Hurricane Katrina Resources
Current and up-to-date information concerning Hurricane Katrina and asbestos exposure is available at Asbestos.com, an extensive online resource for all issues and topics surrounding the toxic substance. Nearly three years later, the city of New Orleans is still coping with the threat of asbestos exposure, which can lead to illnesses such as asbestosis and mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that attacks the internal linings of the lungs, abdomen, and heart. In St. Bernard Parish alone, 5,000 asbestos-contaminated homes are awaiting demolition to this day. For more information on the asbestos problems caused by Hurricane Katrina and all other issues surrounding this hazardous material, please visit Asbestos.com.
The return of the population to New Orleans region,
which appeared to be gaining steam for some time, slowed down in the
fall of 2007, according to the latest post-Katrina report from the Brookings
Institution. The report, which was co-produced by the Greater New Orleans
Community Data Center, says that from September to November the six-parish
region saw only 15 percent of the growth it had in the same period in
2006. A continued housing shortage and a lack of public services continues
to deter many skilled workers from moving to the region, according to
The report can be found at www.gnocdc.org/NOLAIndex/NOLAIndex.pdf
Read these articles related to Hurricane Katrina recovery in the two most recent issues of Shelterforce: In the Winter 2007 issue, a report on young leaders emerging in the community development field on the Gulf Coast, and in the Fall 2007 edition, a story on the effort to ensure that people at the low end of the economic ladder are not left out of the recovery process.
Here's an update from grist.org on the activities
of the folks at Turkey Creek Community Initiatives in North Gulfport,
MS. Shelterforce featured this group just after Katrina hit in
2005 (see also the bottom of this page). The grist.org article also
has an interview with representatives of Grand Bayou Community United,
a Native American group in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. Both they
and Turkey Creek residents report continued neglect by federal government
relief agencies, which the residents say is nothing new for their marginalized
FEMA has been quietly issuing eviction notices
to residents of its temporary trailer parks in New Orleans. The federal
agency hasn't officially announced any park closures, but it has sent
notices to residents warning them that it will close all of them. Many
residents say there is still a severe scarcity of rental units, and
while prices may have stabilized somewhat, $500 apartments are still
That other hurricane, Rita, caused a heckuva lot of damage in Texas two years ago. According to a new report from the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, the recovery process has been just as unpleasant as in Louisiana and Mississippi. Only 13 of the 75,000 houses damaged or destroyed by Rita have been rebuilt with state assistance, the report says. In addition, low-income homeowners are at a disadvantage in applying for help, because they tend to lack insurance. Also, the state won't provide more than $40,000 per household, though many homes may cost much more to repair. Initially the state assumed the average cost of repair would be only $8,000, and this led it to ask Congress for less funding than it needed. www.texashousing.org/txlihis/hurricanehousing/Two_Year_Rita.pdf
A recent film shows the first few months after
Hurricane Katrina and the birth of Common Ground Relief, a New Orleans
mutual aid organization, through the eyes of founder Malik Rahim, other
community residents and volunteers. The film depicts the raw racism
and violence that were not hard to find in New Orleans in the first
two years after the storm. But it also shows the revival of hope for
people at the bottom of the economic ladder in a devastated city.
The "Big Four" public housing developments
in New Orleans will likely face the wrecking ball this fall, now that
HUD has approved the work. The developments include Lafitte, St. Bernard,
C.J. Peete and B.W. Cooper, which consist of some 4,500 units. The Housing
Authority of New Orleans says it planned to demolish the projects even
before Katrina, and that the hurricane just hastened those plans. This
is an unsurprising argument, given that advocates for displaced public
housing residents say these projects suffered minimal damage from the
storm and flooding.
"Blueprint for Gulf Renewal," a report
issued in August 2007 by the Institute for Southern Studies, contains
interviews with leaders of grass-roots groups working on a wide array
of issues on the Gulf Coast.
New and renovated affordable housing in New Orleans
is being targeted more to people with moderate incomes than those at
the very bottom of the economic ladder. Still, a city watchdog agency
says New Orleans is getting the burden of most new affordable housing,
while the suburbs continue to get most of the jobs. The agency's new
report also says affordable housing continues to be concentrated in
neighborhoods that already have too much of it.
On the occasion of the second anniversary of Hurricane
Katrina, the National Low Income Housing Coalition called on Congress
to pass the Gulf Coast Hurricane Housing Recovery Act. The bill has
been stalled since it was introduced in the Senate in June as a companion
to a similar House bill. The legislation, introduced in the Senate by
Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) and Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut), would
provide one-for-one replacement of public and assisted housing units
damaged by the storm. It would also provide for the right to return
to residents who were "in good standing" at the time of Katrina.
Other provisions in the bill relate to delivery of mobile and project-based
Section 8 vouchers, the legal status of the Housing Authority of New
Orleans, and money for fair housing enforcement.
The effort to deal with abandoned, decaying housing
in New Orleans is floundering two years after Katrina, say critics,
though city officials insist they are making progress. An analysis by
the Times-Picayune shows that the severity of damage to a building has
little impact on how quickly the city moves to address it. City officials
often defend their slow progress by referring to the sheer extent of
the problem; the storm left 105,000 homes severely damaged. They also
note that many neighborhood-based groups have helped the city force
action on properties that needed to be gutted. The city has inspected
just over 12,000 homes, but an inspection is just the first step in
a process that can last for many months.
Floodwalls and levees built in New Orleans since
Katrina have benefited relatively wealthy, mostly white neighborhoods
far more than their poorer, largely African-American counterparts, a
new article claims. The disparity makes it even more challenging for
people seeking to rebuild their homes and settle again in their old
This fall the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans will
have a functioning public school for the first time since Hurricane
Katrina. The Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology
was rededicated in spite of numerous roadblocks erected by city and
school officials. The Recovery School District claimed repeatedly that
the building was not structurally sound, until a report from the city
water and sewage board found it was safe. Hundreds of students and community
members volunteered their time last spring to clean the building's interior,
though the city had warned they were at risk of arrest. About 600 students
are registered to attend the school beginning in August.
An article in the July 10 Gambit Weekly describes
the work of Porch, a nonprofit that organizes arts activities in the
Seventh Ward of New Orleans as a means of building community strength.
The group began with block parties, tree plantings and an annual music
festival, and now provides a summer arts camp. The camp gives kids something
to do in a still-devastated neighborhood and helps develop their sense
of community as a necessity.
Louisiana now has a housing trust fund, thanks
in good part to the work of the Louisiana Housing Alliance. The alliance,
formed in 2006 to address the severe housing crisis in the wake of Hurricane
Katrina, made raising money for the fund a major part of its advocacy
efforts. The state legislature approved the trust fund in 2003 but did
not provide a dedicated source of money or a way to implement it. The
only source of funding was a voluntary checkbox on state income tax
returns; this method raised about $6,000. But in the last week of June,
lawmakers voted for $25 million for the fund. The Louisiana Housing
Finance Agency is now working with the alliance and other housing advocates
to establish guidelines for the trust fund.
A recent report from the Chicago-based group Interfaith
Worker Justice shows how workers' rights have been trampled on in New
Orleans since Katrina. "Working on Faith: A Faithful Response to
Worker Abuse in New Orleans" is based on a survey of 218 workers
during the summer of 2006. Among the most common abuses are employers'
failure to pay workers for their labor, exposing them to toxins without
proper safety equipment, not compensating them for injuries, and discrimination.
In response to the lack of a significant partner organization in the
New Orleans region to work with the Department of Labor to enforce the
law, IWJ has created a branch there. The group made a point of collaborating
with religious leaders in New Orleans, arguing that religious groups
must stand up for workers' rights. The report follows a similar study
released by the Advancement Project in the summer of 2006.
