Letter

This arrived in the mail yesterday with no return address. View the large version for easier reading.

Letter

Note: I cut the writer’s name off to preserve his/her privacy.

This letter is in response to the most recent article about us in the Times-Picayune. The writer means well, but the discerning reader will not have to strain much to discover a certain subtext. I guess this pretty much stands on its own. I don’t have much to add except…

The teens on our porch are definitely not scaring the neighbors away. I can say this with some confidence because the teens are the neighbors. I mean, they’re from the families who are moving. No one around here is scared of them. They’re just trying to get away from the family for a little bit. You know how teens are.

Good Neighbors

It was good to see a letter from my neighbor on the editorial page of the Times-Picayune this weekend. (Note: The “Good Neighbor Program” started off as a city ordinance that dictated storm damaged homes must to be gutted and secured one year after Katrina. We are now approaching the two-year mark.)

Not such a Good Neighbor
Sunday, June 24, 2007

What is going on with the Good Neighbor program?

As a long-term property owner and investor in Orleans Parish, I am very concerned.

My neighbor’s abandoned property at 3920-3922 Bienville Street has a rodent problem. I have reported this property, and other neglected properties owned by the same person, to the Good Neighbor program on numerous occasions without result.

Prior to the storm the properties were already in bad condition. The owner is a very hands-off type of landlord. The houses were boarded up a few months ago; I do not believe they have been gutted.

The owner says he has no desire to renovate the properties and does not care to sell. Regardless of how hard we try to renovate and move forward, it is extremely difficult when you live next to a biohazard.

Our home is to be our place of retirement and long-term commitment to Orleans Parish and Mid-City.

I would sincerely appreciate the same commitment from my representatives as well.

Christina Sorrels-Guillot
New Orleans

But wait, there’s more! Not one but two letters on this subject.

Why isn’t program enforced?
Sunday, June 24, 2007

It is difficult to express my frustration level with the Good Neighbor program. The New Orleans City Council passes these recovery programs and the city does not enforce them.

The old Avenue Sandwich shop on City Park Avenue burned many months ago. The roof is being held up by a single 2×4. Worse, this is a bus stop used by Delgado students. Many times when I pass there someone is leaning against the board.

Surely someone owns this building, and one would think that the city could apply pressure or simply take the initiative to tear the place down. Do we have to wait for some unsuspecting student to be injured or killed?

Additionally, there are hundreds, if not thousands of homes in the neighborhoods that have not been gutted or closed up. There is no incentive for the neighbors to invest money to fix their own homes, therefore no recovery.

James M. Taylor
New Orleans

And here’s a letter sent today from the Vice-President of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization to a city official.

Ms. Addkison,

As Vice President of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, I attended the Mayor’s Town Hall meeting for our area, along with many of my neighbors, back on March 17, 2007. At the urging of your office, neighbors compiled the attached list of the 14 worst-offending properties in Mid-City with regard to imminent danger of collapse and health hazards. These properties were initially reported to the Good Neighbor Program, many of them in mid-September 2006 following a detailed survey of the neighborhood.

This list was initially sent to Patricia Robinson on March 23, 2007. Our first follow-up email, dated April 16, was prompted by the collapse of one of the properties. The next follow-up email was May 16, while the debris pile from the April collapse still was blocking the sidewalk and part of the street. The most recent follow-up email on June 11, 2007 finally produced a phone message from Mr. Winston Reid. However, on the occasions when I have called the number that Mr. Reid left (915-0092), the recording says that the number cannot receive messages and nobody returns my page.

Many of our concerned Mid-City residents have recently contacted your office, the Mayor’s office, Councilmembers, and the media regarding this ongoing problem with the failure of the Good Neighbor Program. It seems that in most of the responses, there is no clear action on the part of the city.

I am providing you with the chain of emails, on-going for more than 90 days. As a neighborhood that is more than 60% populated, with neighbors daily making a decision whether or not to return and/or to rebuild their homes, these dangerous properties weigh heavily in their decisions.

