Sunday, November 13, 2005

Returning Home

Medea Benjamin, at AlterNet, writes about the difficulties of returning home when home is New Orleans:

Giselle Smith, a single mom with three children, is younger and more resilient. In early October she returned to her home near the French Quarter, an area that only got two feet of water. "I love living in this district," she said, " and I couldn't wait to get back. I know all my neighbors, they help me with the kids, and during Mardi Gras, we just go out our door and we're right in the thick of it," she laughed. The day she returned, Ms. Smith got to work cleaning up the house. She ripped up the buckled floors and put in new tiles, she scrubbed off the mold and repainted. By the end of the month her modest home was clean as a whistle. But Ms. Smith had a different problem. She was a renter.

She'd been renting the same house for 11 years, just like she had the same job as a parking lot attendant for all those years. The neighbors attested that she was a good worker, a good tenant and a good mom. But the very day that the governor lifted the moratorium on evictions, her landlord presented her with an eviction notice. The reason? Failure to pay September's rent. The Smiths, like everyone else in the city, had been forced to evacuate, and her home had no electricity or water or sewage. She also had to pay rent in Houston for September, and didn't have money to pay rent in two places.

Ms. Smith is determined to fight the eviction, and local lawyers have come to her aid. But the real reason for the eviction notice is that houses that didn't flood are at a premium and her landlord, like many others, is eager to cash in. Ms. Smith's neighbors down the block were paying $800 rent until they came home to find their rent jacked up to $1,300. By end of the week her long-time neighbors, a black family, had packed up and a white family took their place.

The story includes information about ways to help people return to their homes:

At the grassroots level, there are remarkable community activists like Malik Rahim, who has turned his home on the dry west bank of Algiers into the Common Ground Collective, a hub for hundreds of volunteers, a free medical clinic and many tons materials aid. Another extraordinary local figure is Mama D, whose home in Ward Seven has become a similar beehive of support for those returning home. Both are encouraging volunteers, skilled and "generalists", to join them -- anytime for any amount of time. During Thanksgiving week, Nov. 22-29, Common Ground is calling for a mass convergence on New Orleans help clean up the Ninth Ward (see


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