Suit Claims New Orleans Plan Discriminates

The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 27, 2006; 8:12 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- Residents of four public housing complexes sued Tuesday to open their shuttered apartments, saying the federal government's plan to demolish their homes is discriminatory and violates international laws that protect people displaced by natural disasters.

Critics have been staging marches and set up a tent city to protest the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's decision to tear down the deteriorating buildings after Hurricane Katrina struck last summer.

They say the agency's plan will drive black families out of the city. Before Katrina, 5,100 families lived in public housing units in New Orleans; only 1,100 have returned since the storm.

"It's time to let people come home," said Judith Browne, a lawyer with the Advancement Project, a civil rights group that filed the suit.

The agency says it wants to revamp the city's public housing stock by destroying old and unsafe complexes and replace them with mixed-income neighborhoods.

HUD's plan also would reopen other public housing complexes closed since the storm and give displaced residents money to rent homes with vouchers.

HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson said in a statement that "the question is not whether displaced families will return, but what they will return to."

Katrina "put a spotlight on the inadequacy of the cramped and decrepit public housing in New Orleans _ the same outdated housing naysayers and pessimists say we should leave as is," Jackson said.

The secretary added that his plan calls for better public housing. "Katrina took a tremendous toll on New Orleans, but it also gave us an opportunity to build an even better city for future generations," he said.

© 2006 The Associated Press