I ask you on behalf of the residents of Mid-City to provide us with a clear plan and timeline for when these most dangerous properties will be dealt with. Mid-City neighbors stand ready to assist the City in any way possible to address these issues, we only need your leadership to begin.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Weishaupt
Vice President
Mid-City Neighborhood Organization

I applaud my neighbors for doing what they can to bring attention to this issue. Irresponsible property owners and ineffective government conspire to hold us back. But we need to think carefully about what we want the solution to look like. I don’t trust government or business to solve this problem alone. But the community working with government and business might be able to get something done. We need to start exploring other models.

About That Grocery

This is a draft of a letter I’m planning to send to Paul Curcuru of Metairie.

Dear Mr. Curcuru,

I am writing to you because I believe you are the owner of the property at 3126 BIENVILLE, according to the Orleans Parish Assessor’s Office.

To be more precise, I am attempting to contact the owner of the “Cajun V&T” grocery which is located at the corner of Bienville and Lopez. There is no street number on the building. I am including a picture of the building for your reference.

Cajun V&T

This building has not been touched since the flood. It is full of food products and is now overrun by rodents. This site is now an immediate hazard to public health. Children are living in the house next door. I have seen rats run from the grocery to this house. Further aggravating the hazard is the fact that the building has not been secured. Anyone can walk in the front door.

I have discussed this matter with the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization. The organization shares my concerns that this property represents a threat to the safety and well-being of our neighborhood. We intend to pursue all available avenues to the resolution of this problem. I have also apprised my City Council representative, Stacy Head (District B) and others in city government.

If you are indeed the owner of the property in question, I hope this letter is all that is needed to motivate you to take immediate action to clean up and secure the site. If you are not the owner, I apologize for the confusion. In either case, I respectfully request that you contact me as soon as possible and apprise me of the situation.

Any suggestions on how to improve this letter are welcome.

Dear Ms. Head

Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail I just sent to my City Council Representative, Stacy Head, addressing three problems in my neighborhood:

There is a small grocery at the corner of Lopez and Bienville which has not been touched since the storm. It is overrun by large rats and is an immediate threat to public health, with families living next door. I’ve alerted Claudia Riegel of the Termite and Mosquito Control Board, and they’ve set traps in the area, but they can’t go in the building. I believe they alerted the health department. I just wanted to make you aware of the situation which I believe needs to be addressed as quickly as possible.

Garbage and debris continues to be a problem. On the 3100 block of Iberville, for example, residents were piling household garbage on the sidewalk without bagging it. The pile became quite large and of course Waste Management wouldn’t pick it up. Finally the garbage was separated from larger debris and properly bagged. The result is two large piles of garbage which continue to be a nuisance and a health hazard.

Garbage

The garbage is not picked up by WM because it is not in front of a residence but a vacant lot. A resident (Gwen Jones) has called various city officials over the past week and has gotten repeated assurances that the problem will be addressed, but so far, it has not. I called the city myself today; they took the information from me and gave me a tracking number (67900) so we hope this will be dealt with now. I hasten to emphasize that this story is repeated on many of the surrounding side streets. Again, we just wanted to make you aware of the situation. WM’s regular Thursday pickup of household garbage (properly bagged) has improved a great deal over the last few weeks.

Finally, the most difficult problem of all: absentee landlords. Roughly 50% of the properties in my immediate area of Mid-City are standing vacant, most having been gutted but not currently habitable. However, a number of landlords have fixed up their places. Unfortunately most of these rental units have been repaired “off the books,” without permits, without inspections, and as a result are somewhat below the standard of habitability. Nevertheless they are being rented out at double the pre-Katrina rate. Directly across the street from me tenants have been living without electricity for weeks. Around the corner a family is living without gas and therefore without hot water. It seems clear to me that these landlords are taking advantage of a very vulnerable population: mostly these are the working poor, many of them are Spanish-speaking and some may be here illegally. It is not realistic to expect these tenants to take legal action against their landlords. I don’t wish to make the situation worse for my neighbors, but I also don’t wish to live in a slum zone. How can we hold these landlords to a higher standard?

An Unfinished Letter

On August 23rd of last year, one week before Katrina, I started a letter to the CEO of Aetna (my insurer through my employer). I’m preoccupied with other matters now, so I doubt I’ll ever complete this letter, much less send it.

An open letter to Dr. John W. Rowe, Chief Executive Officer of Aetna Inc.