A new report from PolicyLink documents the challenges
facing the Gulf Opportunity (GO) Zone program, which provided a special
round of tax credits for affordable multifamily housing developers in
Louisiana, Mississippi and three other states. According to the study,
"Bringing Louisiana Renters Home," the program has replaced
only two-fifths of the 82,000 rental units lost during Katrina. Proposed
housing has run into resistance from some parish leaders that do not
want low-income units, while the program has failed so far to make an
impact on still-shuttered public housing in New Orleans. Another notable
finding is that GO Zone funding was not allocated to housing in sites
close to public transit and services.
African-Americans face widespread housing discrimination
in the New Orleans area in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, according
to a recent study by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.
The group found that over half of the landlords it surveyed discriminated
against black testers who came to them looking for places to rent. Blacks
were often told apartments were unavailable, while white testers got
the opposite response about the same units. Some blacks were offered
less favorable terms than whites. In other cases landlords told both
white and black applicants they would call them back about housing availability,
but only called whites back. The group said it hoped the study would
help inform prospective renters of their legal rights.
"Rebuilding a Healthy New Orleans," a
report that came out of a June 2006 conference on how to address minorities'
lack of access to health care, was released in May. Sponsored by the
Poverty and Race Research Action Council, the Alliance for Healthy Homes
and two other groups, the study includes a proposal to invest in cultural
competence for workers who provide mental health services, and a case
study of the ongoing impact of Katrina on one family.
The May 4 breakfast forum "Katrina Was Not
a Natural Disaster: What Went Wrong in the Gulf Coast?" is now
available as an audio recording on the Open Society Institute's web
site. The event featured Chester Hartman and Gregory Squires, co-editors
of the recent book There is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster:
Race, Class, and Hurricane Katrina (Routledge 2006) as well as book
contributors Hassan Kwame Jeffries, Avis Jones-DeWeever, Peter Marcuse
and Wade Rathke, who explored the political and economic roots of Katrina
as an unnatural disaster and discussed the democratic approaches to
creating more equitable and sustainable communities in the Gulf Coast
and other regions across the U.S.
Update on that annoying formaldehyde in your Katrina
trailer: FEMA Director David Paulison told news reporters in May that
residents should air out their trailers to get rid of the odor. This
was right after he told a House of Representatives subcommittee that
he was unaware of the problem, which has reportedly sickened many people
living in FEMA's temporary housing. A Mississippi Sierra Club leader
says some trailer residents have aired out their trailers, but the problem
Many small towns in areas of Mississippi devastated
by Hurricane Katrina have barely begun to recover, according to an article
on Salon.com. While Governor Haley Barbour has reaped praise nationally
for the way he's brought in federal largesse, (perhaps due to his close
ties to the White House, which Louisiana's Democratic governor lacks),
some municipal officials say they are still waiting to be shown the
money. Two problems of note are that towns can't afford to pay a partial
match in order to receive federal disaster funds, and they can't pay
off loans from the state development authority now that they are coming
The Common Ground Collective has released The Post
Katrina Portrait Project, an anthology of hundreds of reports by survivors
of the hurricane. All of the survivors' words are available for free
online, but the group is asking for people to purchase the anthology
in book form to help it continue its work in New Orleans.
The child care crisis goes on in New Orleans, according
to a story in the May 14 New Orleans Times-Picayune. The biggest problem
is the lack of facilities for parents with children under 3. City planners
have largely ignored the shortage, despite the impact it has on residents'
ability to return and to go to work.
A recent article by NHI board members John Atlas
and Peter Dreier looks at the media's failure to credit ACORN, the national
organizing group, for its crucial work in bringing back New Orleans
after Katrina. The media has tended to characterize low-income people
in the city as victims and the government as incompetent. Atlas and
Dreier provide evidence that ACORN helped many poor people to become
well-organized so they could protect their homes from demolition and
begin their neighborhoods' restoration. The authors also note that the
federal government was not simply incompetent at dealing with disaster;
rather, the response to Katrina shows what happens when government is
starved of resources.
Some good news from New Orleans: A recent survey
of the Gentilly district by a group of Dartmouth College students shows
that people are definitely moving in. Only four percent of properties
in the area were untouched since Katrina, or abandoned. The survey offers
the most comprehensive snapshot to date of recovery progress in one
of the city's most racially and economically diverse neighborhoods.
The students did a door-to-door survey and put their results on a Web
site, enabling users to view the status of homes in any block of the
After at least a year of pressure from advocacy
groups, the Bush Administration has agreed to give HUD responsibility
for the housing needs of people who have been caught in FEMA's "Kafkaesque"
system for over 18 months. The current extension of FEMA's relief program
ends on August 31. Starting in September, local housing authorities
under HUD's oversight will administer programs for people living in
FEMA trailers and other rental units. Beginning on March 1, 2008, families
will pay a portion of their rent each month, and the amount will increase
by $50 with each payment. The program will end on March 1, 2009, when
the administration hopes every family will be ready to return to the
private housing market. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC)
reports it is pleased that HUD is taking over housing management from
FEMA, but that assigning every family to the Section 8 voucher program
would have been better.
In a recent issue of ColorLines, an article comments
on the challenges facing African-American business owners and organizers
of community gathering spots in New Orleans as they try to rebuild.
Many who used to rent their spaces now must buy their buildings or watch
them turned into condos. Meanwhile, philanthropists have been reluctant
to give money to grassroots community groups.
In their April 2007 update on the state of New
Orleans, the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center and the Brookings
Institution say the city is finally giving investors guidance on how
they can support the recovery. But basic infrastructure remains lacking
in numerous areas, including public transportation, child care and schools.
Ray Nagin's performance since Hurricane Katrina
gets a rather unflattering analysis in an article in the Gambit Weekly,
an alternative newsweekly in New Orleans. The story quotes veterans
of civil rights activism in the city who criticize Nagin for trumpeting
small accomplishments while poor people suffer. One activist argues
that events have simply been beyond Nagin's capacity to handle. But
the article's general tone is that Nagin, whose background was in business,
not activism, was the wrong man to lead the city in a time of great
A recent issue of The Next American City included
a roundtable discussion on affordable housing in Louisiana after Katrina,
featuring PolicyLink leaders, a state housing official and a state legislator.
Their conversation touched on the potential of inclusionary zoning and
mixed-income housing and building nonprofit housing capacity in the
New Orleans' latest redevelopment proposal looks
more like one that could actually come to fruition. It includes 17 zones
where the city will concentrate its resources to stimulate private investment.
These areas will include commercial thoroughfares and buildings that
historically were neighborhood hubs. Many of them were already in decline
before the hurricane. At $1.1 billion, the proposal is more modest than
its predecessors, but it still depends on uncertain funding sources.
Tenant activists in New Orleans won a victory on
March 15 when the City Council called for more public participation
in the siting of low-income housing developments. In this case, the
public wants more low-income housing, not less. Several council members
had tried to ban new multifamily units in certain parts of the city,
partly to deter the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency from giving developers
tax credits for rentals in those areas. One councilor said these neighborhoods
already had a concentration of poor people, and this was a threat to
property values in adjacent communities. Pressure from the People's
Hurricane Relief Fund Tenants Rights Working Group led the council to
change its stance. Instead of a moratorium on new tax credit developments
over 100 units, the council now wants the LHFA to hear its opinion,
and that of the public, before deciding whether to site these projects.
Tenant activists saw the council's changing stance as evidence that
tenants are finally gaining some ground, after 18 months of being virtually
shut out of the city's revitalization process.
ACORN Housing/University Partnership has posted
a Web site dedicated to its revitalization work in New Orleans' Lower
Ninth Ward. The activist group ACORN collaborated with local residents
and students from several universities to craft a comprehensive plan
for the neighborhood. The Web site includes the final version of A
Peoples' Plan for Overcoming the Hurricane Katrina Blues. The New
Orleans City Council approved the plan on February 1.
