New Orleans mayoral candidate discusses rebuilding

Becky Olles

New Orleans mayoral candidate James Perry has plenty of reasons to care about the city’s continued recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina. When he spoke to about 30 Northwestern students gathered in University Hall on Thursday, he wanted to know why they were interested.

The responses varied – some were curious about the area, some wanted to hear about the hurricane and some wanted to discuss recovery efforts.

Communication senior Anne Valauri, who has visited New Orleans to help with rebuilding projects, mentioned the ongoing housing problem.

“When I was there, what really upset me was that people had hired (housing) contractors, but there hadn’t been a permanent agreement, so people did a day of work, then went off with their money,” she said.

Perry, who is the executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, addressed the lack of funding for people to rebuild their homes. As director, he has won several lawsuits to fight for fair housing.

“My focus here has everything to do with (the fact) that I’m a housing guy,” he said. “The levees broke, and 80 percent of the housing was destroyed or unusable.”

Perry and the center have sued the Road Home program, which was supposed to help with the costs of repairing, he said. They are still in the early stages of the lawsuit, but he said they hope to have the program pay three or four times the amount they pay now to rebuild the homes.

“Working at the Fair Housing Center, it became clear that people still didn’t have enough money to repair their homes,” Perry said. “We started finding neighborhoods where they were $50,000 short. They were generally African-American neighborhoods and Latino neighborhoods.”

Throughout the speech, Perry instigated audience participation. At one point, he asked why students thought some people were poor.

Weinberg freshman Betsy Feuerstein said she thought poverty is a self-perpetuating process.

“It depends on the opportunities you start with,” she said. “You don’t have the opportunities, the education, the shelter or food you need to focus on getting out of poverty.”

Perry concluded his speech by explaining why he was running for mayor of New Orleans. The Fair Housing Center was looking for someone to “step-up” and run for mayor, he said.

“After a while, people said, ‘You ought to do it,'” he said. “I realized I had to put my money where my mouth was. We think that we can grow and rebuild a city that is equitable, that is strong and that is key to America’s greatness.”

[email protected]