Portfolio ~ Right of Return

Right of Return: The fate of B.W. Cooper and public housing in New Orleans

On December 20, 2007, the New Orleans City Council voted unanimously in favor of completely tearing down four large public housing developments, approximately 4,500 units, including the 1,546 apartments at B.W. Cooper. Currently the New Orleans homeless population is reported at 12,000 people, twice pre-Katrina figures, and residents are continually being evicted from FEMA trailers. Can the New Orleans City Council justify demolishing 4,500 apartments, as its residents suffer through a historic affordable housing crisis?

Although demolition is fated for B.W. Cooper, what is not certain is whether the public housing residents will be able to return. One last hope for housing residents is Senate Bill 1668. The bill sponsored by Christopher Dodd (D-Cont.) was introduced in the Senate on June 20, 2007 by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.). In its simplest terms, the bill allows for demolition of public housing only if there is a one for one replacement of low-income apartments. Senate Bill 1668 ensures the right of return.

The focus of this picture essay is on the daily life of the 260 families that have returned to B.W. Cooper, since Katrina. What you will not see is the 1,161 displaced Cooper families that were either unable to return or have settled elsewhere.

A young girl runs up a stairwell of the B.W. Cooper housing development. Only 260 families have returned to Cooper, out of the 1400 households who lived here before Katrina.

The B.W. Cooper housing development, framed through resident Sam Jackson’s truck window, is one of four pubic housing projects fated for demolition.

Henry Freeman, left, returns to B.W. Cooper with his family to reunite with old friends. “All my life I grew up in the projects…it’s always home, but it won’t be home again,” says Freeman. He and his family settled in Georgia after facing difficulties when they tired moving back to New Orleans after the storm.

A young man pokes his head out of his third floor apartment window to speak with his friend below.

Rahim Glaspy, 15, flips over his stepbrother Jason Lang, 15, while putting on a wrestling show for the neighborhood residents. After Katrina, no basketball courts remain in the development, and permits for block parties or second lines have not been reinstated.

Majwann Walker, 5, laughs as his cousin tickles him on the living room couch. Their grandmother, Shirley Jackson, looks after them while their parents work.

Corl Banks, 27, trims Evangelynn R. Polk’s, 22, hair on his mother’s second floor balcony. “Life in Cooper was nice,” says Banks, “We had a gym, we had a pool, the Superdome…Katrina messed everything up. It changed our lives forever.”

Jessica Smith, 22, returns to B.W. Cooper with her friends, after watching the Zulu Parade, on the last day of Mardi Gras, known as Fat Tuesday.

Although B.W. Cooper residents live in the midst of an uncertain future, they still manage to find joy in the everyday. Frank Burns, 44, has a laugh at a Super Bowl party held by his close friend and neighbor.

Jerranake Jackson, 21, grabs a prized golden coconut for her mother, at the Zulu parade just blocks from the Cooper development, on the last day of Mardi Gras.

Felicia Cobbins, 13, takes the lead as high school students return to school, after a weeklong break for Mardi Gras. Behind her, the newest section of the B.W. Cooper development, built in 1954, will soon be demolished.

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