington, Some GOP Legislators Hit Jarring Notes in Addressing Katrina, Wash. Post, Sept. 10, 2005, at A04.

[72] President George W. Bush, President Discusses Hurricane Relief in Address from the City of New Orleans Shortly After Hurricane Katrina (Sept. 15, 2005), available at  “Our second commitment is to help the citizens of the Gulf Coast to overcome this disaster, put their lives back together, and rebuild their communities.”  Id.

[73] See Act of Dec. 30, 2005, Pub. L. No. 109-148; 119 Stat. 2781 (2006) (“To the extent feasible the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development shall preserve all housing within the area declared a major disaster . . . .”).

[74] Browne-Dianis & Sinha, supra note 4, at 488-89.

[75] Bruce Nolan, Jackson: Housing Key to ‘Right to Return,’ New Orleans Times-Picayune, Jan. 31, 2006, at 8.

[76] Browne-Dianis & Sinha, supra note 4, at 492.

[77] Id.

[78] Id.

[79] Charles Babington, Some GOP Legislators Hit Jarring Notes in Addressing Katrina, Wash. Post, Sept. 10, 2005, at A04.

[80] Eric Berger, New Orleans Says It Won’t Give Free Ride, Hous. Chron., Feb. 22, 2006, available at

[81]  In 1987, Congress required HUD to provide one for one replacement for demolition or sale of public housing, but that requirement was suspended in 1995 on a year-to-year basis until 1998 when it was ultimately eliminated.  See HDR Handbook of Housing and Development Law, Chapter 2, § 2:171 (2012), available at HDRH § 2:171.

[82]  See Sections VI and IX, infra, for a discussion on the lack of affordable housing post-Katrina.

[83] Gulf Coast Hurricane Housing Recovery Act of 2007, H.R. 1227, 110th Cong. (1st Sess. 2007).  Specifically, Section 203 entitled One-For-One Replacement of All Public Housing Dwelling Units, provides in relevant part:

  • Conditions on Demolition.–After the date of the enactment of this Act, the Housing Authority of New Orleans may not demolish or dispose of any dwelling unit of public housing operated or administered by such agency (including any uninhabitable unit and any unit previously approved for demolition) except pursuant to a plan for replacement of such units in accordance with, and approved by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development pursuant to, subsection (b).


[84] Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act of 2007, S. 1668, 110th Cong. (1st Sess. 2007).  This proposal required that any public housing apartment torn down be replaced with another form of low-income housing—either subsidized public housing, partially subsidized “affordable” units, or vouchers that offset a portion of rents.  Id.

[85] Sue Sturgis, The Institute for Southern Studies, Gulf Watch: New Orleans City Counsel endorses Landrieu housing bill, Nov. 5, 2007, available at

[86] Id.

[87] Id.

[88] Sue Sturgis, The Institute for Southern Studies, Gulf Watch: FEMA begins closing Katrina trailer parks while affordable housing fight drags on, Nov. 30, 2007, available at

[89] Id.

[90] Id.

[91] Rick Lyman, Reports Reveal Hurricanes’ Impact on Human Landscape, N.Y. Times, June 7, 2006, at A16.

[92] Id.  The rule of thumb was that the poorer you were, the further you were displaced.  Id.  (“[T]he poorer and more vulnerable, who had less choice about where they landed, went to more distant cities.”).

[93] Id.  See also Kris Axtman, Katrina Evacuees Struggle To Exit Hotels, Christian Sci. Monitor (Boston), Nov. 29, 2005, at 3.

[94] Katy Reckdahl, New C.J. Peete complex is solid, shiny — but not as social, some residents say, New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 21, 2011, available at

[95] Browne-Dianis & Sinha, supra note 4, at 489.

[96] Id.

[97] Id.

[98] Id.

[99]   HUD Memorandum of Approval from Ainars Rodins, HUD, to Cheryl Williams, HUD Director of New Orleans Office of Public Housing, dated Sept. 21, 2007.  This thirty-one page document was filed into the federal proceedings, 2:06-cv-03298 as Document 464-2 on September 24, 2007 (memo on file with authors).   See subsection on Resident Consultation, page 26.

[100] Browne-Dianis & Sinha, supra note 4, at 489.

[101] Id.

[102] Id.

[103] Id.

[104] Id.

[105] Id.

[106] Rick K. Wilson & Robert M. Stein, Katrina evacuees in Houston: One year out, Sept. 8, 2006, available at

[107] POLICYLINK, Kalima Rose and David Zisser, “Preliminary Analysis of New Orleans Public Housing Crisis,” July 19, 2006, available at

[108]  See General Requirements for HUD Approval of a PHA Demolition/Disposition Application, 24 C.F.R. § 970.7 (2013).

[109] Press Release, U.S. Dep’t of Hous. & Urban Dev., HUD Outlines Aggressive Plan to Bring Families Back to New Orleans’ Public Housing (June 14, 2006), available at

[110] Id.