While affordable housing development is barely
occurring in New Orleans, Donald Trump isn't having any trouble getting
approval for housing for people at the other end of the income ladder.
He just got the go-ahead to build hundreds of posh hotel rooms and condos
downtown, in what will be the city's tallest building.
Here's an uplifting feature about Louisiana's Individual
Development Account (IDA) program, which has helped some people displaced
by Katrina to save money for a new home.
A U.S. Senate committee approved a bill on March 7 that aims to pick up the pace of low-income housing recovery on the Gulf Coast, without spending a lot more money. The bill, which was introduced by Sen. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), calls for one-for-one replacement of units that the New Orleans Housing Authority tears down, and a right to return for all displaced residents of the authority's properties. Another part of the bill requires HUD to ensure that the voucher funding formula in Congress' FY07 joint funding resolution does not negatively affect any housing authority impacted by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.(NLIHC)
A New Orleans government watchdog group has sharply
criticized the report of the Unified New Orleans Plan, which was issued
in December. The Bureau of Government Research says the report sends
conflicting messages about whether it is safe to build in areas prone
to flooding. The report also sets odd priorities, suggesting that saving
historical forts is as critical as repairing basic infrastructure such
as water and sewer lines. UNOP staff say they expected such criticism
and note that the city's planning commission was not involved until
recently because it was understaffed. The commission is now holding
hearings on UNOP's work and may forward it to the city council and Mayor
Nagin by April.
An article originally published in the Feb. 26
edition of The Nation looks at the problem of formaldehyde leaking from
the walls of FEMA trailers on the Gulf Coast. Dozens of people living
in these trailers have reported getting sick. The trailers were stripped-down
versions of products normally sold by trailer vendors, and the cheaper
trailers may contain unusually high levels of toxic formaldehyde.
A new study from the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University finds that recovery from Katrina has been more difficult for families living in FEMA trailers and other temporary housing in Mississippi than for people in permanent homes. The authors of "The Recovery Divide" say FEMA trailer park residents tend to be those who were the least well off in the region even before the hurricane. They have become more impoverished as a result of the storm, while people with resources were better able to rebuild their homes and maintain their incomes. See the report at http://ncdp.mailman.columbia.edu/files/The%20Recovery%20Divide_Full%20Report.pdf
Another report on the subject of trailer parks
in New Orleans, by Tulane University Professor Daniel Aldrich, explores
how neighborhoods that had more social capital fought to keep FEMA trailers
out of their communities. Thus, a strong civil society, which is often
seen as the glue for strong neighborhoods, was used in this case in
a way that made it more difficult for the larger community to recover.
A dispute between displaced residents of public
housing developments in New Orleans and HUD and the New Orleans Housing
Authority is headed to trial in federal court. Residents had filed a
civil rights lawsuit last summer, arguing the effort to tear down their
old homes was unreasonable given the sound structural quality of the
buildings. Preservationists have also said some of the housing has great
historical value. On Feb. 8, Judge Ivan Lemelle denied HUD's attempt
to have the residents' lawsuit dismissed, partly because he said the
vouchers residents were issued after Katrina have proved difficult to
use in a city with such a housing shortage.
Watch a new documentary from The Advancement Project,
a Washington, D.C. based civil rights organization, on the efforts of
displaced public housing residents to return to their homes in New Orleans.
HUD and the city's housing authority fenced off the Crescent City's
largest public housing developments after Katrina and has plans to demolish
them. But residents continue to fight these plans, in the courts and
in some cases by forcing their way back into their old homes.
Many New Orleans neighborhoods included community
centers in the proposals they completed recently for the Unified New
Orleans Plan. But in many areas, people don't know if there will be
government funding available to bring these projects to fruition. Residents
of the Mid-City neighborhood turned to a Hollywood ad agency and an
online electronics retailer to finance theirs.
Though FEMA has bowed to demands to extend temporary
housing assistance to victims of Hurricane Katrina through this summer,
NLIHC, ACORN and other activist groups say this is not enough. In a
statement released on Jan. 22, NLIHC called for a long-term solution
to the housing crisis on the Gulf Coast. FEMA agreed under pressure
to extend its traditional 18-month period of temporary assistance for
six more months.
The cost of insurance has risen so much in New
Orleans that even generous tax credits don't seem to be enough to enable
affordable housing development to proceed. Some developers are saying
they may not be able to find investors interested in their Gulf Opportunity
Zone (GO Zone) tax credits before the credits expire in 2008. One option
is to extend the life of the credits through 2010; another is to ask
the state of Louisiana to raise the amount of insurance coverage it
The sixth volume in the Neighborhood Story Project
series of books is the first released by the New Orleans outfit since
Hurricane Katrina. The books in the series are all written by city residents,
with the aim of sharpening reading skills and empowering at-risk students
through the written word. The new volume, "Coming Out the Door
for the Ninth Ward," was written by members of the Nine Times Social
and Pleasure Club. The last chapter centers on the flooding, exodus
and painfully slow return of Ninth Ward residents.
Edward Blakely, appointed by New Orleans Mayor
Ray Nagin to be the city's post-Katrina recovery czar, said during the
first week of January that residents of the most troubled neighborhoods
could be offered a land swap as an incentive to relocate. He said a
group of neighbors might move en masse, to get ahead of quickly rising
real estate values. The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, which recently
gained significant power to dispose of vacant land, would be the ideal
agent to oversee land swaps, Blakely said. Offering land exchanges might
induce voluntary neighborhood shrinkage, so that the city doesn't have
to force people to move out of ravaged areas. But it could be difficult
to coordinate such an initiative with the state's Road Home program,
which requires homeowners it helps to stay in their houses for three
The December update from the Brookings Institution
on how New Orleans is recovering from Hurricane Katrina suggests that
housing construction is proceeding somewhat faster than the restoration
of public services. The city issued over 6,000 permits for home renovation
between October and November, the largest one-month increase in the
past six months. Meanwhile, just 30 percent of the child care centers
and 49 percent of the public schools that operated prior to Katrina
have re-opened. Forty-nine percent of public transit routes have been
restored, the same level of service as a year ago. While the data might
suggest that economic recovery depends on a sustained housing recovery,
the continued low level of public services could also discourage people
from returning to the city.
John Edwards, who has positioned himself as the
2008 presidential candidate most likely to fight poverty, made his bid
for the White House official on Dec. 27 during a clean-up in a devastated
New Orleans neighborhood. Edwards said he chose to enter the presidential
race while standing behind a vacant house in the eastern part of the
city because it was emblematic of the economic disparity he will discuss
during his campaign.
The second Community Congress on Dec. 2, one in
a series organized by the Unified New Orleans Plan and AmericaSpeaks,
was attended by some 2,500 current and displaced residents of the city.
This was a far better turnout than the first congress, held at the end
of October, which had just 200 participants. That event was also criticized
for being three-quarters white, though New Orleans was 67 percent black
before the hurricane. This time, organizers simulcast the event by satellite
to viewers in 16 cities where evacuees are still living, and enabled
the displaced residents to take part in the event using laptop computers
and the Internet. The event's purpose was to update residents on the
city's recovery and identify their priorities for rebuilding.
In a sharp rejoinder to FEMA, a federal judge on
Nov. 29 ordered the agency to restore housing aid and pay three months'
back rent to as many as 11,000 families that were displaced as a result
of the hurricane. These families had been under the impression they
were entitled to 18 months of emergency relief, but were cut off as
soon as six months after the disaster. The activist group ACORN sued
on behalf of the families in the Federal District Court for the District
Following up on its lawsuit against St. Bernard
Parish, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center is calling
on Slidell, Louisiana to allow a developer to build more multi-family
housing. Slidell officials are considering whether to prohibit new multi-family
construction in neighborhood and downtown areas, and limit it in highway
commercial zones. The city says people who moved to Slidell after the
hurricane may start to move back to New Orleans as their homes are repaired,
so additional multi-family housing in Slidell is unnecessary. The fair
housing group disagrees and suggests that Slidell's proposed zoning
changes may even be illegal. The group sued St. Bernard Parish in September
after it limited the number of single-family homes that could be rented.
