Thursday, December 27, 2007

Dysfunction Junction

I got my tax bill just before Christmas.
Great timing!

Even the IRS knows how to avoid that.

A Little Background.

In 2006 we didn't get our tax bill or our homestead exemption for 2007. There was this thing going on back then, you might have heard about. In any event we eventually paid our 2006 taxes, changed our mailing address and filed our 2007 Homestead Exemption. It was never applied to our 2007 tax bill, we never even got a tax bill. Eventually we got around to trying to straighten it out.

I've written about our problems with the 2008 tax assessment and during that we decided to try tackle the 2007 bill. We refiled the Homestead Exemption, changed the mailing address again and filed an affidavit that we were planning on returning to our house. We were told it would be corrected on the next tax bill.

This Time Around.

When got our 2008 tax bill, it was still wrong. It hasn't been right since 2005. It still does not show our Homestead Exemption for either 2007 or 2008 and the 2007 tax has not been corrected.

So, back I go to City Hall. On the Fourth Floor. I waited in line for the obligatory hour to talk to one of the people in our Assessor, Erroll Williams' Office, while other citizens simply walked in and talked to their assessors staff, no waiting. The Assessor's staff lady said they had the Homestead Exemption, she even showed me a computer screen. Her story was that they had done their part, it was up to the City Finance Department to correct the tax bill.

Down to the City Finance Department, Tax Research Section. The lady there looked in the computer and told me they had no record of the Homestead Exemption and they they can't add a Homestead Exemption, the Assessor has to issue a "Change Order". She asked if the Assessor had given me anything. Being a dummy and dulled by standing around in a crowded hallway for an hour I didn't ask for a printout.

According to Finance, the screen I saw was an internal Assessor screen, which shows a Homestead Exemption, but doesn't reflect the information actually given the Finance Department. Both offices agreed it might take 4 -6 months to transmit than one piece of information down two floors of City Hall.

I asked if there was any way they could calculate the tax owed so I could make a partial payment and hopefully in the fullness of time the appropriate correction will be made and the balance zero out. Unfortunately the only lady in the Tax Research Section who can do that is on vacation until next Thursday.

The Assessor and the Finance Department also both maintain web sites where you are supposed to be able to look up you assessment and you tax bill. Unfortunately both sites are apparently disconnected from the actual information in the official records, since they don't agree and have different information. I'm not sure what the update process is but there seem to be four separate, unconnected and unsynchronized versions of My Property Tax. Seems to me in an efficient system the information would be automatically shared and updated. In an ideal system the information would be stored in exactly one place and every office would have access to it.

I briefly thought about paying the tax or at least my guess at the right amount but immediately thought better of it. One conclusion all of my fellow citizens waiting for the Assessor agreed on was that once the city gets your money, you'll never see it again.

Defeated by the system I decided to regroup.

The Next Time.

I will return after New Years from a little sun, I'll go back to City Hall again and try to get the Assessors office to give me some documentation. I'll go back to the Finance department and see if the magic calculation lady is there, so I can pay the right amount of tax.

Unfortunately I still have an appeal before the Louisiana Tax Commission to look forward to, which could change everything. There is now a toll free number for Orleans Parish Appeals, 1.866.663.4754. I am told a letter will be mailed to all parties before the end of the year and hearings will start on February 8, 2008.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

What if we built a Project ...

... and nobody came?

Or A brief History of Public Housing, from My Perspective.

In the Beginning.

Public Housing didn't really start until the New Deal and was at least partly to provide work for out of work Architects, Engineers and construction tradesmen.

Here is a pretty good overview of the social policy aspects of New Deal housing.

Like most things in our society, the idea had many constituents for many reasons.

Some people saw public housing a better replacement for the substandard tenements in big cities. A wholesome place for low income workers to live.

Some people expected that as those families worked and raised their children that, true to the American ideal, the family or at least the children would move up and on to better lives.

Sometimes things are said for the benefit of one constituency, which aren't exactly false, but not exactly true either.

I don't think anyone back then expected Public Housing to become a separate society or that generations of families would live there.

The Second Wave

In the Fifties the government, flush with income from "temporary" war taxes, looked around and started a number of major programs like the Interstate Highway System and Urban renewal, (called Slum Clearance in earlier, less rhetorically evolved times). One of the major components of these programs were new Housing Projects, often built to new and largely untested theories of design.

The social impact of these developments was not well understood, nor was the impact of changes in our society brought about by WWII and continuing after the war. It soon became apparent that all was not well. New housing models were desperately needed for what came to be called the "Urban Crisis".

Later Developments

Scattered Site.

Scattered Site housing started in the mid sixties as an alternate to the concentration of the poor, vulnerable and dysfunctional in traditional projects, which was becoming apparent by then. As far as I can tell they continued into the 70's, and probably into the 80's. I think Johnson's War on Poverty was his idea of carrying the social ideas of the New Deal farther

The idea was that by integrating public housing into healthy neighborhoods the stigma of public housing/assistance could be reduced and the neighborhoods would be able to better absorb and deal with the dysfunctional elements.

It turned out Housing Authorities were not good neighbors plus they suffered from institutional issues dealing with their tenants. There were a lot of problems with maintaining the units.

Sections 8.

In the 70's the effort shifted to Section 8 projects where landlords essentially built projects and collected rent from HUD. The problem here is that tenants have few options and are still trapped. The landlords interest is to minimize the cost of operation in stead of maintenance, so there is an adversarial relationship between tenants, landlord and the Housing Authority. This was largely a reaction to the bureaucratic inertia and high cost of the established housing agencies. Really it was just privatizing the projects. I always though it ironic or prophetic that the military slang for a mental discharge was Section 8.


In the mid 90's voucher programs began. They are still rent support, but are more directly connected to the tenants. There is still a problem in that HUD has a lot of qualifications for the landlords and many landlords are leery of getting involved. Too many subsidized tenants can lead to problems and there is little social support for the tenants. I'm not too familiar with these programs, although I favor a rent subsidy which had fewer landlord qualifications and attached more responsibility to tenants to find their own housing, essentially "mainstreaming" them.

Mixed Income Developments

This lead in turn to Mixed Income Developments were, for a variety of incentives, commercial developers agree to include a certain number of subsidized tenants in the development. The hope is that with market rate subsidies and a limited but guaranteed number of potentially problematic tenants, landlords will have an incentive to maintain their property in order to attract the market rate tenants needed for their projects to financially successful.

If you read my posts around the blogosphere, some of this will seem familiar. It's also from memory so it might not be right.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas Observation

I have noticed that many of the volunteers who have come here to help in our time of need are Christians organized by their churches, acting on their belief in their responsibility to help anyone in need. The church I was raised in emphasized the responsibility to help other people as a part of a Christian life.

Many of my fellow bloggers have written about their personal Christmas thoughts. Quite a number have expressed their lack of belief. Some have thanked other governments who have given help.

I'd like to thank all of the Christians who have given of their time and money to help us in our time of need. I wish everyone,

A Very Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Housing Policy - Redux

I'm stunned, over the last couple of weeks the most visible issue is Housing Policy. I've been writing about this for almost a year.

Here We Go Again.

[Re]Building Communities

Housing the Poor

The Public Housing Problem

None of these posts garnered much reaction, virtually none from the "activists". Mostly the comments were from people I know. I realize I'm not significant in the debate, except for my vote. But I wonder why the issue only came to a boil recently.

I'm not alone in this. I wonder why?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Spirit of New Years Past,
Spirit of New Years Yet to Come.

