Land Trust Bureaucracy Strikes the L9!

In my response to an article by my peer on a Community Land Trust developing in the L9 I tried to point out the fact that low-income workers might not like seeing their rents go to slumlords, but rather those funds could accrue such that one day they (me too!) could have that oh-so-American rite/right of passage, which “can” confer so many more rights (re: NOPD will still break them if they deem it necessary, i.e. search home without warrant):

I think the intentions of the L9 NENA are to help folks who otherwise couldn’t put a down payment on a house or land, or might not qualify for a bank loan considering how banks have been so tight with loaning out much to anyone after the 2008 crisis.

The fact that over 99 years, folks would pay about $30,000 rather than $8,000 now assumes that the price of land in 3010 (inflation adjusted) would remain around its current cost and that folks, once again, can afford the $8,000 in addition to what might be a significant monthly mortgage rate for the actual home.  It also means folks avoid–if they can’t afford a home otherwise–paying higher and higher rents. New Orleans rents are up at least 50% still, five plus years after Katrina.

The other important fact to remember about Community Land Trusts is that they PROTECT against land speculation and assessments that can bankrupt folks and/or put them into massive debt such as what happened in the very very recent crisis to much of the middle and working classes caught up in the foreclosure mania and the predatory lending by profit-not-people driven bankers.  Keeping assessments low also keeps property taxes low.  This all adds to the stability, longevity and “community” orientation that these land trusts are intended to foster.

The big worry is if the Community Land Trust folds…which leads me to…

My main concern for people who get involved in the land trust is whether they have access to power and decision-making for the CLT, rather than it residing strongly within L9 NENA, as a guardian. Like an earlier commenter who suggested a cooperative,  these forty homeowners should have direct control over the direction of the community land trust.  I say this because this quote is confusing as far as structure:

[NENA will] “maintain ownership of the land on behalf of the collective community.” He explained that participation on the organization’s board as a trust member would give residents “control of and responsibility for the stewardship of the land.”

So each homeowner is a trust member and is on the board? So there will be forty members on the board? Are decisions made by majority rule, supermajority (usually 2/3), or full consensus? NENA in this case then is only an administrator and not on the board? I think some structural diagrams or charts would be great to understanding how power and checks on it will work out in practice!

In either case, as mentioned in the article these are 40 plots of land in a neighborhood of 5000-plus. I think it will be evident within the first cycle of ownership what is working for owners or owners-to-be and what is not. If they get direct control, then the process is more readily changed for the next generation.

[end of public comment to article]

————————

Or, you and your family members and friends, folks who you would trust with your life, get together and raise some funds to own some land collectively…many plots…and create social centers and resources for the surrounding community…so they will want to follow in your footsteps and you will be able to teach them this form of liberation.

it takes will, initiative, patience, persistence and a saving for a future worth having rather than a consuming for a now that you can live just as fully without spending a dime. go for a run in the park, collect seeds to plant in your (fingers crossed: lead free) backyard, play basketball, listen to street music performances, have great conversations in friends’ front rooms, read a library book, dance. Dance. DANCE.  And then, not too long down the road, you could be looking at collective ownership where you can…defend the land!

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La. Gov. Jindal Allowing Sexual Orientation Anti-Discrimination Order to Expire

In the latest backward-moving and anti-civil rights move for Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal will allow an executive order (signed by previous Gov. Blanco in 2004) to make it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation, in any government services or contracted out services. 

“We are firmly and strongly committed to fair treatment of all of our people and certainly don’t condone discrimination in any form,” Jindal said, forgetting that not condoning a practice is not equivalent to making it have the force of law.

 Though he claims it is a “special right” and covered in pre-existing state and federal law, it is clearly not covered in other anti-discrimination legislation, say experts on this issue from the national Human Rights Watch and Forum for Equality, a New Orleans-based Political Action Committee advocating for lesbian and gay rights in Louisiana.

 As put by Randy Evans, a New Orleans lawyer who is also co-political director with Forum for Equality, the decision means “it is perfectly legal to fire anyone based on their sexual orientation even if they are a perfect employee.”

For more information, read the Baton Rouge Advocate article.

Also, the opinion of a Human Rights Watch expert.

Freedom to work and freedom from persecution for all!

