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New Orleans' Controversial Public Housing Model

Jackson lived in the St. Thomas housing project, above, formerly on the same site.
Eve Troeh, NPR
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Courtesy of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
Jackson lived in the St. Thomas housing project, above, formerly on the same site.
Charlene Jackson in front of her two-bedroom apartment in River Garden, a new mixed-income development in New Orleans.
Eve Troeh, NPR /
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Charlene Jackson in front of her two-bedroom apartment in River Garden, a new mixed-income development in New Orleans.
The River Garden apartments were modeled after historic New Orleans neighborhoods.
Eve Troeh, NPR /
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The River Garden apartments were modeled after historic New Orleans neighborhoods.

After several of New Orleans' public housing projects were damaged in Hurricane Katrina, city officials want to demolish the buildings -- considered by many to be symbols of urban decay -- and replace them with mixed-income units. Many low-income residents, however, do not agree with this approach.

The idea is to break up large blocks of public housing so that poverty is not concentrated in pockets of the city, boosting public safety and economic growth.

Developers and city officials are looking to the River Garden apartments as a model. The community was built on the site of a former public housing project in 2004.

Once completed, about one-third of River Garden residents will be low-income families. But some say that's not enough, arguing that mixed-income housing requires them to change the way they live.

Charlene Jackson, 54, moved into River Garden last year with her 10-year-old grandson. After getting complaints from management about things like her kiddie pool and Christmas decorations, she feels unwanted in the community. But living on Social Security, she cannot afford to move.

Scott Keller, deputy chief of staff for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, says the goal of mixed-income housing is to minimize differences between the city's poor and middle-class.

But public housing residents say mixed-income developments provide too little housing for them and do not address their immediate housing needs post-Katrina. Some have filed a lawsuit to block the planned demolition of four major housing projects in the city.

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Eve Troeh was WWNO's first-ever News Director, hired to start the local news department in 2013. She left WWNO in 2017 to serve as Sustainability Editor at Marketplace.