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Saagar Gupta

Professor Mary Ellen Curtin


American Studies 240: Poverty and Culture
7 December 2014
Final Paper: An Evaluation of Housing Programs in D.C. and New Orleans
Introduction
Housing is a large component of poverty. Factors such as location, home ownership, and
residential education can affect the environment of housing. Between the 1930s and the 1960s,
institutionalized racism was prevalent in housing programs such as the Federal Housing
Administration and Urban Renewal. For non-whites, especially for African Americans, the
racism during this time period prevented them from a path away from poverty. Governmental
assistance that was offered during the New Deal and following WWII was not offered at the
same level to African Americans and other minority groups. Housing in the 1950s and early
1960s institutionalized racism as non-whites were forced into public housing which did not allow
for long term social or economic growth.
The institutionalized racism forced African Americans around the country into federal
housing projects. As sociologist Melvin Oliver said, "In the 1930's the federal government
created the Federal Housing Administration [who] provide loans so the [average American]
could purchase a home".1 However, the government didn't provide these mortgages fairly to all
1 Llewellyn Smith, "The House We Live In" Race: The Power of an Illusion, 56:00, 2003,
http://www.american.edu.proxyau.wrlc.org/customcf/catalog_video.cfm?callNum=8944249.

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races due to a national appraisal system which automatically targeted communities in which
minorities were in or moving to as high risk areas. Between 1934 and 1962, the federal
government underwrote 120 billion dollars in new housing, but less than 2% went to nonwhites.2 Therefore, blacks were unable to move into suburbia as mortgages suburbanized
America racially and were forced into federally subsidized housing projects that kept them in
crowded areas in the city. These projects are commonly called "slums" and they were majority
black neighborhoods that "bred an atmosphere of hopelessness and despair".3 This culture of
poverty, as discussed by Michael Harrington in the famous book The Other America, is present
in a slum environment and consists of a mentality characterized by a lack of hope. As stated by
Harrington, "nobody, not even an angel, can avoid trouble here! Too many people with no
investment and no pride in the neighborhood! Too many just passing through! I feel sorriest for
the kids-- they've never known what a decent neighborhood is like!"4
The reason the culture of poverty existed in the federal housing programs is due to
socioeconomic and racial segregation and a failure to upkeep and regulate housing units. The
President's Civil Rights Commission in 1959 reported that the suburban zoning laws keep out
low income housing and force the poor to remain in the decaying, central area of the cities.5 The

2 Ibid

3 Kent Germany, New Orleans After the Promises: Poverty, Citizenship, and the Search for the
Great Society (Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2007), 181.

4 Michael Harrington, The Other America: Poverty in the United States (New York: Scribner,
2012), p. 149.

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slums are practically forbidden any real relationship with the rest of society.6 Those who are able
to succeed in the slums move out and therefore there is no real leadership in the communities.
This leads to a lack of education in the community; which was especially detrimental as
landlords in the slums were often exploitative.7 Moreover, housing conditions in the first place
were awful. Many were in need of reconstruction and often lights and rooms were in awful
conditions.8 The crime rate was disproportionately higher, due to the culture of poverty and
probably the broken windows theory, and the failure to own a house and accrue equity and loans
meant many were unemployed and uneducated.
Obviously with these problems in the slums, there was a need for change. In the mid-1960s
through the mid-1970s, federally funded governmental programs were designed and
implemented to deal with the problems associated with housing. While neither New Orleans nor
Washington D.C. completely fixed the housing problem, both cities experienced positive gains
from federal housing programs during the decade despite the failures present in implementation.

General Housing Programs

5Harrington, p. 148.