For years we have taken a vacation after Christmas. Partly because it's a good time for us to get away and partly because our anniversary falls between Christmas and New Years. We have spent New Years Eve in many interesting places.
  • South Beach (more than once, including 1999)
  • Hollywood, Florida
  • Key West (last year)
  • Charleston, South Carolina
  • Pensacola Beach, Florida
  • Clearwater FL.
  • Puerto Rico
  • Belize City
  • San Jose, Costa Rica
  • Montego Bay, Jamaica
You may be able to detect a bias toward warm sandy places.

This year we are taking a beginning of the year trip but we aren't leaving until New Years Day. We will add another impressive location to our list, New Orleans.

It occurred to me that after living in New Orleans for many years (actually most of my life) we haven't spent a festive New Years Eve in our home city. Every year we stayed here has been either a small group of friends or a quiet evening at home watching fireworks across the rooftops, sipping champagne.

This year I plan to change that.

We are actively soliciting New Years Eve suggestions from anyone who wants to contribute. The only caveat is we must make a noon flight on New Years Day.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Toxic Trailer Political Theater

FEMA's at it again.

We might get tested. Since we're certified I'm sure we'll need meet somebody in a space suit soon.

As a sometime CSPAN junky, usually late at night because She won't let me watch it. She prefers Channel 15, which She sometimes watches for 2 hours straight.

A while ago I surfed across the FEMA Toxic Trailer Hearings late at night . It struck me a very odd. Most of us have known for about 18 months that some people are sensitive to the off gassing of chemicals inside FEMA Trailers. I got an email from paT armsTrong in August of 2006 regarding an MSNBC report. By that time I had been in my trailer about 9 months. There had been other reports before that one.

We have all generally attributed it to Formalgehyde, which is used in the manufacture of virtually every component inside a Travel Trailer. Studies in automobiles and building have shown the familiar smell of new cars or buildings is actually a complex mix of things which dissipates quickly with use. Whether there are other substances mixed in there seems to be of little concern to anyone.

While I don't think FEMA has done much right, some Representatives were pressing FEMA to virtually guarantee that in future there will be no Formalgehyde in FEMA trailers, not an acceptable level, but none. None of them seemed to understand that with time the problem will simply go away. On the other hand no one seems to understand that in some cases these very same Representatives were critical of FEMA's tardiness in delivering trailers in the first place.
That points out a logistical problem. Pretty much everyone agrees that the number of people made homeless by Katrina exceeded anyone's expectation and was not planned for. FEMA did try to respond, they bought every available Travel Trailer in dealer inventories and ordered the accellerated construction of many many new ones. This is probably where some of the problem originated. Now they're being crucified for doing what they were told to do. I can only imagine the uproar if FEMA has said back then "We can't deliver Travel Trailers because they smell bad".Normally as a Travel Trailer moves from construction to use there is a considerable time lag. The materials are produced, shipped to the manufacturing plant and incorporated into the trailer at a fairly leisurely pace. The stuff probably sits around for several weeks at each stage during the process. Once the Travel Trailers are produced they are sent to dealers and often sit around dealer lots for months, open for inspection. The final owner may take possession of a Travel Trailer weeks or even months before it is actually used, and then it's probably used for only a short time. All of this allows time for the materials to off gas and reduces the amount of material in that air.

FEMA greatly compressed the normal time frame. Massive orders caused manufacturing and delivering Travel Trailers far more quickly than normally would be the case. They also put them into service much more quickly that would normally happen, in circumstances they were not used as they typically would be. Travel Trailer residents were exposed to whatever fumes there were over a longer period that anyone in the industry would expect. I have estimated that we have used our trailer the equivalent of more than 10 years of frequent recreational use. In our case when we first got the Travel Trailer the smell was very noticeable. We both commented on it, at times it was enough to cause irritation including watery eyes.

Since we knew something about off gassing, we did what FEMA eventually recommended, (not that FEMA actually recommended anything to us). We opened the windows. Initially it was autumn and the weather was mild. I closed the trailer up when I wasn't there for security, but I left the roof vents open . Whenever I was there I opened the windows and let the outside air in, even at night while I slept. In a few weeks the odor subsided. First to a level I could only detect when I entered the trailer after it was closed up. A little later to a level undetectable by my nose. By now I'm pretty sure it would be difficult to measure a significant difference between the interior of the trailer and the exterior. I guess we'll see, if FEMA shares the results with us.

Since that hearing FEMA has placed sales and donations of trailers on hold. They are developing a standard for safe exposure to Formalgehyde. That should take five or six years. In the meantime FEMA won't be able to purchase or deploy travel trailers. They will probably ultimately destroy the ones they purchased for Katrina and Rita. What a waste of money, energy and land fill.

An interesting factoid came out during the hearing. Something like 8,000 people are interested in purchasing their Travel Trailers, of course FEMA asked everyone if they were interested without quoting a price. I'm one of them. I've seen former FEMA Travel Trailers rolling down the highway during a recent road trips. Someone should find a use for these trailers. Another observation is that Travel Trailer's are the only temporary solution for people who are rebuilding their homes to stay on their property and watch over it.

The real tragedy is that next time there is a serious disaster there will be no easily deployed temporary housing for the people who lost their homes. There is no stockpile of Katrina Cottages to use next time. They don't fit everywhere anyway. FEMA is supposed to be investigatin ing alternatives to Travel Trailers. The current alternative is to use mobile homes, but I doubt anyone has tested them for Formalgehyde either. I pretty sure next time there is a need for a significant number of temporary housing units, some people will criticize FEMA again for sloth and others for wasteful spending on custom designed temporary housing.

Throughout this whole episode FEMA has failed to take, what seems to me, to be the most obvious step. Test every single Travel Trailer and let the occupants and prospective purchasers know the truth, the whole truth, warts and all. Looks like the finally might start.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Other Housing Crisis

Road Home Sell Outs

One of the options for the Road Home is to sell the State your house for 60% of the pre-K value, although if my appraisal from them is any indication it will be more like 40% of the real pre-K value. I've long wondered what would happen to those houses.

Recently the LRA said they expect to have 7,000 properties in New Orleans. Many of those will simply be bulldozed because they are too far gone. Most people with repairable houses seem to have been able to get more quicker from speculators or flippers. One factor may have been that Road Home was putting a floor on the market. That floor might collapse as Road Home winds down.

LRA has accepted New Orleans' Plan for those properties. Under the plan New Orleans
... expects its New Orleans Redevelopment Authority to receive 7,000 Road Home properties in the next year. The city's plan calls for the properties to be sold to developers or cleared for parks and community gardens in the next 10 years
I haven't been able to discern exactly how NORA is going to go about this. In the past they have offered blighted properties for redevelopment, but that process was slow, expensive, complex and convoluted. The results were frequently disappointing. The NORA Submission to the LRA has four methods of distribution identified.
  1. Lot Next Door program and transfers to individuals
  2. Transfers to for-profits and non-profits for development as residential property
  3. Utilization of properties as sites for community gardens, urban agriculture and pocket parks
  4. Selected use of properties for other uses expounded in neighborhood plans, such as community health centers, smallgrocers, and expansion of school and other facilities.
Blighted Properties

According their plan NORA also expects to get about 7,000 additional blighted properties. The city recently auctioned almost 2,000 tax delinquent properties and is expected to get more early next year. The sale was accomplished online and was apparently a great success. Hopefully NORA will employ a similar open process. I'd suggest getting eBay to do it.


