August 29, 2009

Katrina: Four Years Later

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck Florida and the Gulf Coast, breached New Orleans’ levees in multiple locations and flooded 80 percent of the city. For days thousands of mostly Black residents languished on rooftops, in leaky boat flotillas, and in flooded government buildings and civic centers. The storm killed more than 1,800 people and left the city of New Orleans a shell of its former self. Damage estimates hover around $80 billion. Four years later rebuilding continues.

One of the positive outgrowths of the devastation is that the New Orleans public school system is substantially improved from its horrible situation in advance of Katrina.

There is evidence of the growing success of the schools in many areas. First, the city attracted a nationally known reformer, superintendent Paul Vallas, and so many teachers that it has 10 applicants for every opening. Second, New Orleans now spends twice as much as it did before Katrina -- $15,500 per pupil –- far above the national average.

The proof is in the pudding: Scores have risen on both state and national exams.

The Obama administration recently provided New Orleans’ HBCU, Southern University, with $32 million to replace four hurricane-damaged buildings.

The Brookings Institution and the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center summarize their report as follows:

"The nation’s deepening economic recession has produced dissolution and despair across the country as many communities grapple with the social and economic ramifications of massive layoffs, prolonged unemployment, shuttered businesses, and home foreclosures. By contrast, rebuilding from the woes caused by Hurricane Katrina has helped cushion greater New Orleans from the ravages of the downturn. As New Orleans ends its fourth year since the hurricane and levee failures, the region has been buoyed by post-disaster recovery efforts and its fortunate industry mix."
The release entitled ‘The New Orleans Anniversary Edition: Four Years after Katrina’, says Congress and the Obama leadership must commit and sustain its partnership with Louisiana state and local leaders by “delivering on key milestones in innovation, infrastructure, human capital and sustainable communities to help greater New Orleans move past 'disaster recovery' and boldly build a more prosperous future”.

The 24-page 'New Orleans Index' documents some key findings that include:

  • The New Orleans economy is weathering the recession relatively well due in part to its industry composition. The New Orleans metro area lost 0.9 percent of its jobs since last June, compared to the 4.1 percent lost nationally. The industries hardest hit — manufacturing and construction — comprise relatively small shares of the New Orleans economy and since last June have shed few jobs. The four largest sectors of the region’s economy — trade and transportation, government, leisure and hospitality, and education and health services — either stagnated or added jobs. The New Orleans metro area’s unemployment rate rose to 7.3 percent while it climbed to 9.5 percent for the nation.
  • Ongoing rebuilding activities are attracting people, jobs, and investments, further shoring up the greater New Orleans economy. New Orleans added more than 8,500 households (actively receiving mail) in the past year, the biggest one-year expansion since 2007, reflecting a mix of new and returning residents. While home rebuilding has slowed dramatically since 2007, post-disaster infrastructure investments in the levee system, schools, police stations and other public facilities have continued apace. Since July 2008, FEMA has paid over $800 million for infrastructure repair projects across the five-parish area. In the city of New Orleans, 94 facilities and public works projects were completed as of April 2009, and 113 more were under construction.
  • Yet New Orleans is not immune from the economic crisis. Like many metropolitan areas, the housing market has stalled, with home sales down 39 percent and new construction down 48 percent. The slowdown in consumer spending has contributed to a plunge in city sales tax revenues with 21 percent fewer receipts from general sales, motel/hotel stays, and motor vehicle purchases in April and 6 percent fewer receipts in May compared to the previous year.
  • Further, massive blight, affordable housing for low-income workers, and significant flood risk remain the area’s major challenges. While there are fewer unoccupied residences in Orleans, St. Bernard and Jefferson parishes this year, the scale of blight remains high— 65,888, 14,372, and 11,516 residences, respectively — posing significant challenges for local governments. Steep rent increases have abated, but at 40 percent higher than pre-Katrina, rents remain out of reach for many critical workers. Typical rent for an efficiency apartment is $733 per month, unaffordable for food preparation, health care support, and retail sales workers.

According to a 'Katrina Pain Index, the Louisiana landscape is dotted by nearly 2,000 temporary FEMA trailers (many of them contaminated and uninhabitable) 65,888 unoccupied residences and countless weed-filled lots and molding houses. The murder rate in New Orleans topped all cities nationwide last year, although the overall rate of violent crime dropped in the city in 2007 and 2008.

Engineering and construction work rebuilding Louisiana after Katrina has cushioned unemployment at 6.8%. The nation’s rate is 9.4%. Still the state ranks No. 2 in the nation for the highest jobless rate (13.2%) among African Americans and people living in poverty trailing Mississippi, despite billions in post-Katrina recovery dollars.

Nearly a third of the city’s children live in poverty. The vast majority of these children live in single-parent homes; many are being raised by siblings, foster parents or are on their own.

Recently Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) told her congressional colleagues that it is high time to get serious and get beyond just talking about doing something to help the people of New Orleans.

Four years after Hurricane Katrina we still have individuals living in trailers, seeking additional benefits, dispersed throughout the country in unfamiliar cities, and disconnected from their families, friends and their hometown.”
Some online activists feel that we need to take actions that will prevent a future where disasters like Katrina become the norm. They want to see President Obama push for a strong clean energy bill that seeks to correct long-term structural energy issues.

The images from Hurricane Katrina are painful. They remind us that America is willing to abandon an entire city when it was inconvenient to save them. We saw images of desperation, racism and hopelessness.