Here's a new Katrina-related resource: The Brookings Institution, with support from Living Cities, Inc., has created a Katrina Reading Room at www.brookings.edu/metro/katrina.htm. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, and the Urban Institute also contributed material for the site.
The Housing Partnership Network, a membership organization made up of leading nonprofit developers and lenders, has launched the Gulf Coast Housing Partnership with financial support from Enterprise Community Partners and Fannie Mae. The new entity is committed to building at least 10,000 homes in Louisiana and Mississippi, working with local public, private and nonprofit partners. Read the press release at www.nhi.org/pdf/EnterpriseRelease1106.pdf
Homeless advocates are worried about what will
happen to their clients as cold temperatures reach New Orleans. The
homeless population that has returned to the city has climbed to at
least 3,000. There were about 6,500 homeless people on the streets or
in shelters in the city before Katrina. Before the storm, the city had
1,100 beds in six shelters; now it has just 450, with two of the six
major shelters still closed and a third just getting back on its feet.
The New York Times ran a short but good account
on Nov. 19 of HUD's determination to tear down the Lafitte public housing
near downtown New Orleans, despite protests from residents and preservationists
who say the development is a rare example of public housing that blended
in with the surrounding community. Or at least it had the potential
to, if it had been properly maintained.
Following up on its collaboration on the redevelopment
of the Lafitte public housing project in New Orleans, the AFL-CIO Investment
Trust announced it is negotiating with three companies to build an $18
million modular housing plant. The facility would be located in the
New Orleans area and would produce as many as 1,000 homes annually.
Factory-build homes are considered the ideal solution to the region's
acute housing shortage, and they are built much like homes that are
assembled on-site. Unlike most modular housing plants, this one will
have all unionized labor.
Common Ground Relief is battling a New Orleans
landlord over his effort to evict tenants from buildings the group is
managing under a gentleman's agreement. Since it took over management
of the Woodlands Apartment Complex in the Algiers neighborhood last
May, the group has frozen rents at pre-Katrina levels, founded a workers'
cooperative and tenant union and worked with residents to clean up the
once-decrepit property. The group says it has put $1 million in labor
and material improvements into the buildings. Now, as the landlord tries
to evict the tenants, Common Ground Relief is looking for legal help.
The Louisiana Association of Nonprofits, together
with the Urban Institute, has developed an online bibliography on "Translating
Research into Action: Nonprofits and the Renaissance of New Orleans."
It includes a collection of readings on subjects critical to the city,
including housing, arts and culture, children and families, disaster
preparedness, community health, and poverty reduction and asset development.
With many parents stuck in Houston or other far-flung
cities, their children are living by themselves with their young siblings
in New Orleans. The situation has made some public schools even more
unsettled than they were pre-Katrina, as teachers and administrators
deal with students who have no authority figures at home.
HUD has demanded that the Lafitte public housing
development near downtown New Orleans be torn down before Providence
Community Housing, Enterprise Community Partners and the AFL-CIO Investment
Trust rebuild on the site. Many longtime residents of the area are outraged,
because the buildings were only lightly damaged by flooding after Hurricane
Katrina, and they have great historical value. Among people with very
low incomes, Lafitte was known as "the best project in town."
This article is the first of a two-part series on Lafitte and its importance
to the surrounding neighborhood.
A new analysis shows that blacks in Louisiana were far less likely than whites to seek government help when insurance companies denied their claims after Hurricane Katrina. Interviews with storm victims show that blacks tended not to believe the government would help them, while whites more often pressured the state insurance department to get relief. Blacks were also less likely to have computer, radio or TV access after the storm, so many were unaware they could seek government help despite the state's extensive outreach effort. Of the more than 3,000 Katrina-related cases filed by Louisiana residents with the state that have already been settled, 75 percent were from majority white neighborhoods. www.nola.com/newsflash/louisiana/index.ssf?/base/business-4/1161701052219820.xml&storylist=louisiana&thispage=1
ACORN has been dumped as a planning consultant
for several New Orleans neighborhoods because its development arm, ACORN
Housing, is involved in rebuilding parts of those same communities.
The New Orleans Community Support Foundation, which is directing the
overall planning for the city, said ACORN had an inherent conflict of
interest in trying to plan and develop at the same time. ACORN Housing
was among a group of nonprofits that won contracts from the city in
August to rehabilitate properties seized for nonpayment of taxes. ACORN
leaders said they had a contract to do planning and they intended to
carry it out.
Professionals working with residents to develop
a city-wide plan for New Orleans are inviting AmericaSpeaks to gather
electronic feedback from Katrina evacuees living in Houston, Atlanta,
Baton Rouge and a fourth, as-yet unnamed city. On Dec. 2, past and possible
future New Orleans residents in those cities will use keypad technology
to vote on whether they support various scenarios for rebuilding the
city produced during earlier meetings. AmericaSpeaks conducted a similar
event in Manhattan after 9/11, although in that case most participants
using the technology were present at one site in New York. Private foundations
are expected to foot the bill for the project.
An online article argues that acts of civil disobedience
have become an important survival tool for people with low incomes in
New Orleans. It notes two recent incidents that received little media
attention, one in which a tenant attempted to re-occupy her unit at
the shuttered Lafitte public housing development, and another in which
people broke into a gated area to gain access to an unused FEMA trailer.
Residents who have succeeded in re-occupying public housing have been
subject to harassment and have been denied public services.
A team led by Providence Community Housing and
Enterprise Community Partners and AFL-CIO Investment Trust will plan
the redevelopment of the former Lafitte public housing complex in New
Orleans' Treme neighborhood. All 865 residents and families who lived
in Lafitte before the storm will be eligible for subsidized units in
the new neighborhood, plus another 600 homes will be built on vacant
lots in Treme. PICO's local chapter, All Congregations Together, is
contacting former residents, including those outside Louisiana, to let
them know of this opportunity.
A New Orleans area fair housing group is suing
St. Bernard Parish, the working-class, largely white suburban area just
east of the city, for its new law limiting the number of single-family
homes that can be rented. The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action
Center says whatever the aim of the rule, it has the effect of keeping
non-whites out of the parish. Parish officials say they don't want neighborhoods
that were owner-occupied before Katrina to deteriorate as renters move
in. They voted to bar property owners from renting their homes to people
who are not blood relatives, unless the homes were already rented before
the storm. The parish had imposed a moratorium on renting single-family
homes last March, but replaced it with the new rule in September.
Broadmoor, a low-lying neighborhood in New Orleans
that was hard-hit by Hurricane Katrina, is making a strong comeback.
It got a boost in late September when a consortium of philanthropists
attending President Clinton's Global Initiative event in New York announced
they would donate at least $5 million to the community. The aid will
come in the form of money, equipment and the power of corporate connections.
It's the largest pledge of outside help since the storm for a single
neighborhood. The area of some 2,000 homes had a sleepy neighborhood
association before Katrina, but the group leaped into action when city
officials talked of turning part of the area into a park.
The United Church of Christ has published a good
article on the issues facing New Orleans' public education system a
year after Katrina. Many public schools have been transformed into charter
schools; and many people wonder if these schools will be as open to
all as they were before. As an example, the article cites the allegations
made last spring that thousands of children with special needs were
not attending school because no school had accepted them. Since then
the state has mandated that city schools under its jurisdiction admit
students with special needs for at least 10 percent of their enrollment.
But questions remain whether the schools have adequate staff to work
with disadvantaged children.