Dear Dr. Rowe,

I got a packet from Aetna yesterday containing four booklets, well over a hundred pages altogether. The cover letter stated this was my “Aetna Summary Benefit Description,” and advised me to “read this document carefully and keep it in a safe place.”

Let me get straight to the point: I don’t have time to read 120 pages just to understand my health care plan. Neither do most people. It’s outrageous to ask people to cope with this much information.

I don’t have time to read this much information, but I thought I’d at least give it a shot. I opened up the first booklet. On the very first page, I saw a paragraph labelled “NOTICE.” The pragraph, in all capitals and bold type, read as follows:

YOUR SHARE OF THE PAYMENT FOR HEALTH CARE SERVICES MAY BE BASED ON THE AGREEMENT BETWEEN YOUR HEALTH PLAN AND YOUR PROVIDER. UNDER CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES, THIS AGREEMENT MAY ALLOW YOUR PROVIDER TO BILL YOU FOR AMOUNTS UP TO THE PROVIDER’S REGULAR BILLED CHARGES.

I didn’t understand what this meant the first time I read it, so I read it again. Then I read it a third time. Still I was perplexed.

But I noted the cover letter also said that if I had any questions, I could call Member Services. So I did. And they had no idea what I was talking about. Turns out they don’t even have a copy of these booklets on hand. Isn’t that something?

And so I write to you to express my frustration and dissatisfaction.

“A Stinking Cesspool”

A letter in today’s Bloomington Herald-Times:

Stop funds to New Orleans

To the editor:

The mayor of New Orleans will have to wait until the 22nd or 23rd century to reconstruct his city. If he expects his constituency to clean up the mess and rebuild their city, it may take a century or two to get the job done.

I have watched the continuous media coverage of the disaster and its aftermath. So-called victims show off their free new apartments and trailers, their new furniture and new possessions. They talk about all the help they have received from all around the country. Some are appreciative of the help, most are not. In none of the interviews, do they talk about their new jobs or their newly established self-sufficiency. Work does not seem to be part of their vocabularies. The politicians in that part of the country seem to think that they have a blank check from the U.S. Treasury to do with as they please.

It is time for a reality check. New Orleans was a stinking cesspool before Hurricane Katrina. It will remain so, no matter how much money the federal government or private charities spend on reconstruction. We should withhold all funds until we see if the locals do anything to help themselves.

David E. Carson, Bloomington

This is so wrong on so many levels that I hardly know what to say. But I think it’s important not to dismiss people like Mr. Carson out of hand, no matter how wrong he may be, no matter if he’s in an extreme minority. Instead, I think we should learn from stuff like this. We have an image problem. This is the mindset we’re up against.

Idle Threat

A while back I got an angry message via the rox.com website. The writer demanded the immediate removal of “my image and any mention of me” from the website, and threatened legal action. The message was not signed, and the return e-mail address was obscure.

I wrote back and said I was sorry to hear it, but who are you anyway?

Shortly I received confirmation of the sender’s identity. I don’t want to tell his name, but it starts with Russ.

So, after consulting with J, I wrote back:

Sorry for the delayed response. I’ve been busy gutting my flooded home here in New Orleans.

I wish I could say it’s good to hear from you, but obviously you’re mad at us and that’s not good. I’m sorry that you feel that way.

However, upon reviewing the whole situation, we don’t really understand where you’re coming from. Quite simply, there’s nothing objectionable in your appearances on the ROX television show or on our website.

To the contrary, I really get a kick out of what you contributed to the whole project. You have a dynamic, charismatic personality and it really comes across.

Anyway, legally there’s no case here, and we remain committed to maintaining a website that accurately and completely indexes the content of the TV series, including all the dramatis personae, and that includes you.

Perhaps you would like to add some production notes to the site, regarding your ROX experiences? I have set up an account for you with username **** and password ****. Feel free to login to the rox.com site and add some production notes.

Now I’ve gotta get back to fixing up my house. We are just now getting electricity turned back on after almost four months. Hooray!

I sincerely doubt he could get a lawyer to pursue this. He appeared in the show of his own free will, we simply presented him “as is,” and that was over ten years ago.