6 Harrington, p. 146.

7 Germany, p. 187.

8 Germany, p.184.

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While there were similar federally funded housing initiatives in both New Orleans and
Washington D.C., the implementation of these systems by local municipalities meant that there
was a great difference in impacts. Both New Orleans and D.C. participated in Model Cities as
well as Urban Renewal, two programs that were federally subsidized to help cities rebuild
communities through construction. On the other hand, D.C. had local antipoverty organizations
such as the United Planning Organization, (UPO), while New Orleans had their own non-profit
with Total Community Action, (TCA). As hundreds of large cities across the nation all had
similar needs in regards to public housing, the division of funds and implementation of the
programs were different by city.
Urban Renewal emerged in the 1950s shrouded in controversy. While many thought it
could be the answer to American slums by reconstructing the nation's blighted areas, in practice
it wasn't as straightforward as conceptualized. The plan was that the federal government was to
pay two-thirds of construction costs for local slum clearance and rebuilding projects, which then
allows cities to recreate poorer neighborhoods in the hope of eliminating some of the problems
surrounding the culture of poverty such as crime, disease, and need for city services.9 However,
in practice, only about one in every four housing units destroyed were replaced. This meant that
it would just push the poor out of their homes and was labeled by some as "Negro Removal".
However, if done right, benefits include a low cost way to improve slum housing.
Model Cities was slightly different in nature. Instead of being offered nationally, this program
was designed similar to the Community Action Program implemented by the Office of Economic
Opportunity in regards that both were experimental programs limited to only a few areas. "Model
Cities was designed to put comprehensive, intensive programs into a well-defined and well9 Germany, p. 184.

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studied target areas".10 It was chaired by MIT professor Robert Wood and was under the
Department of Housing and Urban Development, (HUD). The program included ten major
components including that Urban Renewal costs for cities would be reduced from one third to
one fourth. Again, the program could have allowed for a complete change of neighborhoods for
very little cost to the city.

Evaluation of Housing Programs in New Orleans


Urban Renewal started in the 1950s however for New Orleans, there wasnt much impact. Due to
a 1954 legislation that was designed to "disallow public seizure of private property if that
property was to be resold to private business interests", Urban Renewal never really affected
New Orleans until 1968.11 This was highly beneficial in a way as local and federal officials had
learned from earlier mistakes and allowed more community involvement and influence in the
program; however, there was still many critics of the program.
By the time Urban Renewal was able to be implemented, HUD had approved two $400,000
grants to conduct an architectural survey and develop a master plan for improving the city's
physical environment as well as a study that determined the feasibility of renewal projects.12

10 Germany, p. 197-198.

11 Germany, p. 184.

12 Germany, p. 186.

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Mayor Schiro supported the program in the hopes that it could make improvements to streets and
drainage and aggressive housing rehabilitation. The main target area was the Lower Ninth Ward.
With so many slum problems, it is not surprising that many were excited about Urban Renewal.
The program had support of multiple agencies and a high majority of Louisiana votes. Both
blacks and whites supported the program, though goals were slightly different. Many were happy
with the overall improvement it might bring to the city, but many were excited about the
economic input it would bring. For example, the $31 million effort to improve the Lower Ninth
Ward from 1970 to 1974 only cost the city $7.4 million and improved street lighting and
drainage, rehabilitated 2,200 housing units, and demolished 236 substandard structure.13
What was even better was the effect it had on the black community. Urban Renewal, with the
community involvement that was suggested and taken by local New Orleans' organizations such
as the Southern Organization for Unified Leadership, (SOUL), was able to provide many African
Americans with a path to power. Black contractors and leaders were able to grow financially and
politically. Black leaders were able to use Urban Renewal to control some of the federal funding
pipeline and helped have a direct impact on the community.
However, though there were many successes including draining water from the Lower
Ninth Ward, establishing better street lights, and increasing property value, it didn't directly help
entire communities out of poverty. Though it avoided some problems that other areas faced such
as forced relocation, it didnt alleviate systematic inequality or the low-wage economy.
Model Cities started to affect New Orleans in 1968 as the City Hall and many other
Louisiana political leaders lobbied for New Orleans to be one of the host cities to the program.
13 Germany, p. 193.

