U.N.: Rights Of Katrina Displaced Violated

Protesters block equipment from entering a portion of the B.W. Cooper housing development in New Orleans Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007. Demolition of the B.W. Cooper complex had been approved before Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of New Orleans in 2005, scattering public housing residents and damaging most public housing. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)[Click image for details
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
United Nations experts weighed in Thursday on the debate over public housing in New Orleans, accusing the U.S. federal government and local authorities of forcing predominantly black residents into homelessness.

The experts said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and local governments will violate the human rights of thousands of New Orleans residents by demolishing public housing units.

The majority of those affected are black and many were devastated by Hurricane Katrina, they said.

"These demolitions ... could effectively deny thousands of African-American residents their right to return to housing from which they were displaced by the hurricane," said the statement from Miloon Kothari, the U.N. Human Rights Council's investigator for housing, and Gay McDougall, expert on minority issues.

Both experts are independent and unpaid; the U.N.'s Kothari is an Indian architect and McDougall is an American lawyer who has long campaigned for human rights.

"The authorities claim that the demolition of public housing is not intentionally discriminatory," they said, but added that "predominantly African-American residents" would as a result be denied their "internationally recognized human rights."

The U.S. mission in Geneva declined to comment immediately.

The U.N. statement cited the start of demolition work on the St. Bernard public housing development in New Orleans, and said there were similar plans for the Lafitte, B.W. Cooper and C.J. Peete developments.

These demolitions, combined with the spiraling costs for private housing and rental units, puts African-American communities badly hurt by Hurricane Katrina "in further distress, increasing poverty and homelessness," they said.

The experts said they understood that authorities are intending to replace demolished housing. But "only a portion of the new housing units will be for residents in need of subsidized housing and the remainder will be offered at the market rate."

Many more homes will be demolished than newly created, meaning thousands of blacks in New Orleans would be denied "their right to return to housing from which they were displaced by the hurricane," the experts said.

The U.N.-appointed experts called on the governments of the United States, Louisiana and New Orleans to halt demolitions of public housing and include current and former residents of the city in discussions to help them return to their homes..