The first results of the neighborhood-based planning
that begin last winter in New Orleans were unveiled on Sept. 23. Using
a $2.9 million grant from the city council, 46 neighborhoods from Carrollton
to the Lower 9th Ward presented their visions for the future. Their
proposals will be folded into a city-wide master planning process that
received funding in July. The cost of building all the improvements
residents planned for will probably exceed $2 billion.
A coalition of business leaders is starting a nonprofit
to build 100,000 housing units on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi over
the next five years. The Gulf Coast Renaissance Corporation will use
the assets of its corporate backers to break down barriers to housing
production, such as a shortage of land and water/sewer infrastructure,
high labor costs, zoning, insurance and wetlands issues.
NLIHC and 40 other housing and anti-poverty groups on the Gulf Coast and nationally have called on Congress to support revisions to the Stafford Act. That's the legislation that governs how FEMA reacts after a natural disaster. In a letter sent to House and Senate appropriators, the groups say the act should be altered to allow households to use disaster rental assistance for security deposits and utility costs. They also support allowing FEMA to make use of permanent housing resources when rental assistance or travel trailers are not feasible or are less cost effective, allowing the agency to provide better quality housing at a lower cost. A bill that contains these provisions is scheduled to be voted on by both houses of Congress the week of Sept. 25.
In case you missed it when it was published in
June, click on the link below to see the results of a survey funded
by the Louisiana Recovery Authority of how displaced residents and South
Louisiana civic leaders envision the region's future. The report includes
a number of interesting responses from business, political and nonprofit
leaders who called for a locally-designed recovery effort, and one that
emphasizes education, job training and entrepreneurship. Also of note
is that white and African-American survey respondents reported similar
levels of overcrowding in their neighborhoods since the hurricane, but
African-Americans were much more likely than whites to say they had
lost jobs, benefits and/or contact with family and friends as a result
of the storm.
It seems the Bush Administration may yet respond to a year's worth of pressure by housing activists to use the Section 8 housing voucher program to help Katrina evacuees. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on Aug. 31 that evacuees facing an imminent cut-off of their FEMA benefits may be offered rental vouchers. Originally, HUD offered vouchers only to storm victims who had already held vouchers or had previously lived in public housing. The administration is also still considering advocates' call for future disaster housing relief to be transferred from FEMA to HUD. Meanwhile, Sen. Russ Feingold will soon introduce a bill to provide $200 million for project-based Sec. 8 vouchers on the Gulf Coast, and to move FEMA's housing services over to HUD.
The response of the state and federal government
to the housing needs of low-income renters in Mississippi has been minimal,
charges that state's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People (NAACP) in a report released Aug. 23. Prepared with
support from the Initiative for Regional and Community Transformation
at Rutgers University, the paper documents the fact that most CDBG money
is flowing to homeowners, and not necessarily those who are low-income.
Unlike in Louisiana, so far Mississippi has no plan to help owners of
private rental housing to rebuild. Furthermore, there are no plans to
develop mixed-income communities to address the problem of concentrated
poverty in the region.
The Institute of Southern Studies' Gulf Coast Reconstruction
Watch released a one-year anniversary report. "One Year After Katrina:
The State of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast" is an update on The
Mardi Gras Index, which was released six months after the hurricane.
Here are just two of the many, many interesting statistics in this report:
the unemployment rate among Katrina evacuees who are now back in their
original homes is 4.2 percent, while for other evacuees, the rate is
23 percent. Also of note: The Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance
has recovered over $700,000 so far in wages that contractors had refused
to pay recovery workers, many of them undocumented.
Also just released is The Brookings Institution's
own one-year anniversary report...
... and a report from Oxfam America: "Forgotten
Communities, Unmet Promises: An Unfolding Tragedy on the Gulf Coast."
Living Cities, a collaborative of public and private
investors, has called for 5,500 new housing units in the neighborhood
of East Biloxi, MS, an increase of 2,000 over the number that existed
there before the hurricane. The group made its recommendation in a report
released in July. The poorest section of Biloxi, the area was hit especially
hard by the storm. The report says the housing should include a mix
of types from single to multi-family, and should include a significant
State and federal officials have agreed to have
150,000 shelter beds ready in Louisiana in case of another hurricane
like Katrina, according to the Aug. 16 New Orleans Times-Picayune.
Less than 100,000 are ready now, however. Meanwhile, FEMA is working
with neighboring states to try to line up more shelter space. Plans
are also in the works for private bus companies and Amtrak to carry
people without their own vehicles out of the New Orleans area before
any future storms.
A report released on August 1 by Save the Children
says New Orleans lacks enough child care services to enable families
to return to the city. Eighty percent of the 266 child care facilities
that existed before Katrina are gone, which means some 1,400 fewer slots
are available for children. The report recommends restoring neighborhood-based
child care to make families' commutes shorter. Researchers didn't study
family day care services that operate in private homes, but they said
these could go a long way toward easing the shortage. The city and the
Louisiana state government should help child care providers to re-start
their operations, the report said.
New Orleans will transfer some 2,000 dilapidated
residential properties to 22 nonprofit and private developers for rehabilitation.
The properties were all seized for nonpayment of taxes prior to Katrina.
Mayor Ray Nagin said the idea is to help people unable to return to
the city for lack of housing. The developers include Habitat for Humanity
and the AFL-CIO's housing arm. The nonprofit developers will not have
to pay the city for the properties. Nagin tried to launch an aggressive
program in 2005 to rehab thousands of run-down buildings in seven neighborhoods,
partnering with private developers. But the initiative was slow to take
off even before Katrina hit. Now, federal tax credits and other post-hurricane
aid make the rehab program more likely to succeed.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission said
on July 28 that the U.S. government should step up its efforts to provide
housing, education and health care to people displaced by Katrina. Several
New Orleans activists had traveled to Switzerland to lobby the U.N.
committee for a statement critical of the federal government.
What do New Orleans residents want in their neighborhoods?
That's the question in the title of a recent report from Tulane University,
the result of a survey of over 1,000 residents of the city and of a
Baton Rouge trailer park. Though residents in various neighborhoods
are still meeting to discuss what the answers should be, the survey
provides a good idea of their likely priorities.
A new report from the Advancement Project, "And
Injustice For All: Workers' Lives in the Reconstruction of New Orleans,"
documents firsthand accounts of the abuse faced by black and Latino
workers in post-Katrina New Orleans. The report contains numerous stories
of mistreatment, including people charged money to sleep in tents in
a city park, workers denied their wages, and police harassment. The
report identifies common ground among undocumented, legal immigrant
and black workers and suggests one way for them to defend their rights
is through collective action. It also calls for renewed attention by
policymakers and advocates to race and labor rights issues in the city.
Related article published in October 2006 in Labor
Residents displaced to other cities since the hurricane
sued the Housing Authority of New Orleans and HUD on June 27 to stop
the demolition of 5,000 units in four large housing developments. The
lawsuit claims that the demolition's purpose is to keep low-income black
households from returning to their city.
New Orleans neighborhoods at risk of being demolished,
such as the storm-ravaged Lower 9th Ward, may have a new lease on life
as a result of an agreement among city and state leaders that was announced
on July 5. The Rockefeller and Greater New Orleans foundations have
committed a combined $4.5 million in initial grants to support a planning
process for all of the city's 73 neighborhoods, as well as the city
as a whole. A newly established public-private entity, the New Orleans
Community Support Foundation, will solicit more private funds and oversee
the planning effort. The announcement ends almost a year of uncertainty
over where funding would come from for planning the city's future, although
a few neighborhoods had been able to start planning on their own. Those
neighborhoods' efforts will be incorporated into the new process. Previously,
Mayor Ray Nagin had given neighborhoods until June to prove that enough
of their former population would return to make them viable. Now residents
have until November to draft plans; then the individual neighborhood/district
plans will be folded into a citywide plan in 2007.
