Five Years After Katrina, The Economic Fabric of New Orleans Still Striving For Balance
by Charing Ball
This coming Sunday marks the fifth anniversary of the Category 3 Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged the Gulf Coast region and produced 100 ft waves strong enough to burst through the levees and disseminate New Orleans.
Like clockwork, the news media, both mainstream and online, began its week-long remembrance of the calamity, which killed 1,800 people and displaced thousands more. We have been reminded through vivid pictures, documentaries, news reports and personal stories about the horror of those days and how the region has resiliently been able to bounce back.
However, not everything in the province, particularly New Orleans, has been peachy keen. Promises made on the governmental (federal, state and local) level to rebuild New Orleans, have yielded some progress; however, much of the city – outside of Bourbon Street – still remains ravaged. Not so much from the effects of the natural disaster itself but rather the effect of the gentrification of the region, which has made it impossible for many of its long-time residents, particularly those of lower-means, to ever return.
In a recent interview, Spike Lee, who made the documentary “If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise” about Hurricane Katrina, told The Root that rents have quadrupled, the lower ninth ward has been privatized, many families have been unable to return to the region and a more affluent white class has moved into the city.
His opinion pretty much mimics that of a recent study, conducted by Amnesty International entitled, “Un-natural Disaster” which reports that New Orleans is far from recovery as public housing has been demolished, hospitals have been slow to reopen, the criminal justice system has been plagued by misconduct and former residents have been prohibited from rebuilding their homes due to problems with aide disbursements.
A year after Hurricane Katrina, approximately 45,000 families were residing in the notorious FEMA trailers. Today, FEMA reports there are 860 families in what was supposed to be temporary shelters. On the surface, that decrease may seem impressive but when you consider that the city now has 12,000 homeless people, more than double the amount present before the storm, you realize that there is more to the numbers than what was initially thought.
And according to the Brookings Institute , many renters within the city now pay as much as 58 percent of their earnings in housing costs. There are also concerns about the quality of the education system as suggested by The Kaiser Foundation, who released its study, New Orleans: Five Years After the Storm, which found that 64 percent of Black residents in New Orleans are very worried that their children won’t be able to get a good education, compared to only 18 percent of whites.
That same study also found that 61 percent of African-American residents are reportedly living in low-income households and many of those – 51 percent- believe that New Orleans is a worse place to live than it was prior to the storm.
While it is understandable that during this week of observation, we celebrate the triumphs and progress the region has been able to make, we must not take our focus off the fact that housing, employment and education have continued to be at crisis levels for many of the low-income individuals and for those communities of color. Housing should be viewed as a basic social need rather than real estate investment and the current redevelopment plans have resulted in not only the displacement of residents but the destruction of New Orleans’ social fabric.