In addition Real Estate industry spokesmen expect as many as 20.000 foreclosures in New Orleans. That's a lot of houses to be disposed of and I don't see any lending institution wanting any part of the flooded ones with with repairs, maintenance and remediation costs, plus potential liability for concealed damage and mold, among other things. Most of these may eventually end up with the Feds, and from there go to NORA, but that is was pure speculation. NORA is already negotiating for FHA foreclosures.


Included in the Lot Next Door is a suggestion that NORA might engage in land swaps to improve clustering. That seems reasonable, but potentially subject to favoritism.

The Lot Next Door.

The Lot Next Door programs seems exclusively directed to Homeowners. It would allow Homeowners to acquire adjacent property on preferential terms. I see no reason it shouldn't, under a somewhat different conditions, also be directed toward landlords. It seems to me many rental properties could benefit from additional adjacent land for amenities and/or off street parking, which would enhance the value of the existing properties.

Where are the Families?

In reading the proposal I see no mention of individual families being given any direct assistance as new home owners. Only for-profit and non-profit developers are mentioned. That is a serious omission. I can imagine an opportunity for young families committed to New Orleans to invest sweat equity in a new or upgraded home. Most of us know people who using their own resources have completed restoration largely on their own. I can imagine community resources being used to assist people with skills training and other assistance.

Urban Homesteading.

I'd like to see an Urban homesteading program where infill properties in developing areas would be offered to potential home owners on favorable terms, in return for a covenant that the family complete renovations in a reasonable time and reside in the home for a reasonable time. Something similar to the Road Home covenants. Perhaps banks could be lined up to provide bridge financing for the renovations and guarantee a mortgage on completion for qualified families. Perhaps certain necessary professions could be offered even more favorable terms like teachers, police, firefighters and nurses. Perhaps military veterans, National Guard members, musicians or others might be attractive targets.

I understand that a modest 1200 sq. ft. Gentilly Bungalow can be rehabilitated for around $70,000, using "builder" quality materials and labor. With sweat equity this could probably be cut in half. Many people have now lived in FEMA trailers for two years now. I wonder if some kind of temporary on-site housing could be arranged for homesteaders while repairs are underway, possibly re-purposing existing surplus FEMA housing.

The Impact.

If these figures are correct, and I don't think any of them are really reliable, there may be as many as 35,000 houses that will be transfered to NORA. That's almost 10 times the number of public housing units being torn down.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Here We Go Again; Another one from the vault.

G-Bitch posted this A Quote and Not-So-Random Ranting. She deftly points out a major problem with Public Housing in New Orleans. U.S. District Judge Peter Beer said,
"The central tragedy here is that their callous and indifferent 'leadership' was not unlike that which stalked our city generally after Hurricane Katrina," Beer wrote. "That same, self-serving, uncaring, 'pass the buck' bureaucratic swampland followed the examples set by city, state and federal officials."
He also pointed to inside dealing for the benefit of the few.
Beer issued a two-page opinion that blasted River Garden, saying that for more than a year after Katrina it leased units meant for St. Thomas residents to HANO management employees at rates designed only for low- or no-income occupants.
I've publicly advocated housing vouchers or subsidies paid directly to the tenants. All current programs I'm aware of involve paying either private landlords or public agencies to accept poor people. In these programs there is no incentive to provide service to the tenants. The road to higher profits is through lower costs, not more tenants.

Based on a very simple analysis it cost HANO $850 per month per unit for each unit authorized in 2004, and many authorized units were not occupied. The cost per occupied unit could not be easily determined. Since Public funding differs from private funding the costs could be either significantly more or less depending on how the cost of capital is calculated.

If subsidized tenants were given a market rate voucher, they would have an incentive to find the best hosing available. Landlords would have an incentive to compete with quality housing since the tenants could move if they elected to. The city would benefit by integrating communities.

There is a side benefit that many current housing programs concentrate not only the poor but the defenseless and poorly socialized into a few designated areas. This concentrates the most vulnerable together with the least socialized families most likely to create asocial individuals. It also segregates these people from from healthy families and communities, which some may see as a benefit.

The final and primary reason for market rate vouchers is that, if they had been authorized two and a half years ago, landlords and flippers would have used that to obtain private financing for renovations and repairs. There would have been an identifiable, profitable market for new units.

Instead we now have people sitting on the sidelines waiting for Blakeley to bestow the benefits of his largess.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

[Re]Building Communities

Re-Planning the St. Bernard Project

This is an old post resurrected from the crypt. Some of threads may have been lost. I apologize and ask for understanding. I thought it appropriate in the context of the current housing discussion to revisit some of these thoughts.

Puddinhead posed this query in response to one of my previous comments over at Maitri's incorporated into this post;

... I don’t know which side of the Great New Urbanism Divide you come down on as an architect, but much of what you’ve said in your last comment here mirrors what Andres Duany said about the St. Bernard Development at the Gentilly Charette. He, too, pointed to the inherent problems created when everything outside your actual doorway is “public space”. With such a situation residents have much less control over who is right outside their apartment, and hence what is going on there. As he said, when you have a yard outside your door that is at least nominally “yours” (if you’re living in a rental, for example, you still have a sort of “territorial claim” over the landlord’s property when it comes to uninvited interlopers) you become more protective of your home and can demand that loiterers be removed from areas that currently they at least theoretically have a “right” to be in.

Duany’s team’s plan for the St. Bernard did not envision demolition of the entire project; his opinion was that the central core of buildings, which were the earliest phase of the development, were structurally sound even if some of the later “add ons” like porch roofing and such weren’t particularly architecturally pleasing. These buildings would be saved and reworked where possible such that individual residences could be entered from the outside rather than from common hallways and lobbies; each residence would have a fenced yard area outside their doorway. The street grid would be cut back through the parcel of land where it has been truncated, putting access to public thoroughfares (and the rest of the world) right outside each building and knitting the development back into the surrounding neighborhoods. The remainder of the project (that surrounding the oldest central core, which was built later and according to Duany was less-desirable due to both design and materials) would be razed and replaced with just the type of development you’re speaking of–perhaps some type of townhome style housing for mostly the elderly nearest the renovated buildings, with a blend going outward toward the surrounding neighborhood of “affordable” housing mixed in with market-rate housing.

I think Duany is a talented Designer. I take issue with his work being called Planning which, at least in my education, operated at a higher level of abstraction and allowed for many different physical outcomes. It is Urban Design which deals largely with the economic forces operating within the Urban Environment. At most it is Urban Design Duany practices, not planning. As for any planning divide, I favor what works and can be accomplished. Unbuilt plans aren't helping anyone. "New Urbanism" is, in my opinion, basically a life style choice like "Gated Community", "Golf Community", "Lofts" or "High Rise Condominium".

Mark Folse published a piece where he said that in project management you needed to "get ugly early". The Neighborhood Planning Process completely failed to follow that advice, and ignored the hard issues with predictable results. Including, I think, the continuation of our current administration.

Virtually everything Duany said about St. Bernard was said long ago by Oscar Newman and others about other projects. It could work and perhaps should be tried. The one thing we shouldn't try is reconstituting HANO.

Newman actually renovated a number of housing projects and brought about some remarkable changes based on Architecture and listening to residents. How much was the result of physical changes and how much the result of a process which built community has been the subject of some speculation. It would be interesting to revisit those projects today, thirty years later and see how they held up.

