By Bill Quigley, Davida Finger and Lance Hill.
Bill is Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Bill and Davida are law professors at Loyola University New Orleans. Lance is Executive Director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at TulaneUniversity. You can reach Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org, Davida at email@example.com, and Lance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It will be five years since Katrina on August 29. The impact of Katrina is quite painful for regular people in the area. This article looks at what has happened since Katrina not from the perspective of the higher ups looking down from their offices but from the street level view of the people a view which looks at the impact on the elderly, the renter, people of color, the disabled, the working and non-working poor. So, while one commentator may happily say that the median income in New Orleans has risen since Katrina, a street level perspective recognizes that is because large numbers of the poorest people have not been able to return.
Five years after Katrina, tens of thousands of homes in New Orleans remain vacant or blighted. Tens of thousands of African American children who were in the public schools have not made it back, nor have their parents. New Orleans has lost at least 100,000 people. Thousands of elderly and disabled people have not made it back. Affordable housing is not readily available so tens of thousands pay rents that are out of proportion to their wages. Race and gender remain excellent indicators of who is underpaid, who is a renter, who is in public school and who is low income.
In short, the challenges facing New Orleans after Katrina are the same ones facing millions of people of color, women, the elderly and disabled and their children across the US. Katrina just made these challenges clearer in New Orleans than in many other places. Here is where we are five years later.
Five years after Katrina, the most liberal estimates are that 141,000 fewer people live in the metro New Orleans area. The actual population changes will not be clear until official Census Bureau findings are released in November, but it is safe to say that over 100,000 fewer live in the City of New Orleans.
The New Orleans metro area is made up of several parishes, primarily Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and St. Tammany. Orleans had 455,000 people before Katrina, now they have 354,000. Jefferson had 451,000 before Katrina, now they have 443,000. Plaquemines had 28,000 before Katrina, now they have 20,000. St. Bernard had 64,000 before Katrina, now they have 40,000.
Louisiana residents are located in more than 5,500 cities across the nation, the largest concentrations in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and San Antonio. A majority of displaced residents are women 59% compared to 41% men. A third earn less than $20,000 a year.
More than 1 in 4 residential addresses in New Orleans is vacant or blighted by far the highest rate in the US. Though the numbers have been reduced somewhat in the last three years, 50,100 residential properties in New Orleans remain blighted or have no structure on them.
About 58 percent of city renters and 45 percent of suburban renters pays more than 35 percent of their pre-tax household income for housing. Households should spend less than 30 percent of income on housing. Anything over 30 percent means that housing is not really affordable for that family and they are likely to cut back on other necessities.
Over 5000 families are on the waiting list for traditional public housing and another 28,960 families are on the waiting list for housing vouchers more than double what it was before Katrina and the government destruction of thousands of public housing apartments. Since the post-Katrina bulldozing of several major public housing developments, there has been more than a 75% reduction in the number of public housing apartments available.
Under Louisiana's "Road Home" program to rebuild storm-damaged housing, rebuilding grants for homeowners on average fell about $35,000 short of the money needed to rebuild. The shortfall hit highly flooded, historically African-American communities particularly hard. The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center filed suit in 2008 against state and federal agencies charging that the grant policy was racially discriminatory and that black homeowners received far smaller grants than white homeowners. The judge in that case has opined that "on average, African-American homeowners received awards that fell farther short of the cost of repairing their homes than did white recipients" and while noting the parties' commitment to rebuilding New Orleans, found it "regrettable that this effort to do so appears to have proceeded in a manner that disadvantaged African-American homeowners who wish to repair their homes."