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Life Arts    H3'ed 3/9/09

Losing Our Homes - Up Close and Personal

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Debra South Jones has been running Just the Right Attitude, a combination food bank/soup kitchen for residents of New Orleans since way before Katrina.  Friends of mine have volunteered at JTRA over the past few years, when they were down there on organized trips. They raved about Jones and the operation that she runs.   Subsequently, she and I spent a considerable amount of time on the phone and, in December, I wrote about her and her project. She is one impressive lady. She is also about to be evicted from her home.


It all started when the yearly tax bill came due in December.  Jones’s 2007 bill had been $1361.  This past year, there was an inexplicably huge jump -  more than 50% - bringing her 2008 bill up to $2141. It’s amazing to me that Louisiana, so badly scarred by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, could enjoy such a rise in property values when practically everywhere else in America, real estate prices are plummeting.  But, Jones told me that other neighbors also complained of this rate hike, so it does not appear that she was singled out.  


In addition, there was the issue of flood insurance. Jones had a $250,000 policy for which she paid $327 annually.  Recently, the area was rezoned and flood insurance became mandatory. The local government assessed her flood insurance premium to be $1300, four times the fee just one year before.  Jones wanted this confirmed  independently.  After the independent property survey, the $1300 premium was lowered to $930 (better, but still almost three times her old rate). She paid that adjusted bill last month. Her tax bill had remained unpaid until the flood insurance issue was settled. Jones wasn’t too worried.  In New Orleans where she had lived through 2006, taxpayers often paid those real estate bills in installments.  

 Apparently, things are different in Ascension Parish, where the Jones family has lived since 2007. About ten days ago, she came home to find a notice on her front door from the sheriff/tax collector.  If she does not pay the tax bill in full (plus interest) within twenty days, her property will be confiscated and auctioned off.


 Her husband, Lawrence, has been on disability since last July. He’s no slacker. For the past 24 years, he was a press operator working the night shift at The Times Picayune in New Orleans.  Between October of 2005 and December 2006, he drove over 400 miles round-trip every day (as did Debra).  Debra is also on disability. She gets her check from the government at the end of the month.  It will be too little,  too late, as far as the sheriff is concerned; her tax bill is due on the 18th.  


 I’d like to stress that when Jones sent out her email, she was not angling for help.  She was merely putting a human face on the foreclosure issue, in response to an article in USA Today that didn’t mention her geographic area at all.  In fact, she was surprised, and pleased, to hear from me.  I asked permission to help her to keep doing what she has been doing so well, and she agreed to let me try. 


 I know full well that I can’t help all the needy people out there.  But, I’m certainly not powerless. Here is a person who has had a hard life, with many medical issues and set backs, who has built an organization that helps people in the most essential way, by offering food and moral support.  If Jones goes under, what will become of the 26,000 people served each month by Just the Right Attitude?  An image scrolls through my mind on a continuous loop:  26,000 dominos toppling over, one by one.  


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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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