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Driven from New Orleans

How Nonprofits Betray Public Housing and Promote Privatization

2012
Author:

John Arena

Driven from New Orleans

How public housing advocates in New Orleans became active supporters of privatization

Driven from New Orleans explores the drastic transformation of New Orleans’s public housing from public to private in the early 1980s, exposing the social disaster visited on the city’s black urban poor long before Katrina. John Arena reveals the true nature—and cost—of reforms promoted by an alliance of a neoliberal government, nonprofits, community activists, and powerful real estate interests.

John Arena has written an important book on an important topic. New Orleans stands out because of the travesty associated with Hurricane Katrina; however, Driven from New Orleans tells a much deeper and broader story that could be replicated in many cities. Arena provides a sorely needed account of neoliberal reorganization of American cities with the active support of nominal advocates and representatives of the impoverished populations who are displaced as part of that reorganization. It is a signal contribution to the study of black urban politics, the political economy of urban redevelopment, and the concrete dynamics of urban neoliberalism.

Adolph Reed, Jr., University of Pennsylvania

In the early 1980s the tenant leaders of the New Orleans St. Thomas public housing development and their activist allies were militant, uncompromising defenders of the city’s public housing communities. Yet ten years later these same leaders became actively involved in a planning effort to privatize and downsize their community—an effort that would drastically reduce the number of affordable apartments. What happened? John Arena—a longtime community and labor activist in New Orleans—explores this drastic change in Driven from New Orleans, exposing the social disaster visited on the city’s black urban poor long before the natural disaster of Katrina magnified their plight.

Arena argues that the key to understanding New Orleans’s public housing transformation from public to private is the co-optation of grassroots activists into a government and foundation-funded nonprofit complex. He shows how the nonprofit model created new political allegiances and financial benefits for activists, moving them into a strategy of insider negotiations that put the profit-making agenda of real estate interests above the material needs of black public housing residents. In their turn, white developers and the city’s black political elite embraced this newfound political “realism” because it legitimized the regressive policies of removing poor people and massively downsizing public housing, all in the guise of creating a new racially integrated, “mixed-income” community.

In tracing how this shift occurred, Driven from New Orleans reveals the true nature, and the true cost, of reforms promoted by an alliance of a neoliberal government, nonprofits, community activists, and powerful real estate interests.

Driven from New Orleans

John (Jay) Arena, assistant professor of sociology at the City University of New York’s College of Staten Island, lived and worked in New Orleans for over twenty years and was involved in various community and labor organizing initiatives in the city.

Driven from New Orleans

John Arena has written an important book on an important topic. New Orleans stands out because of the travesty associated with Hurricane Katrina; however, Driven from New Orleans tells a much deeper and broader story that could be replicated in many cities. Arena provides a sorely needed account of neoliberal reorganization of American cities with the active support of nominal advocates and representatives of the impoverished populations who are displaced as part of that reorganization. It is a signal contribution to the study of black urban politics, the political economy of urban redevelopment, and the concrete dynamics of urban neoliberalism.

Adolph Reed, Jr., University of Pennsylvania

This is a book that those familiar with New Orleans should read and then argue about. It is perfect for college courses where students can debate the larger themes Arena brings to the New Orleans tragedy. And while many will disagree with some of Arena’s arguments, one finishes the book even angrier that the mass demolition of low-income housing in New Orleans was allowed to occur.

Beyond Chron

An excellent examination of the political, economic, and social dynamics among policy makers, developers, academics, nonprofit organizations, community activists, and residents over time that result in dislocations of the poor.

CHOICE

Arena’s work offers a cogent and insightful examination of the dismantling of New Orleans public housing, focusing on the key actors—revealing their motivations and the interconnected
nature of their goals. He openly presents his own views but supports his contentions well and concludes that careful study of the decline of public housing in New Orleans offers not only a blueprint for other urban regimes but also a lesson in how to combat such efforts.

Journal of American History

Driven from New Orleans is a devastatingly powerful critique of non-profits and their endorsement of neo-liberalism.

Journal of Labor & Society

Driven from New Orleans offers a powerful and important contribution to the fields of urban and political sociology, racial and class stratification, social movements, and organizational studies.

American Journal of Sociology

[Driven from New Orleans] is a welcome addition to a growing body of literature that critically examines the ways in which the nonprofit sector, perhaps better thought of as the shadow state, makes capitalism possible.

Social Service Review

With brilliance and an anger borne of participant observation (anger perhaps being the appropriate tone for his subject), Arena’s Driven from New Orleans chronicles the end of public housing in New Orleans.

American Quarterly

Driven from New Orleans

Contents

Abbreviations
Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Nonprofits and the Revanchist Agenda

1. Confronting the New Boss: Struggles for Home and Community in the Post-Segregation Era, 1965–1985
2. Undoing the Black Urban Regime: Resistance to Displacement and Elite Divisions, 1986–1988
3. Neoliberalism and Nonprofits: Selling Privatization at St. Thomas, 1989–1995
4. No Hope in HOPE VI: Dismantling Public Housing from the Nation to the Neighborhood
5. When Things Fall Apart: From the Dreams of St. Thomas to the Nightmare of River Gardens, 1996–2002
6. Whose City Is It? Hurricane Katrina and the Struggle for New Orleans’ Public Housing, 2003–2008
7. Managing Contradictions: The Coalition to Stop the Demolitions

Conclusion: Lessons from New Orleans

Notes
Index

Driven from New Orleans

UMP blog - New Orleans's "Uncle Lionel" Batiste: Feted in death, evicted after Katrina.

“Uncle Lionel” Batiste, the legendary bass drummer and iconic figure of New Orleans music and culture, died on July 8th at the age of 80.

Uncle Lionel — whose image was seen by millions in New York’s Times Square advertising Spike Lee’s documentary on post-Katrina New Orleans and on the official Congo Square poster for the 2010 Jazz and Heritage Festival — was commemorated in grand New Orleans style. Second line jazz marches were held by his admirers, while the city made available the regal Mahalia Jackson Theater for a veritable state funeral, with eulogies by city leaders and performances by well-known New Orleans musicians. The local
Times-Picayune newspaper—which is suffering from a terminal illness of its own at the hands of its corporate owners who in September will turn the daily into a three-days-per-week publication—also provided wide coverage of his passing, as did the New York Times (obituary) and even international press.

Read the full article.