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The AFL-CIO has pledged $1 billion toward efforts to rebuild New Orleans, which will include implementing a housing plan developed by a team from MIT.
On Wednesday, June 14, in New Orleans, Associate Professor J. Phillip Thompson of MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) joined AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and others in announcing a seven-year Gulf Coast Revitalization Program designed to produce affordable housing, promote homeownership and create good jobs with good wages for New Orleans and other coastal communities ravaged by Hurricane Katrina last year.
Since last fall, Thompson and DUSP graduate students William Bradshaw and Leigh Graham have been working with community groups, churches and labor unions in New Orleans to plan recovery from the floods that followed the hurricane.
In the spring, Thompson, Professor of the Practice Ceasar McDowell and Assistant Professor JoAnn Carmin taught a practicum course during which more than 20 MIT students worked with local groups in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans to create a housing redevelopment plan.
According to Thompson, the AFL-CIO contacted him for help in planning their intervention in New Orleans, and the MIT group invited the labor union to Treme, which led to the union's adoption of the team's housing plan.
"We are now the planning partners for a unique partnership that includes the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust and Building Investment Trust, Providence CDC (a development arm of the New Orleans Archdiocese), Enterprise Community Partners and Tulane's Department of Architecture," Thompson said. "The AFL-CIO's investment in New Orleans will begin in Treme."
While other neighborhoods were under 10 feet of water, Treme was under three. Additionally, the neighborhood was one of the first to regain utilities. "It was a good place to begin," Thompson said.
Several MIT students have been in New Orleans full time for months, said Thompson. "Once the students come here, I have a hard time getting them to leave," he said. "It is a tremendous learning experience."
The needs are extensive, he said. "People returning to New Orleans need housing, schools, hospitals, neighborhood stores and elder-care facilities," he said. "They need testing to check their homes for mold and toxic residues. They need the full range of municipal services, even though the city's budget has been drastically cut."
The MIT approach has been to emphasize the importance of input from residents, as well as agencies and experts, to the rebuilding efforts. The plan "equally emphasizes the critical importance of full participation, especially by poor residents who are a majority in most devastated neighborhoods, in the rebuilding process," Thompson said.
MIT's work is far from complete, Thompson said. Additional goals include training workers in "green construction";ï¿½ï¿½developing successful community-owned and community-oriented small businesses; creating community-centered schools and campus-based neighborhood designs where all residents have walking access to a library; creating quality and attractive mixed-income housing in neighborhoods without displacement of the poor; andï¿½ï¿½forging new financial partnerships between labor pension funds, foundations, churches and community development groups.
"I think MIT has a lot to offer the community," Thompson said. "And there are a lot of needs here."