FEMA has suspended the evictions of 3,000 families
living in government trailers in Mississippi while it says it tries
to clarify who is eligible for long-term assistance. An advocate says
the move is a sign FEMA is responding somewhat to criticism and legal
action against its bewildering policies.
Housing advocates are troubled that HUD has approved
substantial waivers from normal Community Development Block Grant regulations
for funds going to the Gulf Coast. The biggest concern is how Mississippi
and Louisiana can now use large portions of CDBG funds to benefit people
who do not have low or moderate-level incomes. In its waiver notice,
HUD reported that Mississippi needed the waiver to support large numbers
of residents in an income-blind manner. Other waivers allow states to
provide funds to for-profit entities without the usual requirement that
the for-profits create a commensurate number of jobs, and allow states
to tear down severely damaged low-income housing without replacing units
at a one-to-one rate.
HUD and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO)
announced a plan on June 14 for reopening more of the city's public
housing stock. By late summer, HANO says 1,000 additional units will
be repaired and re-opened to people who lived in the city's public housing
before Katrina. Just over a thousand units are already open, of more
than 5,000 that were inhabited before the storm. Half of the 1,000 units
to be re-opened will be in the Iberville development, which dates from
1941 and is near the French Quarter. Four other developments will be
torn down completely and replaced with a mix of single-family homes
and apartments. HUD, which has managed HANO since 2002, also raised
the value of Section 8 vouchers it issues in New Orleans from $670 to
$900. In making the announcement, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson seemed
to contradict earlier statements of city and federal housing officials
that only people who have jobs should be allowed back into public housing.
He conceded that anyone who wants to return should be able to.
The HUD plan is likely a response in part to recent
demonstrations by former public housing tenants, including the group
United Affordable Housing Front. Former tenants have erected a tent
city in front of the shuttered St. Bernard development and have threatened
to force their way into their former homes on July 4 if the housing
is not re-opened by then.
The AFL-CIO intends to invest $250 million in financing
to build 5,000 to 10,000 housing units on the Gulf Coast, most of them
in the New Orleans area. Forty percent of the units would be targeted
for people with low incomes. The labor federation also hopes to finance
a factory in the region to build manufactured homes.
Undocumented immigrants make up about a quarter
of workers rebuilding the New Orleans area, according to a report released
on June 7 by researchers at Tulane University and the University of
California, Berkeley. These workers are paid about 40 percent less than
colleagues who have legal papers. The report also found that most of
the workers, undocumented or not, were already living in the United
States prior to Hurricane Katrina.
The New Homeless: The Affordable Housing Crisis
on the Gulf Coast, a video developed by the Lawyers' Committee for
Civil Rights Under Law, depicts the evictions threat facing residents
of many HUD-subsidized housing developments in southern Mississippi.
An article in the May 21 New York Times
looks at current conditions in East Biloxi, Mississippi, a working-class
community devastated by Katrina and threatened by the encroachment of
condo and casino developers. New Urbanist architects who sought to redesign
East Biloxi as a picturesque, somewhat wealthier community left town
in frustration, while the mayor and casino owners decided to take an
urban renewal approach to redevelopment. Meanwhile, one city councilor
is helping residents to rebuild their homes just like they were before,
despite the risk of future storms.
Well, the runoff election for mayor of New Orleans
is over, and Ray Nagin remains in charge. Sort of. Read one opinion,
perhaps just as valid after the May 20 election as before, on why the
election didn't matter:
Map showing the results of the mayoral runoff election
A Houston judge ruled in late May against Katrina
survivors who had filed a class-action suit against FEMA, charging the
agency with failing to provide temporary housing relief for them. The
judge said the plaintiffs had failed to meet all the criteria necessary
for a restraining order, which would have kept FEMA from removing thousands
of families from a housing aid program. According to a statement released
by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, FEMA said 17,000 families
would lose their assistance on May 31, though the agency has not made
clear how it decided who is eligible for continued support. Many people
who received housing vouchers last fall had been told they were eligible
for aid for as long as 18 months. Other voucher recipients who FEMA
says are still eligible must re-apply for assistance every three months.
U.S. Rep. Richard Baker (R-LA) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) have filed
legislation (House bill 5393) to have HUD take over FEMA's housing program
for hurricane evacuees.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is asking HUD for
$100 million to repair and rebuild public housing on that state's Gulf
Coast. The funds would come from a $5 billion allocation previously
approved for the state. The money would be used to leverage funds from
other sources to support housing authorities in Gulfport, Biloxi and
three other cities. More than 90 percent of the nearly 2,700 public
housing units operated by these five authorities were damaged in the
hurricane, with about 10 percent of their units destroyed. Meanwhile,
in Louisiana, displaced residents are preparing a lawsuit to force the
Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) to re-open shuttered public
housing developments. Though many of these buildings are still habitable,
they remain padlocked while the authority repairs them. HANO is also
moving forward with redevelopment plans for some complexes that were
made before Katrina hit.
Enterprise and a new nonprofit housing developer,
Providence Community Housing, will team up to build or repair 6,500
units in the New Orleans metro area. Providence, which is sponsored
by Catholic Charities and several other local groups, will acquire land
from the Archdiocese of New Orleans for the housing. The project will
include a mix of apartments for seniors and the physically challenged,
mixed-income apartments and single-family homes. Low-income housing
tax credits and CDBG funds are expected to be major sources of funding.
Residents of New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward now have
until at least August 29 to have their damaged homes cleaned and gutted.
Until that date, the city will not try to seize these properties to
demolish them. ACORN succeeded in lobbying the city council to designate
two-thirds of the neighborhood as a hardship case where individual residents
can petition for an extension of the August deadline. However, the activist
group was not able to covince the city council to give residents a year
to clean their homes from the date they are notified by the city of
potential demolition. ACORN also wants residents to have the first option
to buy land or houses for sale in the areas where they lived before
An analysis of results from the April 22 local
elections in New Orleans provides details on turnout in each of the
city's voting precincts. Overall, the analysis reinforces the concern
that the wildly differing voter turnout in different areas of the city
is likely to influence future planning and development decisions.
Also a good resource: A survey of hurricane survivors'
experiences with trying to find aid from nonprofit and public agencies
before and after the storm. Among its key findings are that nearly a
third of the adults who did not evacuate chose to stay in their homes,
as opposed to staying only because they had no means to leave. The survey
was with people who lived in Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana before
The Common Ground Collective is seeking donations
to fund water delivery and storage in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans,
where running water is still not available eight months after the hurricane.
The organization plans to buy a truck that can hold up to 2,000 gallons
of water, transport the water into the neighborhood and store it in
tanks located throughout the area.
Alphonso Jackson, the always-quotable HUD secretary,
told reporters on April 24 that "only the best residents"
should be allowed to return to live in River Gardens, a New Orleans
housing development that replaced the former St. Thomas public housing
complex. River Gardens was built before Hurricane Katrina and sustained
substantial damage in the storm, but was not totaled. No more than 20
percent of apartments at River Gardens have been set aside for former
St. Thomas residents. Jackson defined "best residents" as
those who paid rent on time and worked. Staff of the Greater New Orleans
Fair Housing Center responded that Jackson was contributing to the inaccurate
perception that many people who lived in public housing before the storm
were criminals who didn't work. In the meantime, a spokesman for the
city's housing authority said the agency may institute a policy requiring
public housing residents to have jobs or be in a job training program.
Jackson's comments follow those of Oliver Thomas,
city council president, who said at a meeting earlier this year that
"we don't need soap opera watchers right now." Since the hurricane,
the city's public housing complexes may have become the largest single
source of available rental units, though many were temporarily closed
due to flooding damage. There were roughly 7,000 public housing units
before the storm. The housing authority's director said even if applicants
say they are willing to work, if they weren't working before the hurricane,
they could be rejected.