Published in: on August 22, 2008 at 6:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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If This is How it Starts: Report Back from the Citizen Participation Process Summit

Tonight, the “Citizen” Participation Process (CPP) Summit opened on the 11th Floor of the Pan-American Life Building in the Central Business District. Though this event was free with an advance registration, only about 150 people showed up in a city of nearly 300,000. This pales in comparison to the UNOP’s Congress Events, to which thousands flocked and where efforts were made to include displaced persons via teleconference.

Of course, civic participation may not be for everyone, but everyone must be offered the time and space to contribute and be a part of the decision making process from the beginning—for everything that starts at this summit will influence subsequent dialogue.

A potential pitfall is that residents who miss this summit due to conflicts or not being informed will not be viewed as legitimate—in effect people could become a victim of what’s known as “Founder’s Syndrome.” Or perhaps more simply, that certain attendees can say they were at the summit and can use this for political and personal power in influencing others in decision-making. Greater inclusion and

Some of these concerns were brought up throughout the night session. The session included questions to key note speaker Judith Mowry, a representative from the formalized Office of Neighborhood Involvement in Portland, Oregon.

Mowry’s last sentence–“Basically the world is run by those who show up”—showed considerable insensitivity to the context of post-Federal Flood New Orleans and to the logistics of low-income people. It makes invisible the difficulty of many New Orleanians who might work two jobs, have night shifts, or other conflicts and may not be informed, as stated above, especially by mass emails or by direct connection to a neighborhood association. (This is a pattern: The primary way to stay informed and engaged with the Master Plan and Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance process, which the City Council approved to put on the November ballot for popular vote on Thursday, is through its website. This is unacceptable in New Orleans, a place known for its digital divide and acquisition of news through those old-timey mediums like radio.)

In response to Mowry, Brad Ott, a health patient advocate and resident of New Orleans, immediately spoke to the necessity to involve the approximately 200,000 people who are not present. In addition, he later added how those directly affected by land grabs, such as the destruction of public housing and now the imminent VA-LSU teaching hospital plan for lower Mid-City—were and are currently left out of the decision-making process. The first public meeting on the teaching hospital came last month, more than two years since plans began. Ott’s determination is then that the CPP, as a burgeoning formal body, could put certain current issues on hold until a well established and inclusive participation process is in place.

After questions for Mowry, facilitators then continued the agenda wherein each table at the summit had two models of citizen participation. There were six models total across the participants. My table had models #2 and #5. The models described “Structure,” “Scope of Focus,” and “Funding.”
[Note: It should be mentioned that these models were meant to ignite discussion and feedback, not what the coalition organizing this summit actually want to see.]

#2: Essentially created a three-tiered system beginning with neighborhood groups, then to district coalitions, then to a Citizens Voice Council, wherein the scope was largely developmental and the funding decision-making power remained in the hands of the city council and mayor who would have to respond “in some way” to the Voice Council.

No one at my table thought this model would improve anything in the city. From their comments, it seems this would function largely as the system already does but formally, by granting authority to neighborhood associations alone and not including more informal community groups. In general, in all models, there were no specifics as to a standard of how decisions would or should be made—consensus? simple majority? two-thirds majority?—from the neighborhood association level all the way up to a Voice Council.

In my view, this tiered system continues the concentration of power into fewer and fewer representatives that is a mirror of our government, which we all know is largely out of touch with the priorities of its residents. We need to flatten out the decision-making power to include as many people as possible that will still be functional.

#5: Somewhat like #2, but more broadly inclusive and distinct in the fact that participants in the process could have decision-making power over the priorities of the budget.

We appreciated this distinction, but the process still remained vague. I noted that I would put more faith in this model if the budget priorities were determined in a city-wide ballot constructed like run-off elections in Ireland: if there are five priorities (or candidates) then you rank them from 1 to 5 for the ones you prefer (or give no rank for things you disagree with). The ranks are given weight in the ballot count such that a #1 priority would get 5 points, a #2 priority 4 points and so on…

Of course there could be thirty items on the ballot, each of which would have a paragraph description of what they mean…for this to be efficient you’d have to extend the number of days people can vote and you’d have to have an informed electorate.

Of course, in the larger analysis, even the word “Citizen” is problematic as it precludes migrant workers, incarcerated people and others who are and will be residents of the city and are affected by the decisions made in this process. Resident was preferred. People unable to vote, such as those under 18, should also be considered in the dialogue.