Mark Folse over at Wetbank Guide weighed in and took issue with some of my comments; (edited for length)
... demolishing much of the existing public housing infrastructure is a bad idea. As far as physical structures go, there is no upside to demolishing most of the half-century old brick construction buildings to replace them with "stick-built" modern housing that can't be insured.

While the building are older and will need remediation and renovation, and may harbor asbestos or lead paint that will need to go, the problems with "the bricks" . Some local advocates for preservation agree. In a long article in Gambit Weekly:

Longtime local urban planner Bob Tannen says that the Lafitte is worth saving for several reasons: the buildings were nicely designed, modeled after the much-prized Pontalba apartments that line Jackson Square, and they were built using excellent materials -- good bricks and tile roofs.

[Lafitte project neighbor Shirley] Simmons remembers her relatives, legendary Seventh Ward craftsmen, coming home and talking about their work on the bricks hat day. "So I know that Lafitte was built by the very best roofers, cement finishers, and carpenters," she says.

The buildings are attractive. The garden layout ought to be not a hidden drug market but a haven for children and other residents just as the lanes and parkways of Lake Vista were for its upscale residents.
I don't think we disagree here. If the buildings can be saved they should be. The social reality is the nature of the community that inhabits these 'public spaces'. The real issue is what use do you put them to?

Mark Folse Continues.
Lake Vista was designed to be a working-class community, with narrow lots designed for affordable homes. You can still find modest "Levee Board houses" there what would not look out of place anywhere in Gentilly Good intentions gone, well, somewhere.
While what you state was the New Deal idea of Lake Vista, which was probably never realistic and something of a smoke screen, the war intervened and the actualization was quite different, even in the initial stages.

Mark then veers off into social policy;
One thing was clear from all the discussions I facilitated as part of the Housing Committee of the Mid-City Neighborhood Recovery Meeting: All assisted housing should be for people who are coming home to work for the rebirth of New Orleans. If you're not retired or on disability, don't come home and look for housing assistance. Sorry, but there isn't enough to go around, and we need housing for people who are ready to contribute.

I would take it a step further: If you're retired or on disability, I think some sort of community service compatible with your age or disability is a reasonable expectation. We have always had a city full of kids being raised by grandma and not enough formal childcare to go around. I don't see why every development couldn't have resident-staffed child care relying in large part on retirees.

If you're living in assisted housing and can't find a job, the city should find one for you at minimum wage plus your apartment. There are parks and streets and so much more that weren't much to look at before the storm, and are worse off now. I don't see why public housing can't be leveraged as part of a Works Progress Administration-style rebuilding effort. (For the kiddies, the WPA was a Great Depression era federal program of public works. Look closely at those curvaceous bridges in City Park and you'll notice signage that they were largely WPA projects).
This part of Mark's proposal is in stark contrast to the intention of the housing activists who organized the demonstrations and "occupation" of the St. Bernard Project. They seek nothing less than an unconditional Palestinian style "Right of Return". These are the same kinds of groups who oppose eviction of "bad actors" as "inhumane".
How are we going to rehabilitate these buildings when the federal government wants to get out of the clustered public housing business? First, we need to examine the heady rush into distributed, mixed-income development. It's a wonderful idea, but how well has it worked. Instead of trying to lure yuppies into former projects, we need to look at how to grow a more prosperous middle class out of the people who live there now. Perhaps we should hire the residents to remediate their own apartments and rehabilitate their own buildings as a first step, including trades training in the process. These buildings could probably last another half-century, and add to both the housing stock and character of the city if properly rebuilt.

We should also provide housing free or cheep to NOPD officers, firefighters, EMS, etc. These folks will add stability and security to the neighborhoods, and we don't want them living in tin boxes or having to commute from across the lake every day. I don't think this will displace many residents. If you've followed the Katrina story as closely as I have, you've heard the tales of people from the bricks who've landed in suburban garden apartments with new furniture and clothes and jobs. The recurring story line is so many of these tales is: these people have landed better off than they were before, and they're not coming back.

Finally, we need to have some rules, people. Go to work or go to school , or find someplace else to live: no exceptions. No drugs or guns: no exceptions. No stayin' by grandmas unless you meet the first two and don't exceed the leased number of residents: no exceptions. If you are going to stay in assisted housing, own the place: require residents to perform community service to keep the grounds up, etc.: no exceptions. Those of us lucky enough to make the rent or the note on our own all live with these rules. We should expect people who are getting a hand up to do the same, and to contribute something extra (as we do in taxes to pay for it) toward making the system work.

Some people are going to hate these ideas, but I don't much care. Anyone who claims to advocate for public housing and doesn't advocate to keep out idlers and thugs isn't much of an advocate for the residents. I'm not ready to give up the idea that this catastrophe presents the opportunity to do things right, and how to handle these buildings is the next, best opportunity to get the recovery right.

If if you don't like those ideas then don't move to a disaster area, which sadly we remain over 500 days after the Federal Flood.
I have no doubt that many of the people who have been displaced from New Orleans have found themselves better off elsewhere. I know of several people, not from the projects, who feel that way. One is a long time employee of mine who asked to stay in Atlanta after relocating there after the flood. I know several others.

As a minor point "clustered public housing" is not what St. Bernard and the other projects are. generally "clustered housing" is used to describe smaller scale distributed public housing developments. It was the pre-cursor of "mixed income", which seeks to use private money and other incentives to provide "affordable housing" with limited public investment.

Citizen proposals seem to me to have the split personality of first not allowing people who don't work and also not displacing any of the current residents.

Many of the former residents were either retired or unable to work. Much of the crime problem came from teenage children or grandchildren of residents, who should be going to school and under most proposals would still be allowed to live in public housing.

You can't have both ways I think. The two populations are largely incompatible.

I don't think the residency rule for Fire and Police is ultimately enforceable in the current economic environment. If you offer free or very low cost housing to Police and Fire Fighters, it will ultimately facilitate non-resident occupants. I understand that many long time Police and Firefighters used to maintain an official residence and a second residence where their family actually lived. With free or low cost housing the situation will continue.

Redeveloping any existing buildings is a worthy idea, as long as you somehow get a population with enough stable families to be strong enough to form a community able to sustain and defend itself.

There is little difference in the basic quality of construction between Pruitt-Igoe and the high rise condo towers along Lakeshore Drive in Chicago. The difference was in the occupants, some amenities and administration. There is also the ability for residents to move if they don't like it. Mobility is one attribute public housing residents lack.

Housing policy is serious business and needs to be discussed in the context of the effect of the housing on people, however it got that way.

Alexander von Hoffman of Harvard wrote a paper on public housing I especially thought this part was on target.
"The fundamental dilemma facing public housing was the changing character of its tenants. ... After the war, the clientèle became lower-class rural migrants ... many of whom had little experience with the city and its institutions. ... To make matters worse, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the federal public housing agency insisted that local authorities enforce income limits, expelling many stable and upwardly mobile tenants ...

"warehouse the poor" seems an apt paraphrase of "limit[ing] the program to low-income people", something included in the 1949 housing bill.

It seems that the paper in general supports the idea of mixed income developments, something advocated by every current proposal.

There has also always been a paternalistic bent in social programs designed to help the poor, often to keep them from misusing the assistance. You can see this in almost every assistance program ever conceived. The paper also mentions that "social work" receded. I think people should be "empowered" to make their own choices.

In New Orleans (and other places) we also have the history of a failed Housing Agency which mismanaged the resources it was allocated and created a grossly ineffective and expensive drain on other city resources. Public administration of housing has failed miserably here and pretty much everywhere. The repeated attempts to fix HANO all failed. It is an intractable problem and there is no known way to fix it.

HANO was as big a disaster as the New Orleans Public schools. They were corrupt, wasteful and inefficient. They were so bad that even HUD realized it an took them over some years ago.

I think the thing that finally broke them was a deadly fire.
Washington Monthly, Jan, 1989 by Katherine Boo

On January 14, 1988, Johnnie Smith, his wife, and four children burned to death in a fire at the Desire housing project in New Orleans. Just two weeks earlier, the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) had forfeited $106,000 of a federal grant to install smoke detectors in the high-rise building. Although the money had been awarded a year earlier and there were smoke detectors gathering dust in a downtown warebouse, HANO had failed to find anyone in or out of the authority qualited to screw them in.

When HANO was questioned about the failure by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, then director Jesse Smallwood explained, "I don't want to belabor that we could've or should've. . . . I don't feel anyone should be blamed."
In reading about crime I ran across a quote from former Chief Pennington. He said when he came here there were 425 murders and 180 occurred in the Projects. That was at a time that was only about 6,000 hosing units out of approximately 200,000 units in the city. That is an indication of the kind of problems get when you concentrate the most dysfunctional families together with the most vulnerable.

We need to do something different and better. If we want housing for displaced low income residents provide a housing voucher for them at market rates. In a few months developers will be trying to move people back into newly renovated apartments. If we had done that two years ago I have no doubt that there would be housing available now. If we wait for HANO or the spawn of HANO to do it will take years.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Housing the Poor

I could write an incendiary post about ghettos and compare them to voluntary concentration camps. I could mention the superficial resemblance to Theresienstadt.

But I also wonder how many public housing residents actually want to return to the old projects? I don't think anybody knows.

HANO says they have hundreds of apartments available with few takers. I've never heard anyone dispute that. The only objection seems to be that some residents feel they have a right to pick any unit they want to, usually the same one they had before.

It seems the housing activists are agitating for a Palestinian like "Right of Return". Even in their language they speak as if Public Housing residents owned these buildings. That in itself is disturbing. C. B. Forgotston has some thoughts on that concept.

Many people in New Orleans have lost their homes, many of those homes were the homes they grew up in. On my block, for example, 4 families are moving, 2 houses have been torn down and 4 houses are under repair. It's a microcosm of the rest of the city. A block away there is an apartment complex sitting vacant and with no repair in sight. Around the corner are 3 unrepaired 4plexes, with some recent repair activity. Where did those people go? Public Housing residents aren't alone. Why should they be treated differently?

People have a right to housing, but they don't have a right to any specific house.

I wish the activists would put a little effort into helping the displaced residents move back to the housing HANO has available, or helping them qualify for housing vouchers for market rate housing, or helping them find housing, or counseling them about loss or more importantly helping them adjust to the new conditions in New Orleans. We all need that last one.

Instead some of these activists seem to be in a sort of Revolution Revival Reverie. Observing the forms of the "revolution" without much substance. They seem to resort to slogans and heated rhetoric from a sixties newsreel automatically. Lots of slogans and little justification.

As a sixties survivor, most of that "revolution", except for the Vietnam stuff, now looks to me like little more than a college prank. It was an imitation of the real revolution, the Civil Rights movement, which preceded it. We now seem to be involved in little more than street theater and some meeting room theater, reminiscent of the "Campus Occupations", which were a sort of sixties panty raid.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that these demolitions were coming long before the flood. The flood only hastened them somewhat. Nobody seems to be seriously talking about dealing with the causes and effects of poverty. Nobody seems to be talking about the very real and devastating failures of public housing policy and the hand some of these same activists or their predecessors had in that.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Assessing the Assessors

I was going to try to do some analysis of the appeals from the New Orleans Tax Appeal Web Site, but its shut down. Too soon I think, especially if there was any inkling of the appeal of the appeals.

I found a City Business Article which confirms that,
Most appeals came from the Third and Sixth districts with 2,100 and 1,600, respectively.
also says,
The officers agreed with about 40 percent of the assessed residential appraisals and will recommend the other 60 percent be adjusted, primarily decreased.
City Business also reports the number of appeals reported (6,000) was actually ended up at 5300 and that 3478 properties were adjusted. The assessors filed 1530 appeals or 44% of all assessments that were changed. There may be some discrepancies in these numbers since other reports list the number of appeals differently.

The paper added this summary.

These numbers aren't consistent with other reporting.

Looking at the Sixth District. According to City Business the Sixth District represented 25% of all appeals. According to information from the City Council an astonishing 70% of appeals were granted or about 1120. Ms. Marshall is appealing 20% of those.

Back at home in my district, the Third accounted for 35% of the total appeals 61% were granted, including mine, for an estimated 1250 appeals granted. Mr. Williams is appealing 771 or 60% of the number granted. He filed appropriately half of all the appeals.

However this is a very speculative exercise, and any errors may be compounded. Numbers for different sources don't match.

According to Kerry Miller of Friloux, the City Councils Contractor,
"There's about 160,000 total properties in Orleans, and the Third District is the largest with about 75,000 properties,"
That works out to less than 4% of the people city wide appealed and slightly more than 2% received any relief. In the Third District the number of appeals was less than 3%. The Sixth District with only 17,000 properties had almost 10 % of the assessments appealed.

This whole process was difficult, complex and on a tight time table mandated by statute.
  • Appraisers opened their books for inspection August 1
  • Appraisers closed their books August 15
  • Appeals of the Appraisers assessments had to be filed by August 20.
  • Appeals were heard at the Superdome from September 17, 2007 and October 15, 2007
  • The Council has until Oct. 20 to certify appeals with the Louisiana Tax Commission.
  • Appeals had to be filed with the Tax Commission by November 13.
  • The Tax Commission plans to have all Appeals heard by December 31, according to the RFP.
This time line poses significant challenges to everyone involved. I've been involved in every step of the process and from what I saw the Assessors generally failed to meet the challenges.

The Assessors must have realized that the reassessment would be controversial. They must have realized that many people would be upset. They also should have realized that they would make mistakes and those would need to be addressed.

The difficulty of doing anything in New Orleans post-Katrina/federal flood, has multiplied. Anything to to with Real Estate has gotten exponentially more complex.

Each Assessor seems to have selectively decided on a different way to respond.
  • Nancy Marshall set up a Satellite office at the Latter Library.
  • According to the paper
    Betty Jefferson, and her staff generally have refused to discuss assessments with would-be appellants, instructing them instead to fill out an appeal form and wait to hear from her.
  • Darren G. Mire or his assistant assessor attended most of the appeals for his district.
  • Claude T. Mauberret visited all of the properties.
  • Thomas L. Arnold put this on his web site,
    If you have filed an appeal and not seen one of us, and all you want is your insurance value, please call us and we may be able to accept that and avoid the appeals process for you.
Stacy Head informed her constituents on her web site.
Assessor Mire will take appeals or correction challenges at his office, via e-mail or by phone call to his office.
Assessor Marshall will take appeals or correction challenges at her office, via e-mail or by phone call to her office. Also, she will hold additional office hours on Saturday Aug. 4th and Saturday Aug. 11th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
I do know that the assessors had ample warning and if not then first two weeks of August with the long lines and media attention was surely a wake up call. Yet apparently the assessors did almost nothing to resolve the issues or in most cases to work within the hearing process set up by the City Council. I don't know what went on behind the scenes.

