NEW ORLEANS, June 14 — Federal housing officials announced on Wednesday that more than 5,000 public housing apartments for the poor were to be demolished here and replaced by developments for residents with a wider range of incomes.
The announcement, made by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso R. Jackson, provoked strong criticism from low-income tenants and their advocates, several of whom noted that thousands of public housing apartments had been closed since Hurricane Katrina. But local officials have for months said they do not want a return to the intense concentrations of poverty in the old projects, where crime and squalor were pervasive.
Acknowledging the immediate need for housing here, Mr. Jackson also said 1,000 apartments in several public housing complexes that were only lightly damaged in the storm would be opened over the next 60 days. Federal housing officials also said they had raised by 35 percent the value of disaster-housing vouchers for displaced residents who wanted to rent market-rate apartments, because the city's housing shortage had caused rents to increase.
The demolition, which is scheduled to begin over the next several months, would be the largest of its kind in the city's history and would erase the sprawling low-rises of the St. Bernard, C. J. Peete, B. W. Cooper and Lafitte housing developments. The four developments were damaged in Hurricane Katrina to varying degrees and have been off-limits — along with most of the city's public housing — to residents ever since.
The four developments represent more than half of all traditional public housing in the city, where only 1,097 units have been opened since the storm. Before the hurricane, the city had close to 8,000 units, although not all were habitable.
"Hurricane Katrina put a spotlight on the condition of public housing in New Orleans," Mr. Jackson said in a teleconference with reporters in Washington. "I'm here to tell you we can do better."
His announcement appeared to heighten the fears of many displaced tenants that they would be pushed out in favor of higher-income families.
"Right now, we feel it's not the time to start huge building projects because there are lots of people who are displaced as we speak and need a place to stay," said Lynette Bickham, who was evacuated from the St. Bernard project. "We're going to continue to fight for our homes."
This month, former residents began demanding the right to return, setting up a tent city outside the St. Bernard project, the largest of the developments. Local and federal officials refused to open the developments, saying they were unsafe.
Mr. Jackson outlined the first official plans for the projects since the storm, and they were incomplete. He did not specify how many units in the new developments would be set aside for public housing or whether there would be units for all the low-income residents who had such housing before the storm. Planning for the new developments, which are to be financed by bonds, tax credits and federal housing money, has not begun, he said.
Mayor C. Ray Nagin responded to Mr. Jackson's announcement enthusiastically.
The proposed demolitions have renewed a debate about the future of the city's enormous poor population, most of which remains displaced.
"I think the people who've been planning the recovery process never wanted poor people to return to the city in the first place," said Lance Hill, the director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University. "And they haven't made it easy."