Thursday, August 28, 2008

Three Years Later: What's Really Hurting The Recovery

Rusty Costanza / The Times-Picayune
Erica and Brian Dejan look at what is left of a flooded home they recently purchased on Kendall Drive in Gentilly Woods Saturday, August 16, 2008. Despite being told by City Hall that the flooded home they purchased in June was taken off the city's demolition list, the home was being torn down this morning.

Incompetence on the part of city bureaucrats helped crush a Gentilly family's dream Saturday. Brian and Erica DeJan, who are soon expecting a baby, bought a large fixer-upper to accommodate their growing family. The city had granted the DeJans the necessary building permit and the family had put time and money into rehabbing the house.

The city also had the house at 5132 Kendall Drive on its demolition list, a list that logic precluded the DeJans from checking. The city would really have to screw up to tear down a house it knew the DeJans were rebuilding.

The city did just that -- even after the DeJans saw a demolition sticker on the Kendall Drive house and protested. The city did just that -- less than 24 hours after giving Erica DeJan a letter promising not to demolish the house unless a public hearing found it necessary.

The city did just that -- even though tearing down the DeJan's house, to quote Mayor Ray Nagin, hurts the recovery. Not in a symbolic sense, but in a tangible and personal way.

Bureaucracies can be cold and impersonal and so complex and multi-layered that the bureaucrats inside forget that their incompetence, their laggardness, their contradictory messages can devastate residents.

The DeJans had invested money in that house. They had put work into it. They were planning their future there. And the best Sanitation Director Veronica White could come up with Saturday was an e-mail saying the DeJans could have prevented the tear-down if they'd made noise at least 72 hours before the scheduled demolition.

How about the city cross-referencing its list of building permits with its list of homes scheduled for demolition and flagging all the addresses that appear on both? Then, how about making it impossible to demolish a house that's flagged? Better yet, how about a computer program (something a competent chief technology officer would create) that would signal an error if there were an attempt to add to one list a house that was already included on the other?

How about city bureaucrats realizing that they are not dealing with addresses -- that they are not even engaged in high-minded acts of recovery -- but should on a microlevel be helping people get on with their lives?

Every stage of this city's recovery has been met by the public's impatience. The magnitude of the destruction remains especially incomprehensible to people who haven't seen it with their own eyes. So they wonder if the pace of the recovery doesn't reveal some moral failure in the people still struggling to return to normalcy.

There are hundreds of thousands of people, I say, all deciding whether to repair a house, tear it down or sell it, whether to cut their ties with the city or start all over again here -- and their decisions may be complicated by their insurance companies shortchanging them, by family succession issues, by their children's attachment to a new school or by their employer's departure from New Orleans.

And then there are the impediments of government: a Road Home program that has been slow and stingy and a local administration that has gone on at length about the emperor's new-looking city.

Reports about how well the city is recovering did nothing for the DeJans. Their personal investment in the city's comeback was destroyed by the city itself.

Bro. Jarvis De Berry is an awarding winning journalist and editorial writer at the New Orleans Times-Picayune...He along with members of the New Orleans Times-Picayune Staff recently won a Pulitzer Prize for their amazing reporting post-Hurricane Katrina and also for an open letter to Mr.Bush concerning the Hurricane Katrina Fiasco entitled
Dear Mr. President...Bro. De Berry like W.E. A.L.L. B.E.'s founder and Minista of Information R2C2H2 Tha Artivist is an alum of Washington University and The John B. Ervin Scholars Program...Bro. Deberry can be e-mailed at or called at (504) 826-3355

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