Wednesday, August 13, 2008

NOAH Scandal in New Orleans=Good News

Daniel Wolff writes:

You'd think it was depressing news. Today's New York Times reports that the FBI has raided the offices of NOAH: New Orleans Affordable Housing.

Seems like the $3 million in block grants the agency has paid to contractors to gut and remediate houses was eaten up by corruption. Of the 20 contractors the city approved for the work, only 7 passed the requirement of being "in good standing." One who got paid well was Mayor Nagin's brother-in-law.

And a local TV station's investigation showed that much of the work listed in NOAH's records was never done. Either the houses were untouched or, in some cases, there were no houses at those addresses at all; the work had been bogus.

What's the good news? What prompted the TV investigative work and the uncovering of the scandal was a community activist, Karen Gadbois. Gadbois did the basic footwork that the Times-Picayune and the other media had neglected: she got the lists of houses that contractors had been paid to fix up, and she went and looked. And took pictures.

Gadbois' point is that the NOAH program betrayed people's trust and indicates a city government (and media?) that isn't actually interested in recovery. Here's the original TV reporting that broke the story.

To me, the story's about the power of activism, the possibility of making a difference despite the system. Some heads are gonna roll because of this, and Gadbois gets a bunch of the credit.
The other good news is that this scandal is helping to reveal exactly how negligent city officials have been and are. Mayor Nagin's response to the TV show linked above? “How is that report helping this recovery?” Nagin asked at a July 22 press conference. “It is not, and it's hurting this city, and you need to stop it.”
Far from stopping, Gadbois and the (reluctant?) media have pushed it into national news.
Here's the story that describes Nagin's response and attempt at evasion:
Finally, in the last week, Nagin appeared before the city council and admitted there were some "discrepancies" in what the agency paid for and what actually happened. Nagin's repeated use of the attack mode -- blame the victim -- is revealed for what it is. And maybe his threats won't be as effective the next time he tries to bluff and bully his way out of real charges.
Corruption in New Orleans government doesn't strike me as big news. Hell, it's kinda assumed. But one of the themes Gadbois keeps striking is that the city has recovered because residents damn well decided it had to. And returned, rebuilt, recovered with little to no governmental help and considerable governmental interference. A bunch of the houses on NOAH's list did get gutted -- by the owners, not the agency.

It's a story about power. And the possibility that it might just be in our hands.