1. Many people lost critical documents which would prove their home ownership;
2. Though lenders initially were willing to forbear mortgage payments, home foreclosures are sharply increasing in Louisiana and Mississippi;
3. Rents have skyrocketed in New Orleans, and affordable housing has been choked off as a result. Higher rents represent a confluence of several factors: the influx of construction workers—with steady paychecks (though no prevailing wage rights) which can cover higher rents, landlords needing to refinance in order to rebuild and pass on the mortgage costs to tenants (where perhaps there was no mortgage before), fewer rental units due to the number of houses destroyed, and/or sheer opportunism and predation by landlords;
4. The Road Home program, and other revitalization initiatives, have been slow in compensating those want to rehabilitate their homes.
The students coming to New Orleans were to engage in a few projects:
Community presentations to citizens regarding how to avoid foreclosure rescue scams;
Assisting lawyers at New Orleans Legal Assistance in direct client representation through research, client, or fact witness interviews; A walk through the Lower Ninth Ward—“ground zero” of the levee breaches.
SOME QUESTIONS POSED:
1. Are lenders, brokers, or home improvement contractors engaged in predatory practices in New Orleans, and if so, in what ways?
2. Are those impacted still disproportionately being steered into loans with high interest rates, ARMs, and fees?
3. What local or state laws and policies adversely impacted the ability to rebuild?
4. How do those most directly affected talk about the event? About themselves or loved ones? About people they know who have been affected?
5. Why do some describe the events as “when the hurricane hit,” versus “the levee failures.”
6. How has the race of construction workers (largely Hispanic or Latino/Latina) surfaced in the ongoing dialogue about the African-American population, the poor, immigration, and justice? What are the real or constructed tensions?
The students and Katija spent the day working on a predatory lending litigation project that raised unique ethical issues for lawyers: when a lawyer is threatened with Rule 11 sanctions, does the threat create an untenable conflict of interest, under which the attorney must withdraw from representation? Sanctions are serious for all attorneys; but they are of no small consequence to legal services organizations such as NOLA—which would be facing attorneys fees sanctions in the 6 figures.
Listening to David talk about his current predatory lending work post-disaster, it occurred to me [again] the meaning of words folks use consciously or unconsciously: I talk about Hurricane Katrina, and what it wrought; David talks about when “the levees failed.”
I thought about this, and the next day, the students and I considered it after we left the Lower Ninth.
1. what does it say about memory?
2. what does the distinction say about ‘culpability”?
3. what might the distinction say about citizens’ relationship to: God? Government?
4 what might the distinction say about the person who describes the event as a Hurricane, or a Levee Failure: is the vantage point a victim, a beneficiary, a victim/survivor advocate [like David]?
Nick Gasca’s hotel room might be haunted!
Started out the morning at NOLA wondering if the gig at the Senior Center would happen. Our contact at NOLA had been unable to reach the contact person at the Center, and so nothing was firmed up. So, Christine and Nick began reviewing documents which would be the basis of a phone interview later in the day with prospective NOLA client.
Once there, Nick and Christine did a very nice job presenting. It’s always very cool to see student in action—especially when they can be nimble, and go with the flow of requests not anticipated. I tell students in the PLC that I don’t ‘simply’ want them to prepare to be lawyers; I want to prepare them to be “public citizens.” I try to impress the fact that they are going to be called upon to be leaders in their communities. They are going to sit on boards, are going to interact with their neighbors, are going to engage in formal and informal counseling on issues they know. As a result, they are likely to be in situations in which their skills, knowledge, and expertise will be demanded. Sometimes that demand will be ‘on the fly,’ sometimes that demand will allow them time to think and prepare. Christine, Nick and Katija were ready, and game, for it all.
a. Possible cognitive and attentive challenges
b. Hearing, reading, and sight challenges
c. The relevance of family members or “regarded others” (e.g., Sylvia, the Assistant Director of the Center) in helping/supporting seniors if they encounter the situations we described
2. What are general principles of presenting to community groups?
a. Do you know more than they do
b. How do you draw in an audience by first posing questions (Nick got this to the tee)
c. How do you draw audiences in by telling your own personal stories or experiences
d. What do you say to break the ice with an audience like, say, commenting on their surroundings (Cool Christine!)
e. How do you create connections with your audience through sharing personal experience (nice again Christine)
From the Center, we went to the Lower Ninth. It was sobering. I had a difficult time myself going there again. It seemed to be a profound experience for all 4 of us. It was my second visit to that area, and two sights continue to wreck me:
1. Steps to nowhere. 2 or 3 concrete steps on a lot, but nothing where the house should be.
2. The spray-painted “X” on the homes left by the National Guard searches: the top quadrant of the X having a number signifying the date the house was searched (e.g. “9-10” for September 10th); the bottom, how many bodies were found in the home; the left quadrant—the Guard unit that did the check; the right quadrant, whether there was an entry or no entry into the house. On some houses, animal rescue missions spray-painted “1 dog dead,” “cat found alive,” or the like.
It was a pretty quiet drive back to NOLA. While the silence could have been due to a variety of factors—the time of day, we hadn’t eaten, coming down from an adrenaline draining presentation—I think the primary reason was seeing the Lower Ninth.
A church destroyed, but a makeshift sign outside of the church with an opening passage “CAN THESE BONES LIVE?” that make my eyes well up. In the book of Ezekiel, God poses that very question to him, and Ezekiel says “O Lord God, thou knowest.” A sight of despair; a declaration of hope and resolve. The photo to the right is of the inside of the church.
A rooftop of one rehabilitated home that still blazoned a plea: “thank you Jesus. The x family needs gas water and ice. June we are o.k.”
Also other signs of hope. Some pockets of life. Contractors working. Neighborhood folks moved (back) into their homes, outside, talking to other neighbors. Some beautifully rebuilt homes with signs announcing “We’re back!” or “New Orleans Is My Home!” Dang.
Pink—no, fuschia---tents for 2 blocks wide and maybe 5 blocks long. We wondered what the heck they were. Katija’s photos tell the story best, but the short answer: a not for profit org [Brad Pitts’s] had erected home-sized sheaths in the shape of a rooftop, a segment, or an entire home. Donations would result in the build of these home segments, which would ultimately, ideally, result in 150 homes in the section at which the levees allowed the water to breach at its highest.
Written by Bryan Adamson