co-founder of the Common Ground Collective. Malik is a veteran of the Black Panther Party in New Orleans. For decades, he has worked as an organizer of public housing tenants.
Over 100 families living in an apartment complex in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans are facing eviction. Tenants in the complex recently received notices telling them they had to vacate the premises because the new owners of the building were planning massive renovations. We go to New Orleans to speak with Malik Rahim of the Common Ground collective. [rush transcript included]
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Goodman, as we do turn to New Orleans and the ongoing problem residents face in securing housing after Hurricane Katrina. Over a hundred families living in the Woodlands apartment complex in the Algiers neighborhood are facing eviction. A few days before Thanksgiving, tenants in the complex received notices telling them they had to vacate the premises because the new owners of the building were planning massive renovations.
The building’s previous owner, Anthony Reginelli, had ceded management of the complex to the Common Ground Collective last May. Common Ground then hired residents to do major repairs on the building. The group estimates it’s provided a million dollars in labor and improvements. And as rents skyrocket throughout New Orleans, Common Ground management froze the rents at Woodlands to their pre-Katrina levels. Common Ground says they tried to initiate negotiations with Reginelli to purchase the building in order to turn it into a housing and business cooperative. Instead, Reginelli sold the building and started eviction proceedings. Earlier this month, Reginelli and several New Orleans police officers entered Common Ground’s office, seized files and computers containing lease and other information about the complex. Tenants are going to court tomorrow, on Tuesday, to fight the evictions.
Malik Rahim joins us now from New Orleans, the co-founder of the Common Ground Collective.
Welcome, Malik Rahim.
MALIK RAHIM: Thank you, Amy. And it’s an honor to be on your show.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to be with you. Tell us what is happening in your neighborhood, in Algiers, at this Woodlands complex.
MALIK RAHIM: Well, what has happened is, Anthony Reginelli purchased the Woodlands in 2000 for $900,000. From 2000 up until the Katrina hit, he was averaging a million—he was netting an average of a million dollars a year. He also borrowed $5 million on the development. And then, in return, after Katrina, he waited two-and-a-half months before he even returned. And by then, the development was out of control. And he wouldn’t invest nothing into providing any services.
By the time we came in, in April, the place was in a shamble. The grass was maybe about four or five feet high, and it was full of trash. All the units was—had been vandalized. And the place was just in an uproar. Residents was living in fear. They contacted us. We came in. We met with Reginelli. And the commitment was that he had an offer on the table to purchase the development, but that offer was based upon this company receiving tax credits. That was—should have been June the 15th, was the day aligned in awarding of the contract—the tax credits. If they didn’t receive the contracts—the tax credits, then he was supposed to enter into agreement with us to purchase.
In good faith, we took over management. We cleaned up the crack houses. We went in and cleaned up the development. We had became the largest employers in New Orleans of at-risk residents. We was employing 41 residents, 20 in a training program that we had established—six hours a day, $10 an hour, five hours on-the-job training, one hour on group sessions, because of the fact that in New Orleans, after Katrina, the federal government, the state government, the local government refused to even attempt to do any type of trauma counseling. So we established our own. We established a youth program that we call Kids and Community. Every other weekend, we gave a Unity in the Community barbecue and seafood [inaudible]. We took a hundred kids out of the local high school, and we gave them $50 a month, to teach them civic responsibility. And all this was improving. We made a big difference in this community.
But what we later found out is that Reginelli had no intentions on selling it to us, you know that at the same time he was steady telling us that, yeah, he’s going to sell it to us, yeah, he was going to go forward with the purchase agreement, we later found out that he had no intentions, that he helped create the Johnson Group. He helped them to establish. He helped them by even helping them with their purchase, not only the purchasing agreement, but the financing of the Woodlands. And then he came in at the last minute. He sold it on Halloween. And the next day, he came in and gave residents a nine-day notice, you know, and now he’s saying that he didn’t know that the apartments was being leased out. But he’s a lawyer, and he had been there ever since the beginning that we have been there, you know, so, it’s just a—it’s just a continuous mess that New Orleans has festered into.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Malik Rahim, you go to court tomorrow.
MALIK RAHIM: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What happens then? And what are you calling for?
MALIK RAHIM: Well, first thing we’re calling for is amnesty, because regardless of what happened—because, as a spiritual person, I believe that God said high, but he looked low. And pretty soon that I know that we’re going to be victorious in whatever settlement that is made. But in the interim, the residents, those individuals who have nothing to do with this, he has demonized them as being crackheads and everything else, and most of them is just good hard-working people. And we are trying to just ask the court to allow these people to live there.
You know, I mean, it isn’t the idea he couldn’t—no one couldn’t make money, because he could make money at the pre-existing rent, you know, but he don’t want this. He wants to be able to increase the rent. He want to be able to take federal funds that’s now being allocated to New Orleans, so he can renovate this place. This is what this is all about. This is all about profiteering on federal funds, at the back of the existing residents. So we’re asking for a moratorium. Give these residents—let them live out the time of their lease. You know, let them stay there. You know, it’s not the idea that you won’t make any money. You’ll make—you just won’t make as much, you know, as greed is motivating to, but you’ll make money off it. Then let the courts decide what’s going on.
AMY GOODMAN: Is Mayor Ray Nagin intervening?
MALIK RAHIM: Ray Nagin haven’t done anything. We have a brand-new health clinic, Amy, that we just opened up in the Lower Ninth Ward, I mean, that we just got completed on August the 28th. We opened that health clinic on the 28th; the mayor shut it down on the 29th. So, now, since August the 29th up until today, we have a new state-of-the-art health clinic in the Lower Ninth Ward, an area of New Orleans that’s in most need of healthcare, with a clinic that is closed. Last week was the week of the Bayou Classic. We asked them to just sign off, so we could do a week of the survival programs, so that we could educate people on what is needed, what can they do, what resources is available for them.
AMY GOODMAN: Malik, we have—
MALIK RAHIM: We was going to do this—
AMY GOODMAN: We have 30 seconds. If people want to find out more information, where can they go or call or get information in the mail?
MALIK RAHIM: They could go to Common Ground—they could go to CommonGroundRelief.org, or, easily, they could call us at area code (504) 304-9097. That’s area code 504—
AMY GOODMAN: We will put that on our website, Malik.
MALIK RAHIM: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: And also CommonGround.org. Malik Rahim, founder of the Common Ground Collective.