The Shame of America: Post Katrina Indifference

Bill Quigley | Eighteen Months After Katrina

Eighteen months after Katrina, over 80 percent of the 5,100 occupied public-housing apartments in New Orleans remained closed by order of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which has controlled the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) since 2002. HUD pressed ahead even though internal HANO documents revealed the cost for repair and renovation was significantly less than for demolition and redevelopment. A professor from MIT inspected the buildings and declared them structurally sound. Architecture critics applaud the current garden-style buildings. Yet HUD plows ahead, planning to spend tens of millions of Katrina dollars to tear down millions of dollars worth of habitable housing and end up with far fewer affordable apartments – a clear loss for the community.

Over $100 billion was approved by Congress to rebuild the Gulf Coast. Over $50 billion of that money was allocated to temporary and long-term housing. Just under $30 billion was for emergency response and Department of Defense spending. Over $18 billion was for state and local response and the rebuilding of infrastructure. Another $3.6 billion was for health, social services and job training, and $3.2 was for non-housing cash assistance. Education was allocated $1.9 billion and $1.2 billion was given to agriculture.

Louisiana received $10 billion to fix up housing. Over 109,000 homeowners applied for federal funds to fix up their homes. Eighteen months later, fewer than 700 families have received this federal assistance. Renters, who comprised a majority of New Orleans, are worse off – they get nothing at all. Some money is scheduled to go to some landlords and apartment developers for some apartments at some time. There were uncountable generous and courageous and heroic acts of people and communities who stretched themselves to assist people displaced by the hurricane. Many of these continue. However, there are several notable exceptions.

Obstacles to public funding of affordable housing came from within New Orleans and in neighboring parishes. Many in New Orleans do not want the poor who lived in public housing to return. St. Bernard Parish, a 93 percent white suburb adjoining New Orleans, enacted a post-Katrina ordinance that restricted homeowners from renting out single-family homes "unless the renter is a blood relative" without securing a permit from the government.

Jefferson Parish, another adjoining majority-white suburb, unanimously passed a resolution opposing all low-income, tax-credit, multifamily housing in the areas closest to New Orleans – effectively stopping construction of a 200-unit apartment building on vacant land for people over the age of 62, and blocking any further assisted housing.

Across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, the chief law enforcement officer of St. Tammany Parish, Sheriff Jack Strain, complained openly about the post-Katrina presence of "thugs and trash" from "New Orleans public housing" and announced that people with dreadlocks or "chee wee hairstyles" could "expect to be getting a visit from a sheriff's deputy."

This is a national disgrace. A lot of volunteers are doing amazing work, in spite of our government's best efforts to screw things up, and in spite of local governments small-minded obstructionism. One such group mentioned in the article is Just the Right Attitude. Check it out.  

[tags]Katrina, New Orleans, FEMA[/tags] 

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