When groups reported back on other models, we had no concept of the context from which their comments sprung, whether critical or in support. The gap in communication and lack of a “crib sheet,” or list of participation process definitions, only produced confusion. For instance, in model #5, what is a municipal assembly? Who comprises it and how many people are on it? What is it accountable to and how does it make decisions?

I recommend any information, including all 6 models, intended to be commented back to the entire group should be included in the packet so all participants can read them and understand the comments in context.
We wished that we had a greater introduction and understanding of different models run around the country—their successes and problems—before engaging and brainstorming in this process.

Lastly, these are my initial observations and this entire process is new to me so I have much to learn, but I see pitfalls in the concentrating of power all around. I’m open to dialogue on this, please add your thoughts as comments.

Published in: on July 13, 2008 at 7:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The World’s Eyes on New Orleans…again: Eve of the SPP

“I live in New Orleans, I don’t have time for anything else.”

This phrase written–with no explanations or clarifying context–in my notebook. Maybe I was thinking it, maybe someone else said it, but either way it struck a chord that I am still feeling two weeks later. Not that I don’t read and listen to events in other parts of the earth. News of people’s struggles is my lifeblood, inspiration for all the work that I do and no doubt connected in our global struggle against imperialism and corporate capitalism and for direct democracy and the healthiness of the earth, land on which we live and eat and breath. (I reflect now on Zimbabwe’s three week delayed election results, on the recent events in Tibet, on the almost surreal parade of the Olympic torch, and the sensory-numbing consistency in the attrition of life, health and history in Iraq and Palestine that might drive us all to irrational means of survival if faced with starvation and silence.)

Peace be on every just being tonight. And let nightmares fall on President Bush, President Calderon and Prime Minister Harper on their way to New Orleans for a behind closed doors meeting to spread complete US hegemony to two nations already blackmailed into NAFTA and other agreements that have the force of law. The summit meeting of the “Security and Prosperity Partnership” is executive branch only.

If any enforceable decisions come out of this bypassing, or coup, of the republic/democratic (small d) tradition than it would be a strong and clear move toward fascism. A president is meant to be a nation’s head of government, an inspiring voice of strength and reality in difficult times, its leading diplomat to the world and in touch with its peoples concerns that it can assist, with the initiative of representatives, in translating into law.

The foundation of law in this country has a long and ambivalent history of maintaining slavery while hypocritically alleging free speech, free assembly, free choice of religion in the first amendment in the constitution.

It seems just at a time when citizens continue to hold this country to those ideals and they’re starting to gain traction, its leaders have partially abandoned that foundation, that process of representation and checks and balances (the judiciary hardly even tries to check the executive branch right now). Democrats, of course, are against the SPP (though you would hardly know it with their silence) because Bush is a Republican and Republicans carry on as if these summits are business as usual–indeed a cause for profit-sharing celebration–rather than an affront to democratic and republican principles of governance.

Here, in an ode to Vermont’s lively successionist movement, I say: break your allegiance with the state. when it becomes foe to the least capable of us spirited and honest folks, when it refuses to acknowledge discrimination and the human rights to shelter, food and health, then we know its function is outdated and must be replaced within our own communities by building relationships and unified, but autonomous organizing that will continue to heal, re-energize and spread the love and support of an across-educated (across cultures, classes, borders), liberated and participatory society.

through experience, and the sharing and listening of all our stories and histories and knowledge bound up together, with an endless commitment to each other as human beings we will grow to sustain, support and check each other’s survival, needs, wants, desires and visions for maintaining our unique thread in an intricate tapestry of justice.

Published in: on April 21, 2008 at 3:07 am  Comments (1)  
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NEXT WEEK: People’s Summit in New Orleans! Counter the new NAFTA!

The People’s Summit : Our Response to NAFTA Expansion

www.summitneworleans.org

April 20 – 22, 2008 · New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Coming together for our communities

Linking the Gulf Coast struggle to the fight for the survival of communities in Mexico, Canada, & the rest of the United States

Building collective knowledge and action to transform NAFTA & other unjust economic policies pushed by Bush, Calderon, & Harper

Sunday, 4/20

12:30 pm – NAFTA Workshop in coordination with the New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival. FREE at Zeitgeist.

1:30 pm – Press Conference outside Ashe Cultural Center, 1724 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.

