Friday, December 16, 2005

On the day of Las Posadas

(sorry; trying to leave town; and in the press of news today, almost forgot this one)

People in New Orleans are treated like non-persons.

Three months after fighting for their lives in the days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, many survivors are now fighting to keep their homes in the city of New Orleans. We speak with attorney Ishmael Muhammad and a N.O. resident being evicted about the rising costs of rent and the legal challenges facing evacuees.

They are victims of a combination of massive forced evictions taking place throughout the city, a failure of the city to reopen public housing projects and price gouging that is raising rents as much as three times as high as their pre-Katrina level. Again, it is mostly the poor, and African-Americans who face these conditions.

Louisiana had some of the weakest tenant protection laws in the nation even before Katrina hit. And in the weeks after the storm, landlords began evicting thousands of people a day, most of whom had evacuated the city. The landlords cite increased insurance costs and the need to repair damaged property. They also point out that neither FEMA nor the state, are helping them to pay their bills. But there have been many reports of landlords jacking up the rents of undamaged property and evicting people who tried to pay their rent.

The vast majority of public housing units in the city have also not been reopened, even though it is estimated that about half of the units are either ready for occupation or can easily be made so.
And the federal government teaches Louisiana new lessons in corruption.
In the clean-up efforts following the devastation of hurricane Katrina in New rleans, many undocumented workers and homeless people were recruited to the area to work under large companies contracted by the federal government. We speak with Newsday reporter Tina Susman, who has investigated the case of a group of homeless men, and Bill Chandler, about subcontractors and workers' complaints.

In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina whipped the Gulf Coast region, companies like Halliburton, Kellogg Brown & Root - a Halliburton subsidiary - and EEC Operating Services were given huge contracts by the federal government to clean up hurricane debris and start rebuilding the area. Undocumented immigrants and other economically marginalized people were lured to the region by promises of work and good pay. But it turns out that many of those workers have never been paid and have little recourse in collecting their promised checks. Some undocumented workers were even threatened with deportation when they demanded their pay.

An article on stated that the problem is "a shadowy labyrinth of contractors, subcontractors and job brokers, overseen by no single agency, that have created a no man's land where nobody seems to be accountable for the hiring-and abuse of these workers."
It seems the reconstruction contracts in Louisiana and Mississippi can easily run to $500 million dollars, and have as many as 50 subcontactors attached to them. And if those sub-sub-sub-contractors don't pay the laborers on the ground, well: caveat emptor, apparently.

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