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The main target areas were the Lower Ninth Ward, Central City, and Desire which contained
only 25% of city's homes and 6% of tax revenue, yet used 45% of city services, had 50% of
crime, and accounted for 50% of major diseases.14 New Orleans received almost $100 million to
remake the city and administrators wanted to create full employment, reduce crime, improve
health, modernize infrastructure, rehabilitate bad housing, expand recreational opportunities,
upgrade transportation, and stimulate black economic development.15
From 1970-1973, the City Demonstration Agency secured 36 more grants and most went to
health services. Some of the long-term impacts from Model Cities on New Orleans was that it
created long lasting community centers, recreation facilities, and health centers and improved
black participation in construction and economic development.16 The Model Cities Act allowed
for direct and indirect improvement. Directly, it created 490 new jobs from 1968-1971, with 80%
coming from target areas. Indirectly, it allowed for an increase in black opportunity and power.
Organizations like the Amalgamated Builders and Contractors of Louisiana helped blacks with
construction experience who lacked journeyman status and union wages. African Americans who
wanted leadership roles in the Model Cities Act were able to gain political power and have a
change in their communities. Though the impact wasn't what was expected, a total fix of the city,
it allowed for general improvements in the areas as well as a greater involvement by black
community members.

14 Germany, p. 180.

15 Germany, p. 202.

16 Germany, p. 203

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Evaluation of Housing Programs in Washington D.C.
Washington D.C. had a different situation that New Orleans. While much of the housing projects
and slums were largely African American, due to the problems presented in the introduction, the
overall makeup of the city is different. Geographically, floods are not as much an issue and while
race tensions were high in both areas, Louisiana had more African Americans than D.C.
Government implementation of programs in the capital differs from in other states as there is no
state commission and there seemed to be less black leaders and organizations in D.C. However,
both cities still carried out the Model Cities and Urban Renewal programs.
In D.C., the Model Cities Act was not carried out with as much success as thought. As
early as 1969, D.C. was already facing problems with Model Cities. Calvin Banks, the cityappointed staff director of the program, was asked to resign due to keeping the 120 rank-and-file
ward councilmen and the 29-member central Model Cities Commission in the dark about
budgets, contracts, and planning.17 Banks never allowed for community and citizen participation
at the beginning of the program, and early failures in leadership created problems with due dates
for federal proposals and grants. While Banks was developing a plan to request $9.6 million from
HUD, and though he could not assemble his staff until January 1969, the change in leadership
affected the early beginnings of the program.
Another problem D.C. seemed to face was citizen participation. Deadlines for proposals and
grants were delayed in order to make sure they are citizen approved and that there was enough
time for review.18 Moreover, 32 of 144 candidates for ward council positions for the Model Cities

17 Peter Braestrup, "Banks is Asked to Quit Model Cities Program," The Washington Post, April 27, 1969, 26.

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program were uncontested.19 Even some youth candidates, (7 of 44), ran unopposed for youth
seats on the council. Active community involvement in shaping the Model Cities to
neighborhoods seemed to be lacking, maybe to do poor leadership.
Other issues were also present. Debates about whether to use existing city agencies or new
neighborhood non-profits were held.20 In addition, funding was a problem. Though the proposed
plan requested $31 million for first year spending, only $14 million was granted.21 Furthermore,
when proposing spending, HUD never gave feedback to the Washington Model Cities council on
why certain grants were rejected. 22Together, the extensive review processes, poor leadership,
need for community involvement, and lack of funding all contributed to start up problems in
Model Cities.
While there were some problems, there was definitely success as well. Starting 1970, a $3.2
million grant was given to start up 11 projects, (though 17 were rejected).23 An additional near $1
million was spent for four programs in the Shaw, Stanton Park, Trinidad, and Ivy City which
18 Peter Braestrup, "New Deadline Spurs Action on Model Cities," The Washington Post, June
10, 1969, C2.

19 "144 Adults Seek Seats on Model Cities Unit," The Washington Post, December 12, 1968, H1.

20 Braestrup, "New Deadline Spurs Action on Model Cities," C2.

21 Ibid

22 Peter Braestrup, "D.C. Gets $3.2-Million HUD Grant To Start 11 Model Cities Projects," The
Washington Post, January 15, 1970, A1.

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helped improve elementary schools and expand the adult education program in the areas.24
Overall, in the first year, $8.3 million was given to for 36 Model Cities projects. Not only did
these projects help out the areas they were designed to impact, but they helped the city as a
whole as well.25 Some of the major impacts were developing systems that categorized
government jobs to neighborhoods, individual neighborhood needs assessments, and housing
project searches.
Urban Renewal wasn't as prevalent in D.C. as one might have thought. Though the program
existed, the United Planning Organization managed most of the slum and housing development
areas. Like in New Orleans, landlords sometimes failed to update housing and tenets didn't have
the voice or education to ask for change.26 Successes include building of neighborhood service
centers with low costs to the city.27 D.C. was one of the pilot cities and therefore faced some of
the benefits and hindrances that were mentioned in the previous section. Though child centers
23 Ibid

24 "Model Cities Grants Cleared," The Washington Post, January 9th, 1971, B10.

