UN Treaty Committee Urges US Government to Protect Human Rights on Race and Housing in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

New Orleans groups representing a broad range of housing and urban planning professionals, housing advocates, faith-based organizations, and human rights groups introduce the decision by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that calls on the US government “to increase its efforts in order to facilitate the return of persons displaced by Hurricane Katrina to their homes” as well as “ensure genuine consultation and participation of persons displaced by Hurricane Katrina in the design and implementation of all decisions affecting them.”

“Today’s decision by the UN Committee recognizes that the US government has not protected the human rights of internally displaced people, in particular African Americans,” said Monique Harden, Co-Director and Attorney of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, who traveled to Switzerland to brief the UN Committee during its session to review the government’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a human rights treaty that was ratified in 1994. “Housing is a human right that is being denied by our government’s so-called recovery agenda that has placed people in toxic FEMA trailers, disregarded the housing needs of renters, and created the Road Home Program that cheats homeowners out of fair compensation,” she said.

“We are right now struggling with the human rights crisis of racial hostility by our government against mostly African American displaced residents,” said Ron Chisom, Executive Director of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. “This crisis is the outcome of many years of racist governmental services that provide African Americans and other people of color with substandard housing, healthcare, and education long before Hurricane Katrina. The decision by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination provides us all with the opportunity for real dialogue to understand the forms of racism in order to achieve a recovery that is equitable and just for all people.”

“As a former resident of the Desire and a current resident of the New Desire, I see how easily rules are broken by HUD and developers in ways that harm the residents, deny community services, and don’t change the concentration of poverty,” said Julie Andrews of All Residents Together. “The first thing that should change about public housing is that we the residents – not developers and political friends – should have the resources to develop, design, and manage our own communities,” she said.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation maintains that there is still time to correct a course of action which is based on false assumptions. Despite what we have been told by HUD and HANO, rehabilitation of the historic buildings at the four public housing developments is technically and economically feasible. The developers of the C. J. Peete and B. W. Cooper include in their plans the rehabilitation of one or two multi-unit buildings into permanent modern housing. Why can’t it be done for more? “No one is advocating for a return to the old system of public housing. We call for a suspension of the demolitions and the re-opening of discussions among community leadership which takes into account what we know today about the feasibility of rehabilitation over demolitions,” says Walter Gallas, director of the National Trust’s New Orleans field office.

In addition to the issue of governmental non-compliance with the human rights treaty, these groups have found non-compliance with other federal, state, and local laws pertaining to racial discrimination, the demolition of public housing, toxic FEMA trailers, and the inequities in the Road Home Program. The groups call for a moratorium on any further demolition of public housing in New Orleans to allow for public review of the process, issues, and solutions. The groups are also urging changes housing policies to end the displacement of New Orleanians and Gulf Coast residents.

Read the UN decision
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Read the Report
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