3pm-5pm: Pick-up Soccer at City Park. Go on Orleans Ave. away from French Quarter a couple miles until City Park Ave where it turns into Marconi Blvd (on western edge of C.P. ). Stay on Marconi underneath Interstate 610, fields on left between road and a canal.

6pm: Conclusion of New Orleans Fifth Annual International Human Rights Film Festival with Jena 6 Documentary and Panel. Perhaps a social gathering

Monday, 4/21

9am – 12pm Community Tour of New Orleans & Story Circles along Algiers Riverfront (a ferry’s ride across from the French Quarter, pick up at base of Canal St. & leaves on :15 and :45 of every hour from Canal Side, :00 and :30 from Algiers Riverfront side)

12 – 1:30pm Opening Ceremony & Lunch along Algiers Riverfront

2pm – 5pm Understanding Who Profits & How: NAFTA+ and Katrina Profiteering (Craige Cultural Center)

5pm – 6pm Dinner

6pm – 9pm Understanding Who Profits & How: NAFTA+ and Katrina Profiteering (for day workin folks; also at Craige Cultural Center)

Tuesday, 4/22

9am – 12pm Self-organized sessions

1pm – 4pm Self-organized sessions

6pm – 9pm Breaking Inferiority & Superiority to Restore Ourselves & Our Communities

Locations of Workshops: McKenna Museum of African American Art (2003 Carondelet St.), Craige Cultural Center (1800 Newton St. on West Bank/Algiers), Loyola University, Greater Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church/Holy Cross Neighborhood Association (5130 Chartres St.)

MORE TO COME AS THE WEEK PROGRESSES….

Published in: on April 15, 2008 at 3:05 am  Comments (1)  
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Through the Neighborhoods, Riled Up in the Cold

On my way home from anti-racism meetings and couching at friends’ houses in the lower garden district, I pass many a sight.  I cross the barren nightly scene of the Central Business District, or CBD to locals, which, due to its proximity to the lively French Quarter, is akin to the ghost on the other side of your bedroom door or quiet monster under the bed.    From there, I usually travel along the perimeter of the FQ up Canal Street and turn right onto Claiborne, at the intersection where most of the public homeless congregate together.

And tonight I was outraged.  Because it stinks of urine over there.  I don’t say this for my sake.  I have no problem smelling urine for a good ten to fifteen seconds as I pass, but people have to live among that scent, which no doubt seeps into their clothes and likely stigmatizes them at work, creating further alienation with the rest of their working peers.

And I’m pissed because the city was responsible for changing out the port-o-potties back in December, January and February when Duncan Plaza folks were booted out and the homeless got front page coverage in both the Times-Picayune and the Gambit Weekly.  Soon it came to light that the toilets were overflowing with waste.  The city continues to lack the will and the heart to change out the port-o-potty and help maintain people’s dignity.  Maybe the responsibility is in other hands, or the city outright removed the facilities, but there ought to be some way for the area to be cleaned up so working folks who live there can feel secure that there is no chance of being discriminated against or harassed due to the ubiquitous scent of urine.

Anyway, traveling down Claiborne, thinking of all this, I come upon Lafitte.  The last public housing development to remain standing, Lafitte is now also being torn down.  It was a slow process. First, contractors and the Housing Authority of New Orleans claimed they were doing asbestos remediation as they removed beautiful orange beige terra cotta tiles from the rooftops, dropped them needlessly forty feet to their shattering death.  The roofs, left uncovered, were no doubt in danger of becoming moldy with any significant rain, a way for HANO/HUD to make demolition inevitable despite the mayor’s delay in signing the Lafitte permits.

However, soon enough, Nagin said he had been given all the information he had requested from HANO/HUD and signed the permits for demolition.  The first building came down last week.  Strangely, a dozen or so buildings on the river side of the development, close to Claiborne Ave. remain open (rather than behind a barb-wire fence) and some even have new doors installed.  This is due to Providence/Catholic Charities plan to demolish the buildings in stages.

Approximately 100 people will live fifty feet from buildings being torn down that look and feel exactly the same as the doorways in which they stand, watching the bricks fall.   Living, breathing, surviving, loving, growing, playing, eating in homes that HUD continues to claim were too damaged in the Federal Flood to renovate.

And onward home, I go full of hurt for people I hardly know and rage for cold political power in offices in other cities (and Nagin in Dallas…) that do not feel such hurt.

There is shame in deceit in plain sight without retreat.

Published in: on April 15, 2008 at 2:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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