Thursday, February 3, 2011

An Open Note to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan as he visits New Orleans today

Dear Secretary Donovan,

As you visit New Orleans today, I hope you'll take a moment away from your time mingling with the BioDistrict staff to visit Lower Mid-City.  There, you'll see the true urban devastation that HUD has wrought in a National Register Historic District, in a dense, mixed neighborhood that was rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.  Along with other government entities, HUD helped to finance the project.

I also hope you'll finally address the extensive HUD administrative complaint about the agency's involvement in the LSU/VA project.  It was filed by local attorney Mary Howell months ago, and, for all intents and purposes, it has effectively been negated by sheer inaction.

I hope, too, that your visit includes a tour of the over 20 structures demolished in the site of the proposed UMC Hospital despite inadequate financing, especially that one that was demolished after the UMC Board's own consultant provided it and the state's project officials with notice that additional site preparation moves would jeopardize HUD mortgage insurance.  Take a look at the incredibly poor UMC design, which does not make any effort to design around historic buildings like the beautiful McDonogh No. 11 School, which shows that the footprint for the proposed hospital is excessive.

You said in August of 2010, writing about the Gulf Coast recovery, that "the Obama Administration is committed to doing things differently in the Gulf."  Differently than what?  HUD's involvement in the LSU/VA Hospital affair has shown the Obama Administration to be no different than the misguided "urban renewal" advocates of the 1950s and 1960s.  Displacing over 500 residents by supporting a project that did not require the destruction of 67 acres of land is the antithesis of sound housing policy.  Helping major institutional tenants vacate the historic downtown to do just that is the antithesis of good urban policy.  HUD's support of this hospitals project is without a doubt a stain upon its reputation.

Photo courtesy of Sandra Stokes.

Go and see the HUD-funded moonscape in Lower Mid-City.  And ask to see the BioDistrict's "consolidated scheme" map which envisions the pocket historic neighborhood across Tulane Avenue along Gravier Street getting destroyed in much the same way.  Ask the BioDistrict why it needs 1,500 acres of historic cityscape.

HUD and the Obama Administration should be doing things differently.  But unfortunately, that very clearly hasn't been the case.

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