Fighting Poverty with Passion
This Saturday, I attended the City of New Orleans’ Neighborhood Summit along with several other Tulane VISTAs. The summit was a one day professional development conference featuring workshops on issues related to working strategically with city government. (A few of us can be seen on a local news segment about the event!) I was excited about the events’ sessions on blight as well as the chance to network with local leaders and other community development organizations.
Notably, the morning workshop on navigating New Orleans’ blight policy was packed–most workshops had 5-10 participants whereas the blight session had 30+. Not only was the workshop packed, but it was filled with angry, frustrated residents who used the opportunity to vent about the city’s significant (and seemingly immutable) blight problem as well as the incompetence they perceive on part of the City in mitigating it. My organization receives frequent calls from residents whose quality of life is directly impacted by blight. Just last week, a woman who had been out of town for a month returned to her Broadmoor home to find rats in her kitchen that had set up camp in the overgrown lot next door.
During a later panel discussion, again on the issue of blight, a representative from the City’s Code Enforcement Office advised residents to attend blight hearings in order to more effectively advocate for themselves. When a resident subsequently asked if hearings could be made more accessible to the public (they only take place from 9-5 when most people are at work), the representative from Code Enforcement reacted as if this was a ludicrous suggestion as their office only works from 9-5 as well. A colleague of mine who has worked in affordable housing in other parts of the country expressed to me that there was “no way an attitude like that would fly” in other cities with more developed civic infrastructure. The City is supposed to work for the people, not the other way around.
I love New Orleans—my affinity for this place is the main reason I stayed here after I finished school to participate in Tulane’s VISTA program—but I love it a little less when confronted with the scope of its problems (blight…crime…corruption…poverty….racism…..). Fortunately, everything I love about this city makes me want to stay and and positively contribute in the ways that a well-meaning outsider can.