A troubled housing agency

A troubled housing agency

More than 4 in 10 renters in East Baton Rouge Parish are considered “rent burdened,” meaning they spend more than 35% of their income on rent. Federal aid from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is supposed to alleviate that problem by helping cities build and maintain affordable housing. But an investigation by The Advocate’s Terry Jones found that 20% of the money that the parish received over an 11-year period – $13.4 million – went to waste or was unspent. The problem rests with the city’s Office of Community Development, which has cycled through multiple rounds of leadership and remains dysfunctional. 

Andreanecia Morris, who heads Housing NOLA, a non-profit that seeks to improve housing policies in the New Orleans area, describes the job done by Baton Rouge’s Office of Community Development as “troubling to say the least, disinterested to say the worse.” “The system is deeply broken,” Morris said. “Often times, you see things like what has happened in Baton Rouge in majority African-American cities. There seems to be this gentlemen’s agreement that no one will point out how bad others are at their jobs.”

The good news about jobs
The U.S. economy has been adding jobs at a furious pace in recent months, and unemployment is down to a pandemic-era low of 3.6% nationally. But worries about rising inflation are tempering people’s optimism, and many Americans simply don’t believe that the job market is as healthy as the numbers say it is. The Washington Post’s Maraget Sullivan looks at the juxtaposition of economic perception and reality, and whether the media is at least partly to blame. 

So what should journalists do about this disconnect? I’ll offer three suggestions as a starting point. First, find some balance in the current economic coverage, which has pounded away relentlessly at soaring inflation but mentioned job growth or wage increases only in passing. … Second, examine the knee-jerk media narrative, which goes like this: Biden’s approval numbers are down, and that’s because the economy is bad. That framing has been relentless, and it is self-fulfilling. … And third, cover all aspects of the new world of work more rigorously and more creatively. At many news organizations, the traditional labor beat was dismantled years ago. It should be brought back in reinvented form with attention paid to the gig economy, working from home, the burgeoning unionization movement and more.

The kids are not alright
Truancy rates in East Baton Rouge public schools have spiked dramatically since before the Covid-19 pandemic. Public records obtained by The Advocate’s Charles Lussier show that every neighborhood school in the parish had attendance rates below 90% – a sign that the school is in academic trouble. The trend in Baton Rouge is mirrored statewide, where the percentage of students who are absent five days or more has risen from 28% to 40% since the pandemic.

The pandemic has undoubtedly played a part, forcing thousands of children to stay home because they had COVID, were in close contact with someone who did, or had classes shifted online. Two COVID spikes have occurred this school year, first in August with the delta variant and then again in January with the omicron variant. Both periods saw student attendance in Baton Rouge go down. Several schools, however, have had notably low attendance all year, rarely rising about 80%, suggesting a deeper problem.

The FDA’s food failure
The federal Food and Drug Administration is doing a terrible job of regulating the nation’s food supply, according to a lengthy investigation by POLITICO’s Helena Bottemiller Evich. While the agency draws the most attention for its regulation of prescription drugs and medical devices, the FDA also oversees more than 80% of the nation’s food supply. But the agency is typically slow to respond when threats to food safety arise, and continually drags its feet on major regulatory issues.

This government dysfunction has a real impact on people’s lives. The CDC estimates that more than 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 people die from foodborne illnesses each year – a toll that has not lessened after a sweeping update to food safety a decade ago. A recent outbreak tied to contaminated infant formula, in which at least four babies were hospitalized and two died, is a stark reminder of what’s at stake when the food safety system fails. The first hospitalization was reported to federal health officials five months before the FDA and formula-maker Abbott Nutrition finally recalled the product – in what would become the largest infant formula recall in memory.

Didja Know? Podcast
Last week, the Legislature returned after a contentious veto override session that saw lawmakers deny black voters fair representation in Congress. In this week’s episode of the Didja Know? Podcast, LBP’s Jan Moller and Davante Lewis talk about the week that was and what’s on tap for week five of the legislative session. 

Number of the Day
$360 billion – Amount that would be raised, over 10 years, from President Joe Biden’s plan to tax the richest 0.01 percent of families (Source: Americans for Tax Fairness)