Incumbent Ray Nagin and Mitch Landrieu, Louisiana's
lieutenant governor, got the most votes in the first round of New Orleans'
mayoral election on April 22 and moved on to a run-off on May 20. Nagin
received 38 percent of the vote, and Landrieu, 29 percent. The number
of blacks who voted was notably higher than many observers had feared,
given that Hurricane Katrina displaced many more blacks than whites
from the city. An estimated 31 percent of African-Americans of voting
age cast ballots, compared to a typical 40 to 45 percent in previous
city elections. About 10 percent of voters drove from out-of-state to
vote in the city or at satellite polling stations elsewhere in Louisiana.
Another 20 percent of the vote was cast via absentee ballots.
A federal judge in Louisiana had told displaced
New Orleans residents to acquire absentee ballots or find their way
back to their home city if they wanted to vote in the local elections.
A group of residents and advocates sued the city on Feb. 9, charging
the state of Louisiana and the city with not doing enough to ensure
that all displaced residents are able to vote. Many of these residents
still do not have reliable mail service because they are living in shelters
or in other temporary housing. The suit demanded that temporary polling
places be set up in communities outside Louisiana where many hurricane
evacuees are living. Judge Ivan Lemelle ruled on Feb. 24 that neither
the city nor the state were obligated to ensure that displaced voters
receive absentee ballots, unless voters send in applications for the
ballots first. In addition, he said the local governments have no obligation
to provide polling places outside their jurisdictions.
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved
$5.2 billion in supplemental rebuilding funds for the Gulf Coast on
April 5, an improvement on the bill that passed out of a House committee
in March. The increase in funds would allow Louisiana to rebuild more
of its affordable rental housing stock, although the bill does not target
funding for supportive housing for the homeless and disabled persons.
The bill provides $1.2 billion for "Katrina cottages," which
would be a more permanent version of the trailers that FEMA has offered
evacuees of past hurricanes, but it remains unclear how the cottages
will be sited. There still has been no legislation passed to shift control
over the temporary rent assistance program from FEMA to HUD, even though
HUD has stated that it can do a better job.
As part of its Rebuilding New Orleans platform,
issued on March 18, PICO, the national organizing network, and its Louisiana
chapters are asking the state to set aside 20 percent of all new housing
development for low-income families and another 20 percent for low-to-moderate-income
families. This would apply to all large-scale housing construction that
receives state subsidies for either land acquisition or development.
The housing request was one of numerous points in a wide-ranging platform
that came out of surveys and meetings PICO chapters conducted in the
city and with displaced residents from October to March.
A day after the U.S. House of Representatives approved
a bill to send more CDBG money to the Gulf Coast, Louisiana Governor
Kathleen Blanco released a plan for how those funds would be used to
bring back rental units in New Orleans and other hard-hit areas. The
highlights include loans to small landlords who agree to cap their rents
at prescribed levels, and federal tax credits for larger developers
to build mixed-income apartments. The proposal also includes money for
supportive services for 3,000 subsidized units for a five-year period.
The state would use gap financing to ensure that a portion of the mixed-income
units go to people with very low incomes. Matching funds would also
be available to enable nonprofit community developers to have a role
in rebuilding the rental stock. The tax credit portion of Blanco's plan
is intended to build or rehabilitate 25,000 apartments, of which 15,000
would be rented at below-market rates.
A bill that may include at least $1 billion to
rebuild rental housing in Louisiana passed out of a U.S. House of Representatives
committee on March 8. The funding would come in the form of supplemental
community development block grant (CDBG) dollars, as part of a $4.2
billion allocation for renter and homeowner relief. The bill will face
some resistance from legislators in the Senate who say Louisiana has
done a poor job of accounting for how it is spending federal money it
received earlier in the recovery effort. Also, other Gulf Coast states
want access to some of the $4.2 billion, which would limit how much
Louisiana has to commit to rental housing. Meanwhile, in Mississippi,
Governor Haley Barbour is calling for federal funding for construction
of "Katrina Cottages" instead of travel trailers for displaced
residents. He warns FEMA's travel trailers won't do much good when the
next hurricane strikes.
PolicyLink has unveiled LouisianaRebuilds.info,
a web portal that has useful information for residents and business
owners thinking about how to reestablish themselves in that state. Among
the interesting reports on the site right now are signs of progress
in New Orleans communities that must complete neighborhood plans by
June. The Lower Ninth Ward Homeownership Association is meeting every
Saturday and intends to meet the deadline set by the city government
to develop a plan. The Broadmoor Improvement Association is also busily
planning. The group is polling residents, creating planning committees
and enlisting the technical help of an unnamed Ivy League university.
These neighborhoods are developing plans without promised help from
the city, which says it is waiting for the federal or state governments
to deliver funding to pay for professional planning aid.
The Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch, a project of the Institute of Southern Studies, released The Mardi Gras Index, which provides indicators of how New Orleans was faring six months after the hurricane. It's not a pretty picture. You can access the report at www.reconstructionwatch.org/MardiGrasReport6.pdf. See also indicators updated monthly by the Brookings Institution at: www.brookings.edu/metro/pubs/200603_KatrinaIndex.pdf
Though it declined in January to support a proposal
by U.S. Rep. Richard Baker of Louisiana to create a federal recovery
board for New Orleans, the Bush Administration now intends to seek an
additional $4.2 billion to repair, rebuild or buy flood-damaged homes
across the state. The purpose of the recovery board would be to finance
bailing out people whose homes were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, paying
at least 60 percent of the equity in their homes and paying off their
mortgages. The White House says it would rather the state use its community
development block grant money for that purpose, so now the state will
get more CDBG funds if Congress approves it. Earlier, the administration
had argued that for a more limited payout to homeowners, arguing that
federal aid should go to residents who didn't live in the flood plain
and so didn't buy flood insurance. Of course, residents in the flood
plain didn't expect the levees to fail. State and local officials say
the additional funds could mean some $150,000 per displaced homeowner.
A group of residents reached a court settlement
on Jan. 13 with the city of New Orleans on a process for notifying them
before the city bulldozes their homes. The city must now give seven
working days' notice before demolition of buildings that are in imminent
danger of collapse, a threat to public safety and in the right of way.
If homes satisfy only the first of these three requirements, the city
must give 30 days' notice. The city had previously published a list
of 2,500 properties it deemed unsafe and intended to bulldoze without
any notice to homeowners. Many of the properties are in the beleaguered
Lower 9th Ward neighborhood. ACORN began a campaign in December to clean
up 1,000 homes in the city at a cost of $2,500 per home.
The Bring New Orleans Back Commission, organized
by Mayor Ray Nagin, has given residents of hard-hit neighborhoods throughout
much of the city until June to produce recovery plans. If they cannot
prove within that time that a significant number of homeowners are likely
to return and that new development is possible within a year, the city
reserves the right to bulldoze their neighborhoods. Teams of planners
are supposed to be assigned to each of the neighborhoods between March
and May to provide technical assistance, although the city had yet to
find funding for this as of early March. During the four month planning
period, residents cannot return to their homes; a commission member
claimed this was to prevent people from spending lots of money on homes
that may later be torn down. If the number of returnees is less than
half the former population, the city could start negotiating with homeowners
to buy their properties. Some land would then be redeveloped, but much
of it would be turned into parks. The commission's report is seen as
something of a compromise after The Urban Land Institute's earlier report
that called for short-term recovery efforts to concentrate on parts
of the city on higher ground, such as the French Quarter. ULI had also
called for bringing back residents who fled after the storm to participate
in the city's recovery.