[111] Gwen Filosa, Tenants Denounce HANO Plans to Demolish Housing; Hundreds Attend Meeting at John McDonogh High, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Nov. 30, 2006, at Metro 1.  The hearing was held only after residents objected to lack of notice in the ongoing federal litigation over the proposed demolition.  Consultation with residents is required by 24 CFR 970.7.

[112] Katy Reckdahl, Like a Ton of Bricks, Gambit Wkly., Oct. 24, 2006, at 9, available at

[113] Id.

[114] Cheryl Smith, Affordable Housing in NOLA, Austin Chron., Sept. 1, 2006, available at

[115] Id. Many public housing community leaders echoed this opinion as well.  For example, B.W. Cooper resident-management vice president Donna Johnigan said: “We welcome (income) diversity in our community, but it should not come at the expense of the people who once made up our community.”  Katy Reckdahl, ‘Big Four’ public housing issues addressed by congresswoman, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Aug. 21, 2009, available at

[116] Katy Reckdahl, B.W. Cooper housing site’s slow march to rebirth reaches finish line, New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 5, 2012, available at

[117] Id.

[118] See Diane Allen et al v. HANO, CDC No. 07-15799 (Dec. 14, 2007) (on file with authors).

[119] Flaherty, Floodlines: Preserving Public Housing in New Orleans, supra note 27.

[120] Id.

[121] Id.

[122] Id.

[123] Becky Brown et al., Hurricane Rita: The Aftermath; Populations Shift, Hous. Chron., Sept. 29, 2005, at B1.

[124] Bill Walsh, Official Blunt on Public Housing, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Apr. 25, 2006.

[125] See Joe Gyan, Jr., Housing Hearing Stormy: Angry Crowd Protests Plans to Replace N.O. Projects, The Advocate (Baton Rouge), Nov. 30, 2006, at A17. Only 1000 of the 5100 pre-Katrina public housing units were open as of June 2006. Id.

[126] POLICYLINK, Kalima Rose and David Zisser, “Preliminary Analysis of New Orleans Public Housing Crisis,” July 19, 2006, available at

[127] See Press Release, U.S. Dep’t of Hous. & Urban Dev., HUD Outlines Aggressive Plan to Bring Families Back to New Orleans’ Public Housing (June 14, 2006), available at

[128] Id.

[129] Id.

[130] Deon Roberts, Urgent Need for Affordable Housing in New Orleans, New Orleans CityBusiness, Dec. 4, 2006.

[131] Gwen Filosa, Public Housing Advocates See Little Progress in N.O., New Orleans Times-Picayune, Sept. 13, 2006, at B-1.

[132] First Amended Complaint at 4, Anderson v. Jackson, 2007 WL 4414479 (E.D. La. 2007) (No. 06-3298).

[133] Id.

[134] Id.

[135] Complaint at 3, Anderson v. Jackson, 2007 WL 4414479 (E.D. La. 2007) (No. 06-3298), 2006 WL 2032744.

[136] Browne-Dianis & Sinha, supra note 4, at 488-89.

[137] Id.

[138] See Section V, supra.

[139] Browne-Dianis & Sinha, supra note 4, at 489.

[140]  HUD Memorandum of Approval from Ainars Rodins, HUD, to Cheryl Williams, HUD Director of New Orleans Office of Public Housing, dated Sept. 21, 2007.  This thirty-one page document was filed into the federal proceedings, 2:06-cv-03298 as Document 464-2 on September 24, 2007 (memo on file with authors).

[141]  HUD Approval Memo, Sept. 21, 2007, supra note 138, at 4.

[142] See 24 C.F.R. § 970.7(7) (2013).

[143] See 24 C.F.R. § 970.7(8) (2013).

[144] See HUD Approval Memo, Sept. 21, 2007, supra note 138, at 26-27.

[145]  See 24 C.F.R. 970.9 (b)(1). (2013).

[146] See HUD Approval Memo, Sept. 21, 2007, supra note 138, at 27.  The exact wording of the CFR exception claimed by HANO and HUD says the requirement did not apply when: “A PHA seeks disposition outside the public housing program to privately finance or otherwise develop a facility to benefit low-income families (e.g., day care center, administrative building, mixed-finance housing under 24 CFR part 941 subpart F, or other types of low-income housing).” 24CFR970.9(3)(ii).

[147] First Amended Complaint at 4, Anderson v. Jackson, 2007 WL 4414479 (E.D. La. 2007) (No. 06-3298).

[148] Browne-Dianis & Sinha, supra note 4, at 490.

[149] Alphonso Jackson, Post-Katrina Progress Housing to Help End Suffering, Wash. Times, Dec. 27, 2007, at A15.

[150] Press Release, Advancement Project, Government Waste May Prevent New Orleans Residents From Returning, Jan. 8, 2007, available at

[151] Id.  Another 160 units would be tax credit mixed income and 145 would be market rate units.  Id.

[152] Id.  Another 133 would be mixed income and 123 would be market rate.  Id.

[153] Id.  Like C.J. Peete, another 133 units would be tax-credit mixed income and 123 would be market rate.  Id.

