Early Warning and Request for Urgent Action TO: CERD FROM: Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) (Litigation@cohre.org) DATE: 27 November 2007 RE: Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedure Introduction The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), an NGO with Consultative Status with the UN ECOSOC, and the Minnesota – New Orleans Solidarity Committee request that CERD intervene as appropriate as a matter of urgency to prevent the demolition of public housing in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.A. If implemented, the demolition will violate international human rights standards binding upon the United States including Articles 1(1), 2(1)(a), 2(1)(b), 2(1)(c), 2(2), 5(e)(iii), and 6 of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). Early Warning Before Hurricane Katrina, over 5,000 families lived in New Orleans public housing. These families were disproportionately African-American (nearly 100 per cent). These residents looked forward to coming home when New Orleans re-opened, but the Government of the U.S. and others including corporate interests instead decided to capitalize on the displacement of the residents by demolishing their homes and opening the land to development. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an administrative agency of the federal executive branch of government, has approved the demolition of thousands of public housing units, and only approximately 1,500 families have been permitted to return to New Orleans public housing. Specifically, on 14 June 2006, HUD announced that it would demolish more than 5,000 public housing units and replace them with mixed-income developments. One-for-one replacement of housing for public housing residents was not included in the plan and the public housing residents were not allowed to meaningfully participate in the decisions affecting their housing. The public housing estates targeted with demolition include St. Bernard, C.J. Peete, B.W. Cooper, and Lafitte. The demolitions have been delayed but now more than 5,000 units of public housing are scheduled for demolition in December 2007. If implemented, these actions by the United States would effectively deny the right to return and the right to housing restitution for thousands of African-American internally displaced persons and amount to violations by the U.S. of its obligations to respect, protect and fulfill Articles 1(1), 2(1)(a), 2(1)(b), 2(1)(c), 2(2), and 5(e)(iii) of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). Furthermore, the demolition would violate federal U.S. law. The U.S. failed to satisfy the statutory and regulatory prerequisites to demolition, in violation of § 1437p of the United States Housing Act of 1937 (“the Act”) (42 U.S.C. § 1437p) and the Administrative Procedure Act. The Act prohibits approval of a public housing demolition application if the application was not developed in consultation with the residents who will be affected by the demolition and with each affected resident advisory board or resident council. 42 U.S.C. § 1437p(b). As a prerequisite to approval, the statute also requires the local housing authority, among other things, to certify that the public housing development is: (1) obsolete and unsuitable for housing purposes and that no cost-effective plan can allow the buildings to be used for housing purposes; (2) that each family will be notified of the demolition and offered comparable housing that meets housing quality standards and is located in an area that is generally not less desirable than the location of the displaced person’s housing; and (3) that the local housing authority will not begin demolition until all residents are relocated. 42 U.S.C. § 1437p(a). Since persons internally displaced from these public housing units have not been allowed or able to defend their rights under federal law or ICERD, the United States has also violated Art. 6 of the Convention. Odessa Lewis is 62 years old. When I saw her last week, she was crying because she is being evicted. A long-time resident of the Lafitte public housing apartments, since Katrina she has been locked out of her apartment and forced to live in a 240 square foot FEMA trailer. Ms. Lewis has asked repeatedly to be allowed to return to her apartment to clean and fix it up so she can move back in. She even offered to do all the work herself and with friends at no cost. The government continually refused to allow her to return. Now she is being evicted from her trailer and fears she will become homeless because there is no place for working people, especially African American working and poor people, to live in New Orleans. Ms. Lewis is a strong woman who has worked her whole life. But the stress of being locked out of her apartment, living in a FEMA trailer and the possibility of being homeless brought out the tears. Thousands of other mothers and grandmothers are in the same situation. -Bill Quigley, attorney for Katrina IDPs Request for Urgent Action If implemented, the demolition of over 5,000 units of public housing will effectively deny the right to return, the right to housing restitution for IDPs, and the right to adequate housing of thousands of African-American residents of New Orleans. As such, the demolitions would result in irreparable harm. Since efforts to respect, protect and fulfill these rights for predominantly White residents of New Orleans have been undertaken, the demolitions would have a racially discriminatory effect on African-Americans with regarding the respect, protection and fulfillment of their rights. As such, the demolitions would result in the racially discriminatory treatment of African-American residents vis-à- vis White residents of New Orleans in violation of Articles 1(1), 2(1)(a), 2(1)(b), 2(1)(c), 2(2), 5(e)(iii), and 6 of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Consequently, COHRE and the Minnesota – New Orleans Solidarity Committee respectfully request that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination take urgent action to prevent the demolition of public housing in New Orleans by all appropriate means including intervention with the Government of the United States, a public pronouncement opposing the demolitions and other actions as deemed necessary by the Committee. COHRE and the Minnesota – New Orleans Solidarity Committee remain available for further information.
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