Katrina Refugees Return to the Projects

June 11, 2007 | By Mario Tama | News


I spent the better part of last week documenting the few hundred Katrina refugees who have recently been allowed to return to the B.W. Cooper housing project in New Orleans. B.W. Cooper, or Calliope as it is popularly known, originally housed over 1,000 families yet now remains more than 80 percent empty. Nearly two years after Hurricane Katrina struck, some 10,000 former residents of the New Orleans housing projects have not been able to return home. Many of the projects have not been repaired following the storm, while others that appear to be habitable are sealed. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) plans to tear down four of the major New Orleans housing projects and replace them with mixed income developments.

On the Steps

Affordable housing has become difficult to find in New Orleans as rents are significantly higher than before the hurricane struck. The projects were notoriously ruthless places plagued by gang warfare and drug abuse. Yet they were also a place that families called home for generations. Residents say the projects were a viable place to live for low income residents in the center of a great American city. Activists and many residents believe the HUD plan is simply a way to prevent poor urban African-Americans from returning to the city. Yet there is no doubt that the projects need improving, one way or another.

Big Kiss

The place is usually teeming with some kind of activity, especially among the children and teenagers. There is no playground, so the kids often make do with makeshift games like practicing flips on mattresses or shooting hoops on the two beat up basketball courts. Many of the apartments remain closed, so you’ll see a boarded up apartment on the first floor with a family living in the apartment above. Some apartments remain unsealed with broken windows or ravaged by fire.

Playin’ Ball

The lovely people in Calliope, while initially skeptical of my motives, have become increasingly welcoming and friendly. While their situations are far from ideal, many are delighted to be back in the place they call home among family and friends they’ve known all their lives. I feel privileged to be able to explore a side of New Orleans most people never get to see.

Swimming Pool

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