[154] Id.

[155] Id.

[156] Katy Reckdahl, B.W. Cooper housing site’s slow march to rebirth reaches finish line, New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 5, 2012, available at

[157] Id.

[158] The best overall description of this litigation can be found at: Judith Browne-Dianis & Anita Sinha, Exiling the Poor: The Clash of Redevelopment and Fair Housing in Post-Katrina New Orleans, 51 How. L. J. 481, 490 (2008).

[159] Complaint at 2, Anderson v. Jackson, 2007 WL 4414479 (E.D. La. 2007) (No. 06-3298), 2006 WL 2032744.

[160] Id. at 25-32.

[161] Id.

[162]  Order Denying TRO, Anderson v. Jackson, No. 06-3298 (E.D. La. Nov. 22, 2006) (copy on file with authors).

[163] Order and Reasons, Anderson v. Jackson, No. 06-3298 (E.D. La. Feb. 6, 2007), Document 175.  See also Anderson v. Jackson, 2007 WL 4414479 (E.D. La. 2007).

[164] Id.

[165] Id.

[166] Anderson v. Jackson, 556 F.3d 351, 360-61 (2009).

[167]  Gwen Filosa, Live Updates on Demolition Vote from Council Chambers, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Dec. 19, 2007, available at   See also Diane Allen et al v. HANO, CDC No. 07-15799 (Dec. 14, 2007) (on file with authors).

[168]  February 28, 2008 Statement of U.N. Advisors to the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights, available at

[169] The population of New Orleans fell from 484,674 before Katrina (according to the 2000 Census) to an estimated 208,548 after Katrina (July 2006) — a decrease of 276,126 people and a loss of over half of the city’s population.  By July of 2011, the population was back up to 360,740 — 74% of what it was in 2000.  The population of New Orleans was counted at 343,829 in April 2010 – indicating that New Orleans lost 140,845 residents since 2000.

[170] Allison Plyer, Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, What Census 2010 Reveals about Population and Housing in New Orleans and the Metro Area, March 17, 2011, available at

[171] Katy Reckdahl, New C.J. Peete complex is solid, shiny — but not as social, some residents say, New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 21, 2011, available at

[172] Id.

[173] Id.

[174] Id.

[175] Id.

[176] Id.

[177] Katy Reckdahl, New C.J. Peete complex is solid, shiny — but not as social, some residents say, New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 21, 2011, available at

[178] Id.

[179] Id.

[180] Id.

[181] Id.

[182] Id.

[183] Id.

[184] Id.

[185] Id.

[186] Katy Reckdahl, Razing a Community, Gambit Wkly., Oct. 31, 2006, available at

[187] Id.

[188] Id.

[189] Id.

[190] Id.

[191] Id.

[192] The Institute for Southern Studies, “4 Years After Katrina: Housing Crisis Continues, Low-Income Renters Face Discrimination,” supra note 53.

[193] Id.

[194] U.S. Dep’t of Housing and Urban Dev., PHA Plans: Annual Plan for Fiscal Year 2003, at 7, available at

[195] The Institute for Southern Studies, “4 Years After Katrina: Housing Crisis Continues, Low-Income Renters Face Discrimination,” supra note 53.

[196] Id.

[197] Seicshnaydre, supra note 16, at 684.

[198] The Institute for Southern Studies, “4 Years After Katrina: Housing Crisis Continues, Low-Income Renters Face Discrimination,” supra note 53.

[199] Id.

[200] Id.

[201] First Amended Complaint at 7, Anderson v. Jackson, 2007 WL 4414479 (E.D. La. 2007) (No. 06-3298).

[202] The Institute for Southern Studies, “4 Years After Katrina: Housing Crisis Continues, Low-Income Renters Face Discrimination,” supra note 53.

[203] Id.

[204] Id.

[205] First Amended Complaint at 7, Anderson v. Jackson, 2007 WL 4414479 (E.D. La. 2007) (No. 06-3298).

[206] Id.

[207] Katy Reckdahl, Report places New Orleans’ homeless rate at second in the nation, New Orleans Times Picayune, Feb. 5, 2012, available at

[208] 2012 Report of National Alliance to End Homelessness, available at

[209] Id.  The national homelessness rate was 21 per 10,000 residents in 2011, while the New Orleans’ rate was 56 per 10,000 residents.  Katy Reckdahl, Report places New Orleans’ homeless rate at second in the nation, New Orleans Times Picayune, Feb. 5, 2012, available at

[210] Katy Reckdahl, Report places New Orleans’ homeless rate at second in the nation, New Orleans Times Picayune, Feb. 5, 2012, available at

40 Reasons Our Jails and Prisons Are Full of Black and Poor People

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) reports 2.2 million people are in our nation’s jails and prisons and another 4.5 million people are on probation or parole in the US, totaling 6.8 million people, one of every 35 adults.  We are far and away the world leader in putting our own people in jail.  Most of the people inside are poor and Black.  Here are 40 reasons why.

