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Keeping St. Bernard Parish White

Four years after Hurricane Katrina, affordable public housing still isn’t available for many New Orleans residents. How white residents in St. Bernard Parish are keeping blacks out.

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The federal court took the comments from the hearings into consideration, as well as the actions of council president Taffaro and council members, and ruled that “public statements are relevant both as expressing the general sentiment during the general decision-making process and also insofar as public opinion was specifically referenced by the decision-makers themselves.” The parish was found, yet again, in contempt of the consent order and told to step aside while Provident’s applications are reconsidered at the next planning commission hearing. This hearing, to be held on Tuesday night, will likely be even fierier than the last one, especially with three court decisions already handed down against the parish. If the applications are approved and the apartments are built, then the real tests will begin.

Residents have already expressed, implicitly and explicitly, that they won’t tolerate black people in their town. The Nation reported last April how Kiana Alexander’s house was burned down after she applied for rental permits. The assumptions of what low-income (read: black) residents bring to a community will be a tough challenge to overcome.

"What few people realize is that the same people we trust to perform our banking, educate our kids, police our streets and even work for us are the very people some would exclude from their neighborhoods,” says Milton Bailey, president of the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency, responsible for all low-income housing in the state.

For much of the nation, Hurricane Katrina exposed a deep level of poverty in the New Orleans area. But for people in Southern Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast, this was not news. What was more revealing was how such poverty was concentrated into specific areas such as the Lower Ninth Ward and other public housing projects. Such concentration was made possible, it’s now clear, because of actions like those of St. Bernard’s parish officials, residents who have worked aggressively to keep blacks and the poor out of their communities.

Brentin Mock is a freelance reporter who worked most recently as a writing fellow for The American Prospect focusing on environmental justice and policy issues. He is a 2008-09 Metcalfe Institute Diversity in Environmental Reporting Fellow, and a 2009 USC Annenberg Institute Justice and Journalism Fellow for environmental justice reporting.