Jourdan proposes solutions for displaced residents

Published: April 5th, 2010

Category: Feature, News

If home is indeed where the heart is, it is no wonder why residents displaced from their homes find themselves disheartened and grief-stricken. Levin College of Law Assistant Professor Dawn Jourdan believes she has the solution for minimizing the grief of relocation and help displaced residents thrive in their new homes.

On April 30, sponsored by the Journal of Law and Public Policy, Jourdan discussed her upcoming article that will appear in the JLPP titled, “Valuing Grief: A Proposal to Compensate Relocated Public housing Residents for Intangibles.”

Much of the difficulty in compensating dislocated residents of a public housing unit, Jourdan said, comes in calculating damages.

While not all dislocated residents experience negative effects — some are happy to leave — for many, the move is devastating. Relocated residents are faced with the loss of social relationships and the sudden loss of all that is familiar.

“When you get displaced from where you live, it actually has emotional, social, and psychological impact,” Jourdan said, emphasizing that these factors are magnified for the poor because they are limited in technology and transportation to maintain strong social ties with friends and former neighbors who live miles away.

Jourdan focused on the treatment of the residents of Kennedy Homes, a public housing development in Gainesville, whose residents were displaced after a 2003 fire resulted in city investigators discovering that the buildings were woefully dilapidated. Jourdan explained that the residents of Kennedy Homes were among Gainesville’s poorest.

“You could live at Kennedy Homes for fifteen dollars a week,” Jourdan said, calling the state of the buildings themselves “horrible,” but noting that Kennedy Homes was the least expensive public housing unit and “the place of last resort.” The walls of Kennedy Homes were often only a paper-thin shield between residents and the harshness of homelessness, Jourdan said.

Jourdan also noted that, despite the ill repair that Kennedy Homes was in, all of the residents indicated that they would happily return since Kennedy Homes had been their home.

To provide temporary housing for the displaced residents, a condemned downtown hotel was made available, which carried its own issues, such as no kitchens in the rooms and a broken elevator.

“They stayed here for six months because nobody knew what to do with them,” Jourdan said.

It was at this point that Three Rivers Legal Services and Southern Legal Services intervened to begin the daunting task of bringing suit against the Kennedy Homes developers on behalf of hundreds of plaintiffs.

A settlement was reached, but its details have been kept confidential, Jourdan said.

Jourdan also referenced a book penned by attorney Pierce Kelly that detailed the saga surrounding Kennedy Homes and the plight of its residents titled, Kennedy Homes: An American Tragedy. She explained that Kelly had been working at Three Rivers Legal Services during the time that the Kennedy Homes case was being litigated.

For Jourdan, the Kennedy Homes represents both a tragedy and a lesson.

“This is going to keep continuing to happen so we need to figure out what’s it worth so we can get out our checkbook and pay people what they deserve,” she said.

Jourdan advocates a compensation scheme for dislocated residents by working “directly with the residents [to] ask what they want and what they need to help stabilize the transition from one place to another.

“People are not by their nature extraordinarily greedy,” she suggested.

Jourdan finished her lecture by encouraging her audience, largely composed of future attorneys, to pursue pro-bono work and help give a voice and offer aid to those who are both voiceless and helpless.