HUD clarified on Dec. 2 how it will provide assistance
to Gulf Coast residents who were homeless prior to the hurricane. A
separate program was created to serve people who were living on the
streets, in shelters or in transitional or supportive housing. Local
homeless service providers will be contracted to help people get housing
vouchers and assistance in finding homes. Households that were "doubled
up" with family or friends before the storm, rather than on the
streets or in shelters, are excluded from receiving the government's
A legal aid group and organizers are fighting a
wave of evictions by New Orleans landlords taking advantage of a potentially
hot housing market created by the hurricane. On Nov. 23 the Grassroots
Legal Network won a reprieve in court for tenants whose landlords had
been evicting them with minimal notice. Many tenants have been unable
to return to the city and were unaware of eviction notices. Property
owners now have to give FEMA the names of people they intend to evict,
and FEMA must pass on tenants' names and current contact information
to city authorities. Tenants then have 45 days to prepare to challenge
their evictions in court. Despite the legal ruling, some landlords continue
to evict tenants as they had before; organizers are using protest and
media exposure to try to force landlords to back off.
Housing advocates have strongly criticized FEMA and HUD for their lackluster
effort to inform hurricane victims that they have a right to assistance.
Under the program the two agencies created in October, evacuees were
supposed to be eligible for up to 18 months of financial support while
they get their lives in order. But how people get access to this funding
was unclear in early February. Meanwhile, after just five months, FEMA
stopped paying for hotel rooms for thousands of people who were unable
to find more permanent housing. Many ended up in shelters. Some have
returned to their ravaged neighborhoods and have been sleeping in unsafe
conditions. FEMA has hired two faith-based nonprofits to provide housing
assistance; the assistance is intended to help some 50,000 households
who had been staying in leased hotel rooms. Even if these households
find landlords willing to rent to them, many will only have enough funding
to pay for very short-term leases.
The Workforce Alliance, a national coalition of local leaders advocating for federal policies that invest in workers' skills, issued a three-part agenda for workforce redevelopment on the Gulf Coast. The report says the Bush Administration's proposals for worker recovery accounts and tax breaks for employers are short-sighted measures. It calls instead for better access to job training across a range of industries; rebuilding community colleges and one-stop job centers; and targeted investment in key industry sectors. www.workforcealliance.org/policy/WorkforceReDevelopmentintheGulfCoastFINAL.pdf
SEEDCO, the national intermediary that partners with community organizations
to develop programs in small business assistance, asset building, and
workforce development, has compiled a list of relief agencies in states
affected by the hurricane. These agencies offer immediate and long-term
assistance and can be accessed on the web page by state, agency name
or service type.
The Enterprise Foundation, LISC and the National Housing Trust have
jointly developed several funds to provide relief and reconstruction
assistance. Enterprise conducted its own analysis of how much federal
funding would be necessary to rebuild the counties hardest hit by the
hurricane. In addition, Enterprise has a link on its web site to the
transcript of an Oct. 20 conference call with the National Low Income
Housing Coalition and officials from FEMA and HUD.
Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, Housing Texas, and other
research and advocacy groups sponsored a forum on Hurricane Katrina
at the Texas state capitol in October. Panels made up of government
officials, housing professionals, lenders, the faith community and hurricane
evacuees offered their views on evacuees' housing needs and guidance
on providing permanent housing.
ACORN webcast from Nov. 7-8 on rebuilding New Orleans. This was a two-day
conference with over 130 participants. It included panels on environmental
and engineering issues, housing plans and economic equity. (requires
Broadband Internet access)
Organizing for the right of return to New Orleans
Policy solutions to help residents return
Ideas on how displaced residents can rebuild assets
Threat to law that requires integration of students left homeless by
storm with unaffected students
Predatory lending after the storm
Analysis of hurricane’s impact on low-income housing on Gulf
Compilations of responses from various sources http://capacitybuilding.net/Katrina/index.htm
All sorts of data on New Orleans (before and after Katrina)
Statistics on Katrina evacuees living in Texas (report released August
Know your legal rights
The Road to Homelessness (1/15)
Bringing the Gulf Coast to the Debate (1/10/08)
Katrina Through Rose-Colored Glasses (11/5/07)
The Missing Katrina Story (Spring 2007)
New Dance: The New Orleans "slow down" (4/30)
Unstable Foundations: Not Forgetting New Orleans (3/20)
Let Katrina Become a Symbol of Revival (1/9/07)
Tale of Two Sisters (12/28)
Its (Big) Easy Being Green (10/17)
Saints and the Superdome (9/28)
Scapegoating the Least Among Us (9/8)
Five Reasons Tomorrow's Election Doesn't Matter (5/19)
Liberal Bad Faith In The Wake of Hurricane Katrina (5/8)
Eight Months After Katrina (4/26)
New Orleans' Throttled Future (4/24)
A New Orleans for All (1/12/06)
Resurrect New Orleans: A Better City is Possible (Winter
New Orleans' Racial Divide: An Unnatural Disaster (11/16)
How the Nonprofit Sector Should Respond to the Reconstruction Challenge
of the Gulf Coast (9/29)
Let the People Rebuild New Orleans (9/8/05)
The following are local and grassroots organizations that are providing relief and reconstruction assistance in the New Orleans and Gulf Coast areas (some are also organizing for the rights of displaced residents):
Unity Homes (a project of the Healthy Building
Unity of Greater New Orleans
Enterprise Corporation of the Delta
Southern Mutual Help Association, Inc.
Community Labor United
People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond
Louisiana Environmental Action Network
Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund
This is a report on the status of the communities and some of the residents featured in the cover story in Shelterforce’s July/August 2005 issue, “Crossing Muddy Waters.” As they are located within three miles of the Gulf of Mexico in southern Mississippi, North Gulfport and Turkey Creek sustained heavy damage on August 29, 2005 from Hurricane Katrina.
The groups featured in the story, Turkey Creek Community Initiatives (TCCI) and the North Gulfport Community Land Conservancy (formerly Community Land Trust) are among the groups involved in a grassroots planning process to protect their neighborhoods from encroaching development. The planning effort was instigated by Hurricane Katrina and is just getting underway. It is occurring on the heels of the Mississippi Renewal Forum, a planning process supported by Governor Haley Barbour, which made proposals for future development and land protection in the North Gulfport area. See www.turkey-creek.org and www.mississippirenewal.com for more information.
Derrick Evans, founder of TCCI, was out of harm’s way when the hurricane hit in August. Many of his neighbors stayed in their homes to ride out the storm. Evans learned that his mother was in her home in Turkey Creek when water from the storm rose as high as the rafters. A neighbor helped her evacuate, using an air mattress to float. The TCCI office was badly damaged but many of its historical archives were salvageable. The neighborhood church and many homes along Turkey Creek were severely damaged or destroyed.
Shelterforce received word that Rose Johnson and Becky Gillette, co-founders of the Community Land Trust, were safe. We also heard that Burnice Caldwell, who is pictured on the cover of the July/August issue of Shelterforce, was safe, but her house was lost. Howard Page, a board member of the land trust and the photographer for the story, was able to evacuate with his entire family, although his home was also destroyed. It was only four blocks from the coast, in an area of Gulfport where an estimated 95 percent of all structures were ruined by the tidal surge.
As the focus shifted from emergency disaster relief to repairing homes, Evans brought roofing, tarps, bleach and other materials to the community from a base in Birmingham, AL. Trisha Miller, the author of our story, was in Jackson, MS on Sept. 9 helping disaster victims to register for federal aid. On the same day, TCCI and Johnson were close to securing the services of professional roofers to work in their community for 30 days.
(Thanks to author Trisha Miller for contributing to this report. See the September/October 2005 issue of Shelterforce for a follow-up story by Miller on the recovery and rebuilding effort. Also see the Summer 2006 issue for a story by Miller on how landlords tried to evict many tenants in southern Mississippi after the storm.)
Funds to help the community recover from the disaster can be sent to:
Turkey Creek Community Initiatives
For additional listings of grassroots organizations
and charities providing relief, please click here, or see more listings