Since the old St. Thomas projects were converted to the mixed-income River Garden development over the last 10 years, it has become harder for poor people to get housing there and harder to keep it once they get in, the activists said. Current residents are harassed by intrusive inspections, and families are broken up by harsh rules governing who can or cannot come into the development, they said.
“It’s better to stand up and fight than lay down and let them kick you out,” said Barbara Jackson, a former president of the St. Thomas neighborhood who no longer lives in the development. “You can’t get in, and when you get in, they want you out.”
More than 50 residents joined the march from the Hope House on St. Andrew Street, around Laurel, Felicity and Annunciation and ending back at the HRI offices. Many carried signs protesting practices they disagree with — saying eviction should be a last resort, not a first step, for example — and they chanted phrases such as “We want respect now!” as they marched. Some said that the problems stem from specific individuals in HRI management, and that the relationship with residents would be improved if HRI followed through on promises to include some neighborhood residents on its staff.
HRI officials say that residents are given due process in both placement in the development and in eviction proceedings, according to a report by nola.com. About 97 percent of the 600 units in the River Gardens are occupied, about a third subsidized and most of the rest at market rate.