New study asks
Who will New Orleans be rebuilt for?
Published Feb 4, 2006 7:44 PM
An important study released on Jan. 26 has
confirmed what has been known for some time: the people most impacted by the
devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans are African-American and/or
indigent. “The Impact of Katrina: Race and Class in Storm-Damaged
Neighborhoods” (www.s4.brown.edu/Katrina/report.pdf) is a 16-page study
headed up by John R. Logan, a sociology professor and director of Spacial
Structures in the Social Sciences at Brown University.
important questions such as “Whose city will be rebuilt?” Most of
the data for this study came from the 2000 U.S. Census and the federal
government’s damage assessment maps.
One of the main conclusions of
the study is that 80 percent of the Black population in New Orleans may not
return, either because their homes will not be rebuilt, money to relocate them
back to New Orleans is lacking, or they are deciding—or being
forced—to stay in other cities.
The findings also show that upwards
of 50 percent of working class whites might not return either. The bottom line
is that if the local ruling class and local and state government officials get
their way, New Orleans will be turned into a city catering overwhelmingly to
affluent whites and big business.
Before Katrina struck the Gulf Coast
last August and exposed compromised levees, 70 percent of the close to 487,000
residents of New Orleans were Black. The Jan. 26 study projects that the
population could permanently lose 140,000, mainly Black,
“The suffering from the storm certainly cut across racial
and class lines,” said Logan. “But the odds of living in a damaged
area were clearly much greater for blacks, residents who rented their homes, and
poor people. In these respects, the most socially vulnerable residents also
turned out to be most exposed to Katrina.”
The study offers
statistics to substantiate its claims.
Those populating the damaged areas
were nearly half Black—45.8 percent, compared to 26.4 percent in the
undamaged areas. They lived in rental housing—45.7 percent compared to
30.9 percent. They disproportionately lived below the poverty line—20.9
percent compared to 15.3 percent. They were more likely to be
unemployed—7.6 percent compared to 6.0 percent.
appointed Bring New Orleans Back Commission recently proposed a four-month
moratorium on rebuilding in the most damaged, poor areas. This has served to
discourage residents from moving back to their neighborhoods.
passed a $29 billion aid package in December on top of the $66 billion emergency
bill passed last September for the Gulf region. It is to be shared by
Mississippi and Louisiana, and amounts to a drop in the bucket compared to the
real needs. By contrast, hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent by the
U.S. government on the war and occupation of Iraq.
Right now, an estimated 25,000 families are staying in
FEMA-sponsored hotel rooms, the majority in Texas and Louisiana. FEMA is
planning to cut off payments for these rooms in early February, which will
deepen an already major catastrophe for the evacuees. In New Orleans, Katrina
evacuees are now being evicted from hotels to make room for tourists coming to
Mardi Gras, which begins in mid-February.
Both FEMA and Housing and Urban
Development (HUD) are attempting to drive a wedge between Katrina evacuees and
long-time residents of Baton Rouge by driving up housing and rental prices.
Baton Rouge was already in the throes of a housing shortage before Katrina hit
and now landlords and the government are thirsting to make more profits off the
misery this disaster has created.
When current one-year leases expire,
increases in rental and housing prices that are beyond the means of these
residents will automatically go into effect. Homeless shelters and food pantries
in Baton Rouge and elsewhere are finding it harder and harder to meet the
demands that the Katrina disaster and government negligence have
New Orleans activists, many of them housing advocates, are
organizing a campaign against Home Depot and the Housing Authority of New
Orleans, which comes under the auspices of HUD. HANO signed a lease with Home
Depot allowing the multi-billion-dollar company to take over six acres of vacant
land, which had been used as a site for FEMA trailers and long-term housing for
According to the New Orleans Housing Emergency Action
Team (NOHEAT), this lease violates the promise made by city officials to use all
available land for temporary housing for Katrina survivors. Home Depot has
already created a temporary building supply store, along with a large tent, with
the long-term goal of building another permanent store there. Because the lease
lasts 364 days, Home Depot is not legally obligated to call a public
hearing—a requirement when leases are for 365 days or longer.
than 1,000 of the 9,000 residents with section 8 vouchers have been able to find
low-cost housing in New Orleans.
This important study, along with the
day-to-day developments surrounding the on-going plight of the Katrina
survivors, not only continues to expose that racism and poverty exist inside the
U.S. but also that the struggle for real justice in the Gulf Coast region and
elsewhere is primary.
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