I wonder why the assessors weren't more active in dealing with the taxpayers. The assessors failed to extend their office hours or find alternate places to meet taxpayers (except to some extent for Nancy Marshall ) or even offering water to people waiting in line outside. Something John Georges did for people in Jena.

There is no reason I can think of for the assessors not publicly communicating with the citizens and taxpayers about what could be done to resolve problems. The assessors could have offered to meet with any taxpayer who filed an appeal and try come to an amicable conclusion to be submitted to the hearing officer. The Assessors could have posted additional information on their web site, Some assessors don't even bother to maintain an official web site.

The assessors had from August 20 when the appeals were submitted until November 13, after the hearings were completed and appeals due to the Louisiana Tax Commission to meet with taxpayers and explain the situation or try to reach a settlement. In 85 days that would have required Mr. Williams (the most appealed assessor) and his staff to meet with about 35 people per day.

Let me make this final point. Injustice it where you find it. I found it in my mail box, after two years of trying to get my address changed and several trips to the tone deaf assessors office.

The assessors who issued incorrect assessments in the tens of thousands and refused to meet with us, the voters and tax payers, citing (among other excuses) the need to close City Hall. Assessors who, elected by us, failed to continue to meet with us after the filing date passed to mediate disputes. Assessors who refused to take any affirmative action to discover and correct their own mistakes. All of them contributed to the distrust of the local government in Orleans Parish.

I hear Erroll Williams is planning to run for the single assessor of Orleans Parish in the next election. The rumor is he has brokered a deal to hire all of the former assessors. He can count on my vote for his opponent.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

We're FEMA Certified!

Last week She got a call from FEMA to make an appointment to meet us at our trailer.

She had stuff to do so I hung out to meet FEMA.

The same person that called showed up at our trailer on Saturday, on time.

Today I met my first actual FEMA employee. Not a contractor, an honest to god actual FEMA critter. She didn't have horns or breath fire and she actually spoke and understood English. She is also in the Guard and has been here for almost a year.

It seems we need to be "recertified" every 90 days. We must show FEMA that we have a housing plan and are "diligently" pursuing it. That's the first I ever heard of that. We developed a housing plan on the spot. I swore "I plan to finish my house as soon as I can, providing that the Road Home cooperates"! That apparently qualifies.

I was told we needed a lease and they didn't have one in their file, although the VIN on our trailer matched the one in their records. I signed an agreement saying that I wouldn't destroy their trailer. They thoughtfully gave me a copy.

I also learned a couple of other interesting facts. Apparently FEMA employees are not allowed to either, give citizens copies of their own files or remove documents from FEMA offices. The government is sooo weird. It's also possible I misunderstood.

Finally neither of us remembers being "certified" to begin with. FEMA has a record of someone "recertifying" us in August - 2006, something neither of us can remember. They wanted a lot of other information like our Road Home account number, which I don't carry around with me, and the amounts of the insurance settlements. I guessed, I'm sorry I just don't have a head for figures.

We had a very nice conversation and I hope I can look forward to another visit (or phone call) in 90 days.

Monday, December 03, 2007

It just keeps getting better.

I checked with the Louisiana Tax Commission this morning. They are getting tired of this as well. They weren't as cheerful as they were yesterday and kept asking me why I wanted the information. I don't really blame them, they have work to do. They did tell me there were 1530 total appeals filed for Orleans Parish.They gave me the following breakdown of the appeals by Municipal District.
  • First Municipal District - Darren G. Mire - 188 appeals
  • Second Municipal District - Claude T. Mauberret - 108 appeals
  • Third Municipal District - Erroll G. Williams - 771 appeals
  • Fourth Municipal District - Betty Jefferson - 162 appeals
  • Fifth Municipal District - Thomas L. Arnold - 24 appeals
  • Sixth Municipal District - Nancy J. Marshall - 219 appeals
  • Seventh Municipal District - Henry F. Heaton - 59 appeals

There was a big article in the paper today and they quoted the assessors extensively, in the light most favorable to the assessors. Nancy Marshall is going after the 12 people on Audubon Place, I'm sure thats interesting to the 207 other people she is appealing as well. Claude Mauberret said he looked at every single property, I wish Erroll Williams had done that. He could have seen that every house on my block flooded and that some have been repaired and some haven't, including mine and one of my neighbors. A couple of the appraisers commented that the hearings were too taxpayer friendly and that they couldn't attend every one. Yet the law allows the taxpayer to visit the assessor to discuss their assessment and seek an adjustment. Oyster shares his feeling on our assessors.

The assessors as public servants were unable to accommodate all of the taxpayers during their normal office hours, but were unwilling to make any accommodation to extend those hours or seek alternate methods of talking to their taxpayers. At the end of the period I know that Erroll Williams took all of the people from the third district waiting to see him into the Council Chambers and told people who had been waiting outside in the heat that they had to file and appeal by mail.

I wish someone from the assessors office had come to our appeal. I could have showed then the documentation we had available to show them when she waited in line for hours, only to be denied access to a public official. All we want is an opportunity to correct an obvious mistake. Instead we have had to expend several days of time to gather information, wait in line outside in August. Attend an appeal at the Superdome. We will have to do it all over again.

Perhaps Mr. Williams will see fit to actually visit the properties before the hearings so he can speak knowledgeably about them. I doubt I'll see him, I'll most likely see his attorney. Once again I'll be the only one in the room not getting paid to be there. The only good news is that the appeal are supposed to be complete by Decemeber 31, according to the RFP the Louisiana Tax Commission published for the hearing contractor.

We have had occasion to visit Mr. Williams' office twice recently and in both cases we had to wait an hour to speak to one of the people in the office. I never saw Mr. Williams while I was there. Amazingly every other assessor had no line at all. I actually saw a couple of the other assessors and Betty Jefferson actually came out to the counter to deal with one matter.Most of the matters were routine, usually involving homested exemptions. I wonder why his office is not adequately staffed for the number of citizens seeking assistance. I know the Third District is much larger than the other districts but Mr. Williams seems to have 15 or 20 times as many visitors as the other assessors and no more staff.

I notice that although Mr. Williams filed the bulk of the appeals, he isn't quoted in the paper.

"If (the Board of Review) was within 20 percent of where I was, I left it alone," said 3rd District Assessor Erroll Williams, who filed about 725 appeals. "We're only challenging the ones we think are way out of whack."
Mine was out of "whack" My house was appraised at full value while it is sitting gutted, waiting to be repaired. I wonder what steps, if any of the assessors have taken to see it they might have made and error? None of the are admitting any problems on their end.

The Appeal of the Appeal of the Assessment.

Appeals to the Orleans Parish Board of Review (a.k.a. The City Council) are made to the Louisiana Tax Commission. The Commission's Members are;

  • Jill Giberga - District 1
  • Scott Brupbacher - District 2
  • Kenneth P. Naquin, Jr. - District 3
  • Elizabeth Guglielmo - District 4
  • Richard Young - District 5
Orleans Parish is in District 3 and our representative Kenneth P. Naquin, Jr. is a Deputy Assessor in Orleans Parish.

I spent some quality time on the phone this morning talking to the nice people at the Louisiana Tax Commission.

They advise me that they have received approximately 1400 appeals from Orleans Parish and are still entering them into their computer. They estimate that 700 of these appeals were from the Third District. They hope to have an actual count by the end of the day Monday.

I can't tell if Erroll Williams is appealing every single appeal granted, the website listing the determinations is not longer up. My impression from reading the site was that the majority of appeals were denied. It might be very interesting to see which properties have been appealed, and which haven't been.

The list of appeals from other parishes is as stunning as it is short,
  • Iberville Parish 1 appeal
  • Lincoln Parish 1 appeal
  • St. Charles Parish 1 appeal
  • St. Martin Parish 1 appeal
  • St. Tammany Parish 1 appeal.
That's five appeals total for all parishes other than Orleans, including no appeals for Jefferson, the most populous parish or East Baton Rouge or any of the other high population parish.

Like the Orleans Parish Board of Review (a.k.a. The City Council) the Commission has hired a firm to handle the extraordinary number of appeals. Procedures and timetables are not final but I understand that every taxpayer whose appeal is being appealed will be notified of a hearing and have 10 days to submit information for the record. The taxpayer may appear at the hearing and present evidence and witnesses.

Since each appeal requires a $50.00 filing fee, the Assessors have collectively spent $70,000 of our money, assuming they actually have to pay the fee.

This is so weird. If only anyone had actually gone to look at my house, they could see its condition and avoided all of this.

When is a loss better than a win?

I was very surprised to see LSU jump into Second place in the BCS poll. Of course a lot of it had to do with all of the losses by the teams previously ahead of them. The list of the top 7 teams in the BCS from week 14 (November 25) and their result in week 15.

  1. Missouri - Lost
  2. West Virginia - Lost
  3. Ohio State - Did Not Play
  4. Georgia - Did Not Play
  5. Kansas - Did Not Play
  6. Virginia Tech - Won
  7. LSU- Won
Normally the rankings are mostly affected by loses of the teams above them. Teams who lose fall and teams who don't lose stay the same or move up to replace the teams above them that lose.

The Rankings for LSU were a little odd. It seems that they fell inordinately after a very narrow loss in week 14. LSU was, for example ranked below a team in their own conference that wasn't in the Conference title game. Another team LSU soundly defeated was ranked above them.

Under the normal operation of the rankings I would have expected the Week 15 rankings to be,
  1. Ohio State
  2. Georgia
  3. Kansas
  4. Virginia Tech
  5. LSU
However the "subjective" polls all ranked LSU above Virginia Tech in week 14, although they ranked Georgia above both LSU and Tennesse, the two teams playing for the SEC Championship, something that made little sense to me.

It was obviously the effect of the computer portion of the BCS at work. Those rankings don't seem to take strength of schedule sufficiently into account. The Computers have Ohio State third and Virginia Tech first, with LSU a close second this week.

I think Les Miles had something to do with the change. His mantra was "LSU was undefeated in regulation". I heard him say it several times. It actually seems to have had an effect.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

It's Never Over Till It's Over.

I written about our appeal of the incorrect assessment on our house including the results of Our Appeal Result, Our Property Assessment Problem, Our Appeal, and Our Hearing.

I thought that was all behind us. But it's never over till it's over, especially in New Orleans.
Erroll Williams circa 1981

Saturday we received a notice that Erroll Williams Third District Assessor has appealed our successful appeal. I couldn't believe it. She was spittin' mad. She has a right to be she, stood in line twice to see Mr. Williams and was unable to get into his office because there were so many other people who were upset with his assessments.

I immediately emailed several people who might shed some light on this situation, including Arnie Fielkow and Shelly Midura. Arnie responded almost immediately, had no information to offer but promised to look into it.

Here's what I know;

Our appeal was submitted to Mr. Williams so he knew, or should have known, the basis of our appeal. That is our flooded house has not been repaired so it's not worth what he assessed it for.
  • I know his appeal is dated November 13.
  • I know the cover letter dated November 21.
  • I know She was in his office November 26th.
  • I know I was there the 27th straightening out our homestead exemption, which Mr. Williams failed to process properly for both 2007 and 2008. Nobody mentioned any appeal to either of us, although workers in the office looked at our files both times.
The apparent basis of Mr. Williams objection to our appeal is that the average sale price in my neighborhood is $122 pr square foot. Apparently he never actually visited my flooded, un-repaired house, in spite of the dated photographs we submitted. He also apparently never checked the comparable sales prices for flooded houses in my neighborhood. I presented unconfirmed but publicly available sales prices for flooded houses in my neighborhood, including my next door neighbor to the hearing officer at our appeal hearing.

The Very Model of a Modern Inspector General

Robert Cerasoli the Very Model of a Modern Inspector General.

I haven't met Mr. Cerasoli, although I did go through airport security with him recently.

Pretty much everybody thinks he's a good guy, riding in to clean up the town for the decent people, much like the black and white Westerns I liked to watch on Saturday morning as a kid.

James Stewart as Destry

Unlike Destry, he's a gun slinger willing to whip out a quip to skewer his opponents, or stare down the opposition across a table. He has also managed to get support for the budget he proposed and has demonstrated he won't be intimidated or diverted.

I have a lot of hope for him and I hope he causes some important changes.

I do however wish he gave me more confidence in his understanding of cost accounting.

Last week in his appearance before the City council Cerasoli joked that "he wanted one of those $142,000 jobs", referring to the $2,000,000 budget for 14 employees for the much criticized 311 system. I've never used the system. I can never get anyone at City Hall to answer the phone when I call, so I don't usually call.

It's true $2,000,000 ÷ 14 = $142,857.14285714285714285714285714.

I also know it was a joke.

But many people will believe that those operators actually make $142,000. It's the kind of urban myth that just can't be crushed. The $2,000,000 budget would include, in addition to the salaries, the benefits of those employees, the cost of maintaining the office and the equipment they use for their job. I have no idea what those costs are and apparently neither does Cerisoli or the guy who runs the programs. He, the guy who runs the program showed you at a budget hearing unprepared to talk about numbers.

It's also not particularly helpful for Cerasoli to pick on any program for the sake of a one liner. He's supposed to be looking at these things objectively. I wonder what will happen if he were to look at this program and find that the budget was appropriate and make recommendations to improve it's function? I wonder if people will start doing the same kind of loopy math for all manor of things, including his office?

He should be aware of the costs. He didn't include the cost of health and retirement benefits in his initial budget $2,900,000, 34 person budget. I never understood what "good fairy" he thought would pay for those benefits, but maybe they do things differently in Boston. BY the way his revised budget included 24 employees or a per employee cost of $120,833.33333333333333333333333333.

A lot of people wouldn't mind one of those $120,000.00 jobs.

It also seems he picked a number and created a budget to match it. In this kind of indeterminate job that makes sense. There is a virtually unlimited amount any Inspector General could do. They are usually constrained only by their resources.

He has his work cut out for him. I really do wish him well.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Alice in Garbageland -Updated

I think her favorite book is Alice in Wonderland, she can quote long passages from memory at the drop of a hat, sometimes.
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'

Vanna White

The ever entertaining Vanna Veronica White is quoted in an article in the paper as saying;

Nevertheless, White said, the city has the right to require SDT to provide the full gamut of services even if it cannot pay the full bid amount.

If the money's not there, we have the right to ask for those services if we can pay for them or not," she said. "And we're asking for the services."

If they can do that to SDT, why can't they do it to Richards and Metro?

Later in the article;

Nagin spokesman James Ross said the city "does not conduct business via verbal agreement."

"We have a signed contract with SDT Waste & Debris, which articulates the requirements of both the vendor and the city," he said.