Nothing happens as quickly as we want. Four years later we see rays of light -- new levees, new buildings, returning residents, grassroots organizers and achieving school children. Methinks that we have a chance to see New Orleans regaining its worldwide gleam if we stay the course.

I would be interested to see what villagers have to say about New Orleans: Four Years After Hurricane Katrina...


Vérité Parlant said...

Great post, Villager. I'll be posting on Hurricane Katrina later today at BlogHer and will definitely link back to this.

One of the biggest problems here in New Orleans right now hindering recovery is crime. I'm in NOLA but avoid writing about it because it gets me so upset I can't function and because I know it's not as simple a problem as it appears to be, one that the majority population seems to think can be solved by throwing more people in jail. I'll work to overcome my aversion to writing about it.

Unfortunately young black men seem to be committing most of the violent crimes. While I know we have discrimination within the courts and criminal justice system, we can't escape that we have what our black police chief calls an increasing number of hardened criminals, some hardened as early as age 13. Yes, I know there are myriad factors to why this is happening, but can't we find a simple factor within our control to address first rather than waiting for someone else?

Is there a non-government intervention, non-white community dependent model we can adopt to solve this crisis?

I don't mean abandon a push for parity in tax dollars or abandon calls for justice in discriminatory arrests, but to find a way to shift the focus from a need for government dollars to what we do directly, how do we consistently address accountability from inside the community. It does take a village but on this issue I feel it's going to take specifically a black village engaging all members of the black village to say enough is enough. I'm tired of seeing black mothers crying about their gunned down children and a few minutes later other black mothers, mothers of the perpetrators saying "My baby didn't do nothing to nobody." Or worse, "They need to investigate why my baby had to shoot him."

Yes, there are some contributors to crime in our communities that lie outside our communities to repair alone, such as poverty, possible lead poisoning, and a lack of jobs at a living wage, but these are not problems that will be solved with the snap of a finger. In the meantime, how do we change the mindset that is aware of the contributing factors and from that extrapolates excuses for perpetrators. How do we move to saying it's not what white people say, it's what we say--we will tolerate no excuse for violence?

I know there are people in our communities who speak out against acts of violence and criminal activity. What can we do to make their voices louder?

I see two sets of people in the black community being the most affected. People in high-crime areas who are afraid and want help, want support and guidance about how to steer children away from violence and give them better coping solutions and people who say, "You can't tell me what to do with my child." The latter attitude is not something government dollars cannot address. It's something that was here before Katrina, and it's something perhaps only we in the village can address.

Yes, the schools are getting better, I guess, if I take the gatekeepers' word for it. But we still have a high-drop out rate. Anyway, better schools don't help part of the group who indulge a "being smart and educated is being white" mindset and who are enamored of the gangster mystique.

I'd be willing to help raise money for any organization by us that can help us address us. It's a complicated issue, but who can break it into its solvable pieces and go forth with a strategy? I'm not that person, but I'll support the person who is.

msladyDeborah said...

Hotep Villager,

I'm sitting here watching Spike Lee's documentary on Katrina while I comment.

It is good to see that progress is being made. For too long and for the obvious reasons, not enough was done to help the victims of Katrina.

The lack of humane and sensible response by the Bush Administration is second of the greatest disasters of this decade. To this day, there is no justification for the way the government failed to respond to the needs of the citizens of this nation.

It is good to know that attention is being given to that portion of the United States.

On the other hand, I know from keeping up with the subject that there is a lot of internal problems in NOLA. Which does not surprise me. When an entire group of people are displaced, disrespected and left with their anger as fuel-there is going to be a backlash. Unfortunately, our people are turning their rage in the wrong direction.

I saw Katrina out on the Atlantic Ocean while I was in Florida. It was due to make landfall there in a couple of days. It was a disturbing picture when I looked at the solid wall of dark clouds and waves. I felt then that there was death in those clouds. Little did I know how true my feelings were at that time. Our friends in Florida were okay after the storm was over. I made it home before it hit. I was on a television fast when it hit for the second time. I will never forget the first time I turned on my television and saw the devastation that had occurred.
It brought tears to my eyes to see people stranded on the rooftops pleading for help. Then I became angry when I listened to Bush trying to make us think that his folks had a clue about how to conduct business at that time.

I believe it is going to be a long time before the aftermath is no longer felt within the nation. I am sure that the people who were displaced, lost loved ones and all that they had in this world will never fully recover.

Unknown said...

Nordette - Your village voice is loud and clear on the issue of dealing with issues of crime within Black community (in New Orleans and elsewhere). I'm not an expert ... perhaps others that read this thread will share their thoughts.

The part of the process that I can exercise immediate control is my parental guidance of three Black young people. I can do what needs to be done to ensure that none of my children get engaged on the negative end of the criminal justice system. Time tells if I'm successful in that effort.

I'm open to other more community-based or macro-solutions.

Unknown said...

Lady D - I'm glad I took time to share this blog post. It is important for all of us to keep the rebuilding of New Orleans in the public eye. I hope that I do a better job of bringing the issue to this blog over the coming weeks and months.

PPR_Scribe said...

Yes, there is progress, but I also agree that a lot more needs to be done. One thing we all (bloggers) can do is keep attention focused on the issue. I was happy when compiling a recent post that there were so many excellent links about the anniversary. (BTW, I linked to all 3 of you ;-)) