Progress Made for Gordon Plaza, But Relocation Fight Far From Over

A home in the Agriculture Street area. Photo by Jesse Lu Baum

In the last session of this term, the New Orleans City Council voted on Thursday to earmark $35 million in the capital budget for relocating Gordon Plaza residents. Whether that vote actually means anything, however, remains to be seen.

The saga of Gordon Plaza began in 1969 when the City of New Orleans broke ground on what was then known as the Press Park neighborhood. The area was marketed to New Orleans’ Black community as affordable housing for prospective homeowners, including a rent-to-own program run by the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO). Unfortunately for residents, the neighborhood was built atop the site of the Agriculture Street Landfill. Both Press Park and Gordon Plaza were developed in the area, with only 20 feet of soil separating the newly-painted homes and decades of compacted, toxic trash.

In spite of being declared an extremely contaminated Superfund Site by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1994, residents are still fighting to have their relocation fully funded. In 2018 a group of New Orleans physicians sent a letter to the Cantrell administration urging her to fulfill her campaign promises to relocate the residents of Gordon Plaza.

“As physicians, it is our duty to dig deeper into the root causes of disease, which are nearly always socially mediated. In the case of the families living in Gordon Plaza, the people in power in this city have taken advantage of them for generations. We feel responsible for adding our voices to those of the community members asking for relocation,” said Dr. Virginia Byron, MD, then a resident at Tulane Medical Center.

Though the council’s approval of the $35 million relocation of Gordon Plaza residents is a step forward, that fight isn’t over. The line item was added to the city’s five-year capital budget – which relies on money that the city doesn’t have yet. Several council members – including councilmember Jared Brosset – whose district includes Gordon Plaza – felt the gesture was meaningless. Councilmember Jay Banks called the earmark “kabuki theater.”

“I think that the impression that we’re giving people is that this somehow this is going to make the situation go away,” Banks said. “We need to be very clear and explain to folks that this is not the end.”

After all, although the $35 million has been earmarked in the capital budget, there is no timeline set for the removal of residents. Additionally, Banks and other Council members said Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration remains opposed to the move, in spite of repeatedly stating her administration supports the relocation of Gordon Plaza residents. Instead, administration officials had planned to spend around $2 million to hire an outside firm to assess the land and plan relocation.

Council President Helena Moreno said in a statement that she hopes the earmark will bring everyone to the table to consider the next steps.

“If we wait much longer to take drastic steps – I hate to say it, but – the residents might not be around longer to see justice,” Moreno said.

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