That sounds like a reasonable way to do business. I guess someone should go read the contract. According to the paper,
According to the contracts, bulky waste includes "stoves, yard waste, refrigerators, tires, crates, demolition material, washing machines, rugs, furniture, mattresses, and the like." They also state that payment for bulky waste pickup is included in the cost of regular garbage collection: "No separate payment will be made for these services."
and The Lawyer Stacy Head,
"The contracts do not require that the contents be containerized in any way. I don't know why we, by ordinance, would limit what the contractors have to collect," said Head, who introduced an ordinance Friday for future consideration by the full council that effectively would reverse the new ordinance.
Seems odd that SDT is being asked to do more for less and Richards and Metro are allowed to do less for more.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Les Miles has a point.

The NCAA overtime rules favor some teams.
Currently the NCAA overtime period works like this: both teams get a possession starting from their opponent's 25-yard line. No matter what, each team gets a chance to score. If the score is still tied after the first overtime, the teams swap whichever was on offense and defense in the first period. If the game goes longer than two overtimes, starting in the third period you must attempt a two-point conversion after scoring a touchdown.
The rules favor offense over defense, starting on the 25 yard line negates the defense's ability to have an impact. Special teams performance is also largely eliminated.

I have two simple suggestions, (1) at each overtime period move the starting point back 5 yards and (2) require the team on offense to kick a punt or a field goal at the end of their possession and give the opponent choice of starting points.

I wouldn't object to starting at the 35 yard line in the first overtime.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Turducken Day


Posted from the beach in Pensacola.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Debate on the Debate

New Orleans along with 16 other cities applied to be one of the sites for the 2008 Presidential Debates to be sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. The Commissions selected these cities;
  • Oxford, MS,
  • Nashville, TN
  • Hempstead, NY
The Times Picayune got its panties in a wad over the decision. I don't know why everyone is upset we didn't get picked. New Orleans is too much of an issue and a distraction to be picked. The only place less likely to be picked is Bagdad.

What angers me is that they lied about it. They said we weren't ready. That is clearly a lie. The list of events the city has and will handle before this debate dwarfs the list of similar events in all of the selected cities combined (including Ole Miss home football games and the Grand Ole Opry). That lie may cost the city some much needed business. We should probably sue them for defamation.

It is possible our bid wasn't as good as some other cities, I don't know. I doubt is was much worse.

The real reason is of course politics. I just wish they had been honest and said so. The Paper published a long list of people who said they were in favor of it, including;

Seven presidential candidates -- five Democrats and two Republicans -- had signed letters to the commission expressing a preference that one of the debates be held in New Orleans, and that preference was shared initially by the commission's nine board members and two co-chairmen
... the backing of Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Chris Dodd and Joe Biden and Republican candidates John McCain and Sam Brownback. Brownback, a Republican senator from Kansas, has since dropped out of the race.
I think at least some of the candidates are lying. Of course if any of the major Republican candidates objected strenuously we would be rejected. I notice Giuliani, Thomson and Romney aren't listed as supporters of New Orleans, which may or may not be important. The only candidate I'm sure wanted a debate here is Edwards.

Update - Ashley has some information indirectly from the horses mouth. It seems the other end of the horse locally may not have been all that competent in putting the proposal together. This is a very plausible explanation might have been helpful if publicly stated.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?

The title quote of Joseph Nye Welch to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 9 June 1954 Army-McCarthy Hearings should apply with equal force to Mr. Eddie Jordan.

Mr. Jordan, on the basis of the power of his corrupt patron was appointed U. S. Attorney and there he prosecuted his patron's Democratic rival, largely through the efforts of the professional staff of the Department of Justice.

On the strength of this prosecution and the political organization of his patron he became the District Attorney of Orleans Parish.

At the behest of his patron he unfairly and illegally fired many long time employees of the District Attorney's Office, thereby crippling its operation and subjecting the citizens of Orleans Parish to an unprecedented rise in violent crime.

As the price for his leaving the office he had so poorly and faithlessly executed he extracted a promise of payment from a non-profit foundation founded to "support the operations and capacities of the New Orleans Police Department".

If Eddie Jordan were not still sucking at the public teat, these funds might be available to help the police or pay for the damage done by Mr. Jordan's reckless actions.

The other public officials who stood by and said nothing are almost equally culpable in this disgraceful episode.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I gotta get me one of these.

I saw one of these, a red one, in Kenner.

It is as impressive in real life as in the photographs.

In case you're not into cars, the Ford GT is one of Ford's "Living Legends". They include the new production Mustang and Thunderbird. Based on classic cars the designs include a number of concept cars.

Henry Ford II had wanted a Ford at Le Mans since the early 1960's.

Initially, Ford attempted to buy Ferrari. Eventually Ferrari called the merger off in 1963. There was reputed to be bad blood between the two.

Ford developed their own with some initial help from Lola. The first cars raced as Ford GT's in 1964, without much success. They won for times in a row from 1965 to 1969. In 1971 Ford ended all racing involvement and support.

In 1966 the GT40 MkII finished 1,2,3.

The Ford GT40s also raced in other series, including the 24 hours of Daytona. It won Daytona in 1966.

I guess this shows that guys never outgrow the cars of their teens.

After Ford stopped racing the GT40 has been produced by a number of builders both from the original tools and as replicas or reproductions. Since the original cars were handmade, this was not as difficult as it sounds.

The Ford GT is a re-imagining of the original car based on the original concept. Production was started in 2004 and ended in 2006 after the production of 4038.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

11/11/1918 11:00 AM

Today is Armistice Day, the original name for what we now call Veterans Day. My Grandmother always called it Armistice Day.

The date in the title marked the end of the fighting in what was originally called the Great War and later become known as the First World War.

The war didn't actually end until June 28, 1919 when the Treaty of Versailles was signed.

The red poppy has been the symbol of Veterans Day from the beginning, referring to the famous poem In Flanders’ Fields by Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian.

I remember as a child the day was a solemn day of quiet remembrance. Veterans organizations, sold red poppies on the street and many people decorated the graves of veterans with them.

Today that seems largely forgotten.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Government That Doesn't Work

Thanks to bayoustjohndavid for pointing this out.

In the recent Times Picayune article on the Mayors proposed budget These two paragraphs struck me as uniquely Naginesque,

Maintaining that "city government is not built for speed," Nagin said he will seek to expedite things with the appointment of a public infrastructure program manager to recruit and oversee an army of architects, engineers and contractors.

To monitor the ambitious brick-and-mortar program, Nagin plans to establish a "project delivery unit" inside City Hall. The unit will serve a dual purpose: to help project managers navigate the city's bureaucratic maze and to guard against waste.

In two paragraphs Nagin points out that City government is inefficient at best and unable to manage the program he proposes, so in order to overcome the complex inefficient government we have, he proposes more government, more complexity and more "offices".

If I remember correctly, there is a Capital Projects office within the CAO's office that is currently responsible for administering capital projects, although some projects are administered in other departments. It seems like duplication of an existing function to me.

How about fixing the problem and creating a city government "built for speed". A government with a light touch to guide rather than railroad. A government responsive to the needs of the people and not the needs of the politicians.

I seem to recall Al Gore spent a lot of his time as Vice President reinventing government. He said;
We need governments that are as flexible, as dynamic, as focussed on serving their customers as the best private companies around the world. We need to adopt the very best management techniques from the private sector to create governments that are fully prepared for the Information Age.
We badly need to reinvent government in New Orleans in order to deliver services and information to people trying to rebuild their lives and their futures.

I wouldn't care so much if we were reorganizing and redeploying existing employees, possibly adding some new specialists. I suspect what we'll get is a "professional" program manager with close ties to the usual suspects.