Hurricane Katrina and the 'cleansing' of social housing

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Grenfell has been referred to as a “Katrina moment”. Care must be taken with that comparison. But the reaction of the establishment would certainly be recognised by working class people in New Orleans.

Theresa “Antoinette” May’s detachment and ignorance call to mind Barbara Bush’s comment in 2005 that for people who lost their home after the hurricane and were living in shelters things were “working very well” because they were “underprivileged anyway”.

The incompetence of the authorities before and after Grenfell chimes with the widespread feeling in New Orleans, particularly among black people, that they were being doubly punished for being poor.

But perhaps the most worrying comparison is the sense that some may try to exploit disaster in order to advance urban social engineering and privatisation.

Some people have already talked about demolishing all council-built tower blocks after Grenfell. In the immediate aftermath, perhaps that’s understandable. But as well as being impractical, it risks playing into the hands of the anti council housing lobby and land-grabbers who are already intent on clearing working class communities from “high value” inner city areas.

After Katrina (and to this day) there was a feeling that corporate interests and their political lackeys wanted to make the temporary displacement of working class communities permanent.

The most graphic evidence for this was how what remained of New Orleans’ public housing (rough equivalent of council housing) was demolished after the flood, even though there was no structural reason to do so.

This truth was exposed by the chilling words of one local politician, Richard Baker, who said, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.”

Among the demands in the Justice for Grenfell campaign should be absolute guarantees that all council homes lost are replaced with council homes — under secure tenancies — and an automatic right to return for those who have lost their homes.