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Battle over Right to Return: Housing Advocates Occupy New Orleans Public Housing Office

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Prior to Hurricane Katrina, over 5,000 families in New Orleans lived in public housing. Today, less than one quarter of them have been able to return home. Last Friday, over two dozen public housing residents and activists took over the HANO offices in New Orleans. They demanded that the government reopen the buildings. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Two years after Hurricane Katrina drove out more than half of New Orleans, the battle over the right of return rages on. Prior to the hurricane, over 5,000 families lived in public housing. Today, less than a quarter of them have been able to return home. HANO, or the Housing Authority of New Orleans, claims that its housing developments are unsuitable for accommodation. But public housing advocates and residents argue the buildings are inhabitable.

Last Friday, Democracy Now! was there when over two dozen public housing residents and activists took over the HANO offices in New Orleans. They demanded the government reopen the buildings.

Sharon Sears Jasper was a resident of the St. Bernard Housing Development, which is one of the four still-closed housing projects. She was among those who occupied the HANO offices on Friday.

SHARON SEARS JASPER: Today we are here to let you know that we are not going to stop. There will be no peace until we have justice. We refuse to let you tear our homes down and continue to destroy our lives. The government, the president of the United States, you all have failed us. You have fake promises. You have done nothing to help us. It’s two years after the storm, and we are still suffering. But let me tell you this, we are going to fight this ’til the battle is fought and, as I always say, the victory is won. Our people have been displaced too long. Our people are dying of stress, depression and broken home. We demand that you open all public housing. Bring our families home now!

AMY GOODMAN: The police and military had surrounded the offices of HANO, as the protesters stayed inside for more than an hour.

Stephanie Mingo is also a displaced resident of the St. Bernard public housing development, the second-largest housing project in New Orleans. I spoke to her at the International People’s Tribunal on New Orleans that was taking place at the same time downtown New Orleans. Stephanie remembers the day the levees broke.

STEPHANIE MINGO: I have a refrigerator, and it wasn’t a Housing Authority refrigerator, it was my own refrigerator. My brother had sense enough to break them doors, push it out my door, and put my two younger kids and my grandbaby in the refrigerator, and they just sailed on down to the bridge. And, you know, we went, stood on top of the bridge to help come get — lift us up and bring us wherever they would bring us.

AMY GOODMAN: The rest of Stephanie’s family survived, but Stephanie’s mother died days after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Stephanie Mingo wants to return to St. Bernard housing, to her community, she says. She says residents have offered to pay to fix up their own apartments, but have been rebuffed.

STEPHANIE MINGO: I want people around the world to know that this struggle is still going on, and what they see when our politicians or officials get up there and say our city is up and running, that is not true. I want the people around the world to know that the only thing our mayor is worrying about is the Essence Fest, the Jazz Fest, Carnival, the French Quarters, and our tours. That’s the only thing he is protecting. He is not worrying about none of his low-income people, which is the hardest-working people in the world. He’s not worrying about us. That’s the God’s honest truth.

AMY GOODMAN: I spoke to Stephanie Mingo just after she testified at the International Tribunal on Hurricane Katrina and Rita that took place over the weekend.

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