Future of Housing Depends on Drawing Fairer Maps

A Conversation with New Orleans Activist Andreanecia Morris

Khalil Abdullah Ethnic Media Services

NEW ORLEANS – Andreanecia Morris’ passion for housing has made her one of New Orleans’ most ardent advocates of redistricting.

It seems a stretch – redistricting is that once-in-a-decade process when states, counties and cities get to redraw district lines that determine where people vote. But ultimately, Morris argues, redistricting is about whether your vote counts and that in turn determines where you live and even whether you get a place to call home.

“Housing,” Morris says, “is the issue of our time. Without it, redistricting is often a rigged outcome.”

Morris runs HousingNOLA, which she helped found in 2014 to improve housing conditions and expand the quantity of affordable housing in the city.

She also serves on the board of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. She has spent decades as an activist building collaborations to promote housing with government agencies and community advocates.

“When people talk about civic engagement, they often say, ‘I want to talk about getting people to vote,’ and I’m like, ‘what’s the first thing you need to vote? An ID? No, no. You need an address.’ Where you live determines who you vote for.” And, she adds, it often determines whether you vote.

“You’re sitting there talking about getting low- to moderate-income, mostly African Americans to vote, and they can’t pay their rent. They can’t pay the light bill or may soon be foreclosed on. And you think you showing up at the door to register them to vote will fly? Not unless and until you talk to them about how you will fix those problems.

“I can show you how the failure to build properly functioning housing systems is at the root cause for all other issues—racial equity, economic disparity, police violence, sexism, you name it. You can’t address any of them without addressing housing,” Morris says.

Morris’ zeal was ignited when she first saw the dilapidated state of New Orleans’ public housing properties, so at odds with her childhood memories of family shopping tours from her hometown of Edgard to Canal Street. She was working for the public housing agency fresh out of college. “My immediate reference point was Beirut – the televised images I’d seen in the 1980s of bombed-out buildings during Lebanon’s civil war. We had verdant green grass, but that was the only difference between our large buildings and the ones in Beirut. I was appalled the government of the United States had done this to Americans.”

More troubling, she says, was that “everyone just went along with it.” Even after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, neglect was the status quo in her opinion. She became consumed in figuring out the policies and politics in play. “The way my mind works, I want to understand why things are broken, and I like fixing stuff.”

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