A celebrated nun called a federal plan to raze much of the city's public housing a "sin" in one of several affidavits filed Thursday contesting the motion.
Federal housing officials say four sprawling housing developments were rendered unfit for humans by Hurricane Katrina and must be destroyed.
But Sister Helen Prejean — the Roman Catholic nun and death penalty foe portrayed in the film "Dead Man Walking" — and other opponents say the buildings are in good condition and that demolishing them would keep poor black people out of New Orleans.
"In my mind, to know those homes are sitting there in decent shape when so many need housing is a sin," Prejean said in papers filed on behalf of residents seeking to stop the demolitions.
"I have been particularly concerned about how many of the less-advantaged residents have yet to be able to return," she said in the court papers.
The documents contest a motion by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and its city counterpart, the Housing Authority of New Orleans, to stop residents and activists from entering the developments without permission.
Since Jan. 15, people have been cleaning out apartments at one of the housing complexes, the St. Bernard Housing Development. Prejean helped out on Jan. 20 and has been urging other nuns to do the same.
"What's happening is that people are in effect being shoved out, and what happens to them?" Prejean said in a telephone interview Thursday. "Well, nobody knows. They simply disappear."
Housing officials say the objective is to rid the city of concentrations of poverty, which breed crime, by building new neighborhoods where the poor live side by side with wealthier families.
But Prejean said past projects to replace public housing developments with mixed-income neighborhoods have actually forced many poor people out of the neighborhoods they grew up in.
Donna White, a HUD spokeswoman, said her agency has not abandoned former residents. She pointed to alternate housing in and outside of New Orleans.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans has a contract to redevelop the housing, and Prejean said she hopes the church ensures it is "not participating in a larger plan that is destructive to poorer people."
"I would use my leverage working with them to advocate a graduated plan," Prejean said of Providence Community Housing, the archdiocese's development arm doing the redevelopment work.