One.  It is not just about crime.  Our jails and prisons have grown from holding about 500,000 people in 1980 to 2.2 million today.  The fact is that crime rates have risen and fallen independently of our growing incarceration rates.

Two.  Police discriminate.  The first step in putting people in jail starts with interactions between police and people.  From the very beginning Black and poor people are targeted by the police.  Police departments have engaged in campaigns of stopping and frisking people who are walking, mostly poor people and people of color, without cause for decades.  Recently New York City lost a federal civil rights challenge to their police stop and frisk practices by the Center for Constitutional Rights during which police stopped over 500,000 people annually without any indication that the people stopped had been involved in any crime at all.  About 80 percent of those stops were of Black and Latinos who compromise 25 and 28 percent of NYC’s total populationChicago police do the same thing stopping even more people also in a racially discriminatory way with 72 percent of the stops of Black people even though the city is 32 percent Black.

Three.  Police traffic stops also racially target people in cars.  Black drivers are 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers and Hispanic drivers are 23 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers.  Connecticut, in an April 2015 report, reported on 620,000 traffic stops which revealed widespread racial profiling, particularly during daylight hours when the race of driver was more visible.

Four.  Once stopped, Black and Hispanic motorists are more likely to be given tickets than white drivers stopped for the same offenses.

Five.  Once stopped, Blacks and Latinos are also more likely to be searched.  DOJ reports Black drivers at traffic stops were searched by police three times more often and Hispanic drivers two times more often than white drivers.  A large research study in Kansas City found when police decided to pull over cars for investigatory stops, where officers look into the car’s interior, ask probing questions and even search the car, the race of the driver was a clear indicator of who was going to be stopped: 28 percent of young Black males twenty five or younger were stopped in a year’s time, versus white men who had 12 percent chance and white women only a 7 percent chance.  In fact, not until Black men reach 50 years old do their rate of police stops for this kind of treatment dip below those of white men twenty five and under.

Six.  Traffic tickets are big business.  And even if most people do not go directly to jail for traffic tickets, poor people are hit the worst by these ticket systems.  As we saw with Ferguson where some of the towns in St. Louis receive 40 percent or more of their city revenues from traffic tickets, tickets are money makers for towns.

Seven.  The consequences of traffic tickets are much more severe among poor people.  People with means will just pay the fines.  But for poor and working people fines are a real hardship.  For example, over 4 million people in California do not have valid driver’s licenses because they have unpaid fines and fees for traffic tickets.  And we know unpaid tickets can lead to jail.

Eight.  In schools, African American kids are much more likely to be referred to the police than other kids.  African American students are 16 percent of those enrolled in schools but 27 percent of those referred to the policeKids with disabilities are discriminated against at about the same rate because they are 14 percent of those enrolled in school and 26 of those referred to the police.

Nine.  Though Black people make up about 12 percent of the US population, Black children are 28 percent of juvenile arrests.  DOJ reports that there are over 57,000 people under the age of 21 in juvenile detention.  The US even has 10,000 children in adult jails and prisons any given day.

Ten.  The War on Drugs targets Black people.  Drug arrests are a big source of bodies and business for the criminal legal system.   Half the arrests these days are for drugs and half of those are for marijuana.  Despite the fact that Black and white people use marijuana at the same rates, a Black person is 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than a white person.  The ACLU found that in some states Black people were six times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites.   For all drug arrests between 1980 and 2000 the U.S. Black drug arrest rate rose dramatically from 6.5 to 29.1 per 1,000 persons; during the same period, the white drug arrest rate barely increased from 3.5 to 4.6 per 1,000 persons.

Eleven.  Many people in jail and prison because the US has much tougher drug laws and much longer sentences for drug offenses than most other countries.  Drug offenders receive an average sentence of 7 months in France, twelve months in England and 23 months in the US.

Twelve.  The bail system penalizes poor people. Every day there are about 500,000 people are in jails, who are still presumed innocent and awaiting trial, just because they are too poor to pay money to get out on bail.   Not too long ago, judges used to allow most people, even poor people to be free while they were awaiting trial but no more.   In a 2013 study of New York City courts, over 50% of the people held in jail awaiting trial for misdemeanor or felony charges were unable to pay bail amounts of $2500 or less.

Thirteen.  This system creates a lot of jobs.  Jails and prisons provide a lot of jobs to local, state and federal officials.  To understand how this system works it is good to know the difference between jails and prisons.  Jails are local, usually for people recently arrested or awaiting trial.  Prisons are state and federal and are for people who have already been convicted.  There are more than 3000 local jails across the US, according to the Vera Institute, and together usually hold about 500,000 people awaiting trial and an additional 200,000 or so convicted on minor charges.  Over the course of a year, these local jails process over 11.7 million people.  Prisons are state and federal lockups which usually hold about twice the number of people as local jails or just over 1.5 million prisoners.

Fourteen.  The people in local jails are not there because they are a threat to the rest of us.  Nearly 75 percent of the hundreds of thousands of people in local jails are there for nonviolent offenses such as traffic, property, drug or public order offenses.