25 Carol Honsa, " Model Project Seen as Aid to All City Areas: Other Hopes Plans Open," The
Washington Post, May 4, 1967, B5.

26 Richard Severo "A Property Owner Gambles--And Loses," The Washington Post, January 30,
1967, B1.

27 Robert Kaiser "UPO Gets Cash to Plan New Service Center," The Washington Post, June 24,
1967, B3.

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and new residences were built, for the most part, the amount of evictions outweighed the amount
of new developments. What often happened were that tenets were evicted from slum housing and
then were recommended to other developments that were much more costly.28

Conclusion/ Analysis of Differences between Housing Programs in D.C. and New Orleans
In conclusion, while both D.C. and New Orleans experienced some gain from federal housing
program initiatives, overall, neither was a successful as imagined. New Orleans outperformed
D.C. overall due to community involvement and long-term impact. While both cities saw
community involvement, New Orleans had a higher amount of blacks who used the federal
programs to gain leadership. This allowed for a more direct impact on the local communities as
well as a long-term impact as these leaders would often go on to serve in other positions
representing the black population.
Looking at UPO and TCA, both were highly effective. One of the reasons that federally
funded programs were able to work in D.C. was because of UPO. The government would often
assign projects to UPO.29 This helped with implementation of the program in low-income,
primarily black neighborhoods in which they often used citizens from the community to work
jobs and therefore allow for more community involvement and employment. In fact, in 1967,
28 Joe Ritchic "District Evicts Family at 10 In Shaw Urban Renewal Area," The Washington
Post, June 4, 1976, C8.

29 Peter Braestrup "Cities Task Assigned to UPO,"The Washington Post, September 24, 1969,
C2.

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UPO director James Banks resigned from UPO to become director of the Urban Renewal
program.30 UPO helped primarily with planning and implementation. On the other hand, TCA
controlled almost $10 million, employed well over 500 people, and funded a variety of
neighborhood centers and influential programs.31 This local program was largely led by African
Americans and therefore increased total community involvement from target areas in New
Orleans.
Looking at both Urban Renewal and Model Cities, both New Orleans and D.C. improved some
housing programs in the slums through the creation of neighborhood centers. However, due to
New Orleans delay in Urban Renewal implementation, which allowed for the local and federal
government to recognize problems with community involvement in the system, there was more
success in the Urban Renewal program in New Orleans. Furthermore, the better leadership and
overall council system in New Orleans was more effective than that of D.C. While D.C. selected
members for the Model Cities council from each ward, New Orleans created both the Urban
Renewal and the Model Cities program with a system that promoted review by officials and the
community and solved for communication problems plaguing D.C. For example, for the Urban
Renewal program in New Orleans, they created the Community Improvement Agency as a new
project. Every project was advised by Neighborhood Advisory Committees, needed approval by

30 Carol Honsa "Banks to Quit UPO Helm For New HUD Division," The Washington Post,
April 15, 1967, A1.

31 Germany, p. 181.

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City Planning Commission and City Council, then had a public hearing, and was finally voted on
by property owners to decide on city's 1/3rd cost fit the project impact.32
In summation, more community involvement and better leadership in New Orleans created more
effective programs in the long-term. While it is important to note that UPO took over some
federal housing programs, such as surveying slum areas and designing reports, which may mean
that there could have been more overall benefits in D.C., for the most part, New Orleans had a
more improved short-term and long-term city. Overall, there was less destruction of slum areas
which meant less forcing out low-income citizens and there was more direct community impact.
New Orleans was able to conduct better research and have more organizations support city
projects with a liberal mayor election in 1970. Nevertheless, neither city really solved slum
housing as a total reconstruction of the slums to eliminate the culture of poverty was never
combined with affordable housing and education.

32 Germany, p. 188.