Tuesday, March 27, 2007

This Land is My Land

Well, it was bound to happen. With the devastating blow that was dealt to the citizens of New Orleans from the wrath of Katrina, half of the city fled to seek refuge in other towns as their homes became uninhabitable. Many lay in complete rubble, others might possibly be saved with a lot of hard work and monetary assistance. But the insurance monies, much like the FEMA rescue workers over a year and a half ago, would never arrive. Not before all hope would be lost.

But the spirit and reputation for a love of music and pleasure will always inhabit New Orleans, even if so many of the people who would create and live that vibe had been forced out. There have been immense efforts on the parts of many kind hearted and hard working individuals who have tirelessly toiled to restore the Crescent City and give it back to those it belongs to. Groups like Habitat for Humanity, The Katrina Foundation For Recovery, Inc., and others, along with students choosing to spend their spring breaks rebuilding the city (please see BicycleMark - BicycleMark.org and The Wayward Episcopalian - waywardepiscopalian.blogspot.com).

However, with so much "abandoned" real estate left in unintended disrepair, and the owners having no funds with which to work, vultures have swooped down along the muddy Mississippi salivating at the opportunity to turn others' misfortune into their fortune. These are individuals who could truly make a difference with the riches they've already reaped. They have the ability to help people rebuild and thus help themselves. To restore the city to it's former glory. But that wouldn't guarantee the millions, if not billions, of dollars they stand to profit. Of course, they'll have to clean up those unsightly FEMA trailors, the few that actually made their way from Arkansas and that were only given to homeowners - renters need not apply.

Let the gentrification begin!

The two most prominent individuals playing this game of monopoly are Donald Trump and F. Patrick Quinn. Of course,
The Donald requires no introduction. If one owns a television set it is virtually impossible to avoid the comb-over coiffed magnate pursing his lips and firing some groveling young Trump wanna-be. His latest plans for yet another clever, originally titled Trump Tower to be located in New Orleans, will be the tallest building in the city at the height of 842 feet. The proposed cost of each condominium will be a mere $400,000 apiece for the 299 units There will be another 435 hotel rooms to fetch a steady income.
In a city where a
pre-Katrina two bedroom dwelling ran for roughly $600 a month, that same unit is now over $900. Now, take into consideration that should that tenant's job actually still exist, they are having to repurchase all of their necessities and creature comforts.

One of the many sad things that have come to fruition since Katrina is the onslaught of unethical private contractors. In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, George Bush had attempted to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act, which guarantees a fair wage for workers. After a huge outcry from Democrats and union leaders, that option was taken off of the table. Not to be deterred from getting as big a piece of the pie as possible, many contractors simply hired illegal immigrants to perform the necessary duties. However, when it came payday, many refused to pay the workers, knowing that they would have no recourse.

Enter F. Patrick Quinn.
Those of you who are not from New Orleans may not be familiar with Mr.Quinn. He first caught my attention last August while in my hotel room in the French Quarter (one of the areas barely affected by the flood). I had the local news on and was quite taken by what I thought should have been a much bigger story, meaning it should have reached the national media. Quinn is the owner of a hotel chain by the name of Decatur Hotels. In the wake of Katrina, Quinn acquired visas for 290 South American workers to provide services in his hotels. He promised them good wages with plenty of hours and possible overtime. The visas stipulated that they were not allowed to work for another employer during their stays. But when the guest workers arrived, they discovered that they would be paid only $6 per hour with no guarantee of full time work. They were made to sleep 5 per room and were charged $50 each per week to rent their rooms. Even more problematic was that they were indentured $3,000 to $5,000 in recruitment and other fees.

Now what Mr.Quinn had apparently not taken into consideration was the fact that, having acquired visas, these workers were not in the country illegally. For these individuals, there was recourse and they had decided to pursue it. They banded together and filed a lawsuit which is currently pending.

Perhaps the most interesting part regarding Mr. Quinn is that, not only is he a most prominent businessman, but he is well connected in a number of ways. His wife, is Senator Julie Quinn (R-LA) and his son, James, is the Executive Director of the Republican Party in Louisiana. And yet I've still not heard a word about this outside of Louisiana.

In a frantic effort to own New Orleans, Quinn has been buying up property as hastily as possible. Perhaps he heard the news that he may get Trumped.

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