Fifteen.  Criminal bonds are big business.  Nationwide, over 60 percent of people arrested are forced to post a financial bond to be released pending trial usually by posting cash or a house or paying a bond company.  There are about 15,000 bail bond agents working in the bail bond industry which takes in about $14 billion every year.

Sixteen.  A very high percentage of people in local jails are people with diagnosed mental illnesses.  The rate of mental illness inside jails is four to six times higher than on the outside.  Over 14 percent of the men and over 30 percent of the women entering jails and prisons were found to have serious mental illness in a study of over 1000 prisoners.  A recent study in New York City’s Rikers Island jail found 4,000 prisoners, 40 percent of their inmates, were suffering from mental illness.  In many of our cities, the local jail is the primary place where people with severe mental problems end up.  Yet treatment for mental illness in jails is nearly non-existent.

Seventeen. Lots of people in jail need treatment.  Nearly 70 percent of people prison meet the medical criteria for drug abuse or dependence yet only 7 to 17 percent ever receive drug abuse treatment inside prison.

Eighteen.  Those who are too poor, too mentally ill or too chemically dependent, though still presumed innocent, are kept in cages until their trial dates.  No wonder it is fair to say, as the New York Times reported, our jails “have become vast warehouses made up primarily of people too poor to post bail or too ill with mental health or drug problems to adequately care for themselves.”

Nineteen.  Poor people have to rely on public defenders.   Though anyone threatened with even a day in jail is entitled to a lawyer, the reality is much different. Many poor people facing misdemeanor charges never see a lawyer at all.  For example, in Delaware more than 75 percent of the people in its Court of Common Pleas never speak to a lawyer.  A study of Jackson County Michigan found 95 percent of people facing misdemeanors waived their right to an attorney and have plead guilty rather than pay a $240 charge for a public defender.  Thirteen states have no state structure at all to make sure people have access to public defenders in misdemeanor courts.

Twenty.  When poor people face felony charges they often find the public defenders overworked and underfunded and thus not fully available to provide adequate help in their case.  In recent years public defenders in Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri and Pennsylvania were so overwhelmed with cases they refused to represent any new clients.   Most other states also have public defender offices that have been crushed by overwork, inadequate finances and do not measure up to the basic principles for public defenders outlined by the American Bar Association.  It is not uncommon for public defenders to have more than 100 cases going at the same time, sometimes several hundred.  Famous trial lawyer Gerry Spence, who never lost a criminal case because of his extensive preparation for each one, said that if he was a public defender and represented a hundred clients he would never have won a case.

Twenty One.  Lots of poor people plead guilty.  Lack of adequate public defense leads many people in prison to plead guilty.  The American Bar Association reviewed the US public defender system and concluded it lacked fundamental fairness and put poor people at constant risk of wrongful conviction. “All too often, defendants plead guilty, even if they are innocent, without really understanding their legal rights or what is occurring…The fundamental right to a lawyer that America assumes applies to everyone accused of criminal conduct effectively does not exist in practice for countless people across the US.

Twenty Two.  Many are forced to plead guilty.  Consider all the exonerations of people who were forced by police to confess even when they did not do the crime who were later proven innocent: some criminologists estimate 2 to 8 percent of the people in prison are innocent but pled guilty.   One longtime federal judge estimates that there is so much pressure on people to plead guilty that there may easily be 20,000 people in prison for crimes they did not commit.

Twenty Three.  Almost nobody in prison ever had a trial.  Trials are rare in the criminal injustice system.  Over 95 percent of criminal cases are finished by plea bargains.   In 1980, nearly 20 percent of criminal cases were tried but that number is reduced to less than 3 percent because sentences are now so much higher for those who lose trials, there are more punishing drug laws, mandatory minimum sentences, and more power has been given to prosecutors.

Twenty Four.  Poor people get jail and jail makes people worse off.  The poorest people, those who had to remain in jail since their arrest, were 4 times more likely to receive a prison sentence than those who got out on bail.  There are tens of thousands of rapes inside jails and prisons each year.  DOJ reports over 4,000 inmates are murdered each year inside each year.  As US Supreme Court Justice Kennedy told Congress recently “This idea of total incarceration just isn’t working.  And it’s not humane.  We [society and Congress and the legal profession] have no interest in corrections, nobody looks at it.”

Twenty Five.  Average prison sentences are much longer than they used to be, especially for people of color. Since 1990, the average time for property crimes has gone up 24 percent and time for drug crimes has gone up 36 percent.  In the US federal system, nearly 75 percent of the people sent to prison for drug offenses are Black or Latino.

Twenty Six.  There is about a 70 percent chance that an African American man without a high school diploma will be imprisoned by the time he reaches his mid-thirties; the rate for white males without a high school diploma is 53 percent lower.  In the 1980, there was only an 8 percent difference.  In New York City, for example, Blacks are jailed at nearly 12 times the rate of whites and Latinos more than five times the rate of whites.

