31 Oct 2012
Waiting for the Levees to Break
A Storm of Sorts
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hammered the Gulf Coast of the United States. Over 1800 people died. The overwhelming majority were poor, Black, and stuck in a system that had diregarded them for decades. Thousands were then scattered across the U.S., unable to return to the town that they loved and called home. Today, New Orleans is “rebuilding” a version of itself that has no place for the low-income residents that made it the vibrant center of Black culture known worldwide.
Just yesterday Hurricane Sandy unleashed similar devastation in New York City. We don’t yet have a sense of what the fallout from this storm will be, but we’ve already heard that public housing residents have been forcibly evacuated to emergency shelters, once again those hit first and hardest.
The Truth: Here, There, and Everywhere
The tragedy of New Orleans was not just Katrina, it was the destruction of decades of government neglect. Local, state, and federal officials have created policies that drive down wages and make it harder for people to survive with one stable job, weakened public schools, and allowed poor neighborhoods to rot. Meanwhile, they poured money into more police and prisons. Katrina gave them the excuse they needed to tear these neighborhoods down and hand the land over to real estate developers and business owners.
But that just sped up the process that’s been underway for decades in every major city in the United States. The wealthy call it urban renewal. We call it injustice.
Take a Look at Lincoln
Created for low-income residents of Durham who couldn’t qualify for public housing as the Hayti was destroyed, these buildings have been home to upwards of 150 families. And like pre-Katrina New Orleans, they’ve been destroyed by bad policies. Unhealthy pest problems, waste piled up near dumpsters because of infrequent pick-up, uncovered rain sewers, leaking roofs, unreliable appliances; the list could go on. No one wants to live around all of that.
Unfortunately, the discussion about moving residents out has been both disrespectful and disingenuous. By giving the residents, some of whom have lived in the apartments for decades, 30 days notice, the Foundation has created a stressful process that doesn’t account for the complicated lives of the real human beings involved. City and County officials have continued the disregard, ignoring the fact that Durham has a well-understood lack of affordable housing. Where are residents going to go? How will their children handle a mid-year school transfer? How will they get to work?
To add insult to injury, these same officials are now publicly claiming that only 20 families are still occupying the buildings, when a quick survey of the neighborhood reveals at least 3 times that many, 57 families with over 150 people currently without a place to go.
The Foundation’s eviction notices, and the city and county’s lack of an appropriate response, has created a Katrina-like catastrophe: man-made and preventable, yet deadly.
The Winds of Change
Luckily, however, the levees haven’t broken for the residents of the Lincoln Apartments just yet. Residents are organizing themselves and fighting for recognition, for respect, and for reasonable solutions. They are calling on the City, County, Housing Authority, and allied agencies to come to the table with creativity and urgency, committed to ending the decades of destruction and neglect that have created this crisis. They are taking control of their own destinies.
But they’re also taking control of the destiny of Durham. The levees in the Bull City are leaking, and the working class Black residents that built it are fighting hard to stay afloat. And while the city’s elite pretend it’s not happening, it is the residents of Lincoln Apartments that just might keep the whole city from drowning in greed and injustice.
People’s Durham is working with residents of the Lincoln Apartments to fight against these unjust evictions and save our city from the greed of its elite. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (919) 429-9825.