[StBernard] Jarvis DeBerry column

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Sun Feb 13 13:51:10 EST 2011

It took awhile but I was able to find a cached copy of it:


I'm also saving it by the way.


Don't give the bigots a reason to gloat: Jarvis DeBerry

Published: Sunday, February 13, 2011, 8:00 AM

By Jarvis DeBerry

St. Bernard Parish officials said they opposed the construction of
affordable rental property in the parish after Hurricane Katrina because
such rental properties become a hotbed of crime and blight. An August 2008
front-page editorial in The St. Bernard Voice -- a piece noted by a federal
judge for its "camouflaged racial expressions" -- predicted that if
approved, the apartments would become "a ghetto with drugs, crime, vandalism
and violence."

Days later, the Parish Council reiterated its hostility to those seeking
affordable housing options in the parish when it introduced another 12-month
moratorium against the construction of multifamily housing. Last month,
however, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced itself
fed up with the parish stonewalling Provident Realty Advisors' attempt to
build apartments. The governor's office informed the parish that $91 million
in funding that HUD had stipulated for the parish was in peril. Some of that
money is needed for the parish to build its proposed hospital.

Money talks. Last week the parish provided Provident the building permit it
needs to proceed with four 72-unit mixed-income apartments. Parish officials
buckled not because their hearts were pricked, not because they were
persuaded to see things another way. Instead, they came to realize that any
victory would be Pyrrhic. In blocking the apartments, they could doom their
chances at a hospital. Councilman Ray Lauga made it known, however, that he
was willing to forsake the federal help the parish needs for the hospital if
he could keep out the apartments. That's principled. Backwards, but

Now that parish officials have given up the fight against Provident, it's
important that the developer and the residents they find to occupy their
units don't give all those opponents a chance to crow, "I told you so!"
There is absolute certainty among some people that any apartment building
that doesn't outright reject low-income residents will become what that
editorial in The St. Bernard Voice says it'll become: a violent,
drug-infested ghetto.

Civil rights battles -- and this has been one, even if St. Bernard officials
don't know it -- have often been won because those fighting for fairness
were able to spotlight decent, if not altogether spotless, folks who were
being mistreated because of unfair laws and policies. We remember Rosa
Parks' name but not Claudette Colvin's not because Parks was the first
person in Montgomery to refuse segregated seating but because she was an
upstanding 42-year-old woman whose good reputation would provoke sympathy.
Colvin was 15, unmarried and pregnant. How easy it would be for civil rights
opponents to attribute her pregnancy and arrest to a rebellion against
everything decent. Civil rights leaders waiting for a case to challenge in
court took a pass on her and waited till Parks refused to move.

Martin Luther King Jr. helped change many Americans' racial attitudes, but
even though he died while planning a massive Poor People's Campaign, he
wasn't as successful at getting the country to be angry about the plight of
the poor. The idea seems to be that poverty is pathology, that everybody who
is poor is lazy. And nobody is going to speak up in support of the lazy.

Of course, in St. Bernard Parish, a federal judge repeatedly found that the
policies being supported by the parish government weren't just hostile to
the poor, but that parish officials had the racially discriminatory intent
to keep black people out of the parish. No, not black people, those parish
officials argued: just low-income renters and the crime-infested ghettos
that form around them.

The apartments are likely to be built now, and there are likely to be many
rooting that they fail. Of course, that would be a Pyrrhic victory, too,
because it would only serve to make life less tolerable for the people who
live there, but the need to be proved right is strong. On the other hand,
one of the anxieties of civil rights advocacy is the fear that once barriers
to fairness are removed some new beneficiary of that change will do
something embarrassing or criminal that critics might cite as justification
for their opposition.

The first crime committed in the vicinity of these apartments might be the
most well-reported crime in parish history, especially if it's told to make
the point that the apartments never should have been built. That's why the
developer must be vigilant against code violations and blight and make sure
the apartments remain attractive, safe and stable.

When determining the constitutionality of parish housing policies, it
doesn't matter if the occasional resident of the future apartments is an
awful tenant. If fairness is established, and somebody chooses to respond to
it with foolishness, that doesn't make the case for unfairness.

But, boy, would it make bad P.R.

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