Twenty Seven.  Almost 1 of 12 Black men ages 25 to 54 are in jail or prison, compared to 1 in 60 nonblack men.  That is 600,000 African American men, an imprisonment rate of five times that of white men.

Twenty Eight.  Prison has become a very big private business.  Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) owns and runs 67 for-profit jails in 20 states with over 90,000 beds.   Along with GEO (formerly Wackenhut), these two private prison companies have donated more than $10 million to candidates and spent another $25 million lobbying according to the Washington Post.  They lobby for more incarceration and have doubled the number of prisoners they hold over the past ten years.

Twenty Nine.  The Sentencing Project reports that over 159,000 people are serving life sentences in the US.  Nearly half are African American and 1 in 6 are Latino.  The number of people serving life in prison has gone up by more than 400% since 1984.  Nearly 250,000 prisoners in the US are over age 50.

Thirty.  Inside prisons, the poorest people are taken advantage of again as most items such as telephone calls to families are priced exorbitantly high, some as high as $12.95 for a 15 minute call, further separating families.

Thirty One.  The DOJ reports another 3.9 million people are on probation.  Probation is when a court puts a person under supervision instead of sending them to prison.  Probation is also becoming a big business for private companies which get governments to contract with them to collect outstanding debts and supervise people on probation.  Human Rights Watch reported in 2014 that over a thousand courts assign hundreds of thousands of people to be under the supervision of private companies who then require those on probation to pay the company for the supervision and collect fines, fees and costs or else go to jail.  For example, one man in Georgia who was fined $200 for stealing a can of beer from a convenience store was ultimately jailed after the private probation company ran up over a thousand dollars in in fees.

Thirty Two.  The DOJ reports an additional 850,000 people are on parole.  Parole is when a person who has been in prison is released to serve the rest of their sentence under supervision.

Thirty Three.  The DOJ reported in 2012 that as many as 100 million people have a criminal record, and over 94 million of those records are online.

Thirty Four.  Everyone can find out people have a record. Because it is so easy to access to arrest and court records, people who have been arrested and convicted face very serious problems getting a job, renting an apartment, public assistance, and educationEighty-seven percent of employers conduct background checks.  Employment losses for people with criminal records have been estimated at as much as $65 billion every year.

Thirty Five.  Race is a multiplier of disadvantage in unemployment for people who get out of prison.  A study by Professor Devah Pager demonstrated that employers who were unlikely to even check on the criminal history of white male applicants, seriously discriminated against all Black applicants and even more so against Black applicants with criminal records.

Thirty Six.  Families are hurt by this.  The Sentencing Project reports 180,000 women are subject to lifetime bans from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families because of felony drug convictions.

Thirty Seven.  Convicted people cannot get jobs after they get out.  More than 60 percent of formerly incarcerated people are unemployed one year after being released.  Is it a surprise that within three years of release from prison, about two-thirds of the state prisoners were rearrested?

Thirty Eight.  The US spends $80 billion on this big business of corrections every year.  As a retired criminal court judge I know says, “the high costs of this system would be worth it if the system was actually working and making us safer, but we are not safer, the system is not working, so the actual dollars we are spending are another indication of our failure.”  The cost of being number one in incarceration is four times higher than it was in 1982.  Anyone feeling four times safer than they used to?

Thirty Nine.  Putting more people in jail creates more poverty.  The overall poverty rate in our country is undoubtedly higher because of the dramatic increase in incarceration over the past 35 years with one research project estimating poverty would have decreased by 20 percent if we had not put all these extra people in prison.  This makes sense given the fact that most all the people brought into the system are poor to begin with, it is now much harder for them to find a job because of the barriers to employment and good jobs erected by a criminal record to those who get out of prison, the increased number of one parent families because of a parent being in jail, and the bans on receiving food stamps and housing assistance.

Forty.  Putting all these problems together and you can see why the Center for American Progress rightly concludes “Today, a criminal record serves as both a direct cause and consequence of poverty.”

What does it say about our society that it uses its jails and prisons as the primary detention facilities for poor and black and brown people who have been racially targeted and jail them with the mentally ill and chemically dependent?  The current criminal system has dozens of moving parts from the legislators who create the laws, to the police who enforce them, to the courts which apply them, to the jails and prison which house the people caught up in the system, to the public and business community who decides whom to hire, to all of us who either do something or turn our heads away.  These are our brothers and sisters and cousins and friends of our coworkers.  There are lots of proposed solutions.  To learn more about the problems and the solutions are go to places like The Sentencing Project, the Vera Institute, or the Center for American Progress.  Because it’s the right thing to do, and because about 95 percent of the people who we send to prison are coming back into our communities.

Ten Facts about Being Homeless in USA

By Bill Quigley.  Bill teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans.  You can reach Bill at

Three True Stories

Renee Delisle was one of over 3500 homeless people in Santa Cruz when she found out she was pregnant.  The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported she was turned away from a shelter because they did not have space for her.  While other homeless people slept in cars or under culverts, Renee ended up living in an abandoned elevator shaft until her water broke.

Jerome Murdough, 56, a homeless former Marine, was arrested for trespass in New York because he was found sleeping in a public housing stairwell on a cold night.  The New York Times reported that one week later, Jerome died of hypothermia in a jail cell heated to over 100 degrees.

Paula Corb and her two daughters lost their home and have lived in their minivan for four years.  They did laundry in a church annex, went to the bathroom at gas stations, and did their studies under street lamps, according to America Tonight.

Fact One.  Over half a million people are homeless

On any given night, there are over 600,000 homeless people in the US according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  Most people are either spending the night in homeless shelters or in some sort of short term transitional housing.  Slightly more than a third are living in cars, under bridges or in some other way living unsheltered.

Fact Two.  One quarter of homeless people are children

HUD reports that on any given night over 138,000 of the homeless in the US are children under the age of 18. Thousands of these homeless children are unaccompanied according to HUD.  Another federal program, No Child Left Behind, defines homeless children more broadly and includes not just those living in shelters or transitional housing but also those who are sharing the housing of other persons due to economic hardship, living in cars, parks, bus or train stations, or awaiting foster care placement.  Under this definition, the National Center for Homeless Education reported in September 2014 that local school districts reported there are over one million homeless children in public schools.

Fact Three.  Tens of thousands of veterans are homeless

Over 57,000 veterans are homeless each night.  Sixty percent of them were in shelters, the rest unsheltered.  Nearly 5000 are female.

Fact Four.  Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness in women

More than 90% of homeless women are victims of severe physical or sexual abuse and escaping that abuse is a leading cause of their homelessness.

Fact Five. Many people are homeless because they cannot afford rent

The lack of affordable housing is a primary cause of homelessness according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.  HUD has seen its budget slashed by over 50% in recent decades resulting in the loss of 10,000 units of subsidized low income housing each and every year.

Fact Six.  There are fewer places for poor people to rent than before

One eighth of the nation’s supply of low income housing has been permanently lost since 2001.  The US needs at least 7 million more affordable apartments for low income families and as a result millions of families spend more than half their monthly income on rent.

Fact Seven.  In the last few years millions have lost their homes

Over five million homes have been foreclosed on since 2008, one out of every ten homes with a mortgage.  This has caused even more people to search for affordable rental property.

Fact Eight.  The Government does not help as much as you think

There is enough public rental assistance to help about one out of every four extremely low income households.  Those who do not receive help are on multi-year waiting lists.  For example, Charlotte just opened up their applications for public housing assistance for the first time in 14 years and over 10,000 people applied.

Fact Nine.  One in five homeless people suffer from untreated severe mental illness

While about 6% of the general population suffers from severe mental illness, 20 to 25% of the homeless suffer from severe mental illness according to government studies.  Half of this population self-medicate and are at further risk of addiction and poor physical health.  A University of Pennsylvania study tracking nearly 5000 homeless people for two years discovered that investing in comprehensive health support and treatment of physical and mental illnesses is less costly than incarceration, shelter and hospital services for the untreated homeless.

Fact Ten.  Cities are increasingly making homelessness a crime

A 2014 survey of 187 cities by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty found: 24% make it a city-wide crime to beg in public; 33% make it illegal to stand around or loiter anyplace in the city; 18% make it a crime to sleep anywhere in public; 43% make it illegal to sleep in your car; and 53% make it illegal to sit or lay down in particular public places.   And the number of cities criminalizing homelessness is steadily increasing.

For more information look to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, the National Center for Homeless Education and the National Coalition on the Homeless.

Ten Facts About Police Violence in Ferguson Sunday Night

While the Governor of Missouri is sending in the National Guard to Ferguson, it is worth considering where the real violence is coming from.

One.  Hours before the 12pm Sunday night curfew went into effect, peaceful nonviolent protestors were legally marching in Ferguson.  Then without warning the police turned on the marchers.  Purvi Shah, a human rights lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, was marching with hundreds of others and reported just after 10pm:  “Just got tear gassed.  Eyes burning.  No warnings.  People running with someone in wheelchair. This is lawlessness.  Police fired on peaceful protestors.” 

Two.  The police tear gas canisters hit an eight year old child walking with his mother according to Yahoo.

Three.  Two reporters were arrested at about 10pm Sunday night.  

Four. Reporters in the peaceful march also got a taste of tear gas

Five.  Police threatened to shoot another journalist in the face because the police thought his camera light was on. Christopher Hayes with MSNBC was told to “get back! Or next time you’re going to be the one maced.”

Six.  There is a serious case to be made that the police got jittery and overreacted thus causing the very violence they decry.  The police initially said they had to take action because there were gunshots, but reporters indicate that there were fireworks which were confused as gunshots.  The police later retracted the earlier report of gunshots.  The police also reported people were throwing Molotov cocktails at police but no one ever saw any and many reports show only protestors throwing back the tear gas canisters which were fired at them by police.

Seven.  The reasons for the protests we see in Ferguson is as American as apple pie.  Almost 50 years ago, the 1968 Kerner Report on protests, rebellions and riots declared: “police are not merely a “spark” factor. To some Negroes police have come to symbolize white power, white racism and white repression. And the fact is that many police do reflect and express these white attitudes. The atmosphere of hostility and cynicism is reinforced by a widespread belief among Negroes in the existence of police brutality and in a “double standard” of justice and protection—one for Negroes and one for whites.”

Eight.  Sending in the National Guard will never solve this.  The USA cannot police our way to the end of the Ferguson problems.  The same 1968 Kerner identified 6 deeply held grievances of the communities where conflict broke out: police practices, unemployment and underemployment, inadequate housing, inadequate education, poor recreation facilities and programs, ineffectiveness of the political structure and grievance mechanisms.  These demand justice, not the National Guard.


Nine.  The problems shown to the nation by the Ferguson community contain their own solutions.  “When all else fails to organize people, conditions will.”  Marcus Garvey


Ten.  Police violence and National Guard guns and might will never beat the people.  As Purvi Shah, after being tear gassed, tweeted: “To the police: you just organized a bunch of freedom fighters. Thanks.”

Ten Examples of Welfare for the Rich and Corporations

(A version of this article with footnotes is available). 

Here are the top ten examples of corporate welfare and welfare for the rich.   There are actually thousands of tax breaks and subsidies for the rich and corporations provided by federal, state and local governments but these ten will give a taste.

One.  State and Local Subsidies to Corporations.  An excellent New York Times study by Louise Story calculated that state and local government provide at least $80 billion in subsidies to corporations.   Over 48 big corporations received over $100 million each.  GM was the biggest at a total of $1.7 billion extracted from 16 different states but Shell, Ford and Chrysler all received over a billion dollars each.  Amazon, Microsoft, Prudential, Boeing and casino companies in Colorado and New Jersey received well over $200 million each.

Two.  Direct Federal Subsidies to Corporations.  The Cato Institute estimates that federal subsidies to corporations costs taxpayers almost $100 billion every year.

Three.  Federal Tax Breaks for Corporations.  The tax code gives corporations special tax breaks which reduced what is supposed to be a 35 percent tax rate to an actual tax rate of 13 percent, saving these corporations an additional $200 billion annually, according to the US Government Accountability Office. 

Four.  Federal Tax Breaks for Wealthy Hedge Fund Managers.  Special tax breaks for hedge fund managers allow them to pay only 15% rate while the people they earned the money for usually pay 35% rate.  This is the break where the multimillionaire manager pays less of a percentage in taxes than her secretary.  The National Priorities Project estimates this costs taxpayers $83 billion annually and 68% of those who receive this special tax break earn more than $462,500 per year (the top one percent of earners).

Five.   Subsidy to Fast Food Industry.  Research by the University of Illinois and UC Berkeley documents that taxpayers pay about $243 billion each year in indirect subsidies to the fast food industry because they pay wages so low that taxpayers must put up $243 billion to pay for public benefits for their workers.

Six.  Mortgage Deduction. The home mortgage deduction, which costs taxpayers $70 billion per year, is a huge subsidy to the real estate, banking and construction industries.  The Center of Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that 77 percent of the benefit goes to homeowners with incomes over $100,000 per year.

Seven.   The billions above do not even count the government bailout of Wall Street which all parties have done their utmost to tell the public they did not need, they paid back, or it was a great investment.  The Atlantic Monthly estimates that $7.6 trillion was made available by the Federal Reserve to banks, financial firms and investors.  The Cato Institute estimates (using government figures) the final costs at $32 to $68 billion, not including the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which alone cost more than $180 billion.

Eight.  Each major piece of legislation contains new welfare for the rich and corporations.  The Boston Globe analyzed the emergency tax legislation passed by Congress in early 2013 and found it contained 43 business and energy tax breaks worth $67 billion.

Nine.  Huge corporations which engage in criminal or other wrongful activities protect their leaders from being prosecuted by paying huge fees or fines to the government.  You and I would be prosecuted.  These corporations protect their bosses by paying off the government.  For example, Reuters reported that JPMorgan Chase, which made a preliminary $13 billion mortgage settlement with the US government, is allowed to write off a majority of the deal as tax deductible, saving the corporation $4 billion.

Ten.  There are thousands of smaller special breaks for corporations and businesses out there.  There is a special subsidy for corporate jets which cost taxpayers $3 billion a year.   The tax deduction for second homes costs $8 billion a year.  Fifty billionaires received taxpayer funded farm subsidies in the past twenty years.  

If you want to look at the welfare for the rich and corporations start with the federal Internal Revenue Code.  That is the King James Bible of welfare for the rich and corporations.  Special breaks in tax code is the reason there are thousands of lobbyists in the halls of Congress, hundreds of lobbyists around each state legislature and tens of thousands of tax lawyers all over the country.




Obamacare – What is it really? Powerpoint Explanation

Obama CareThis is a powerpoint explaining Obamacare and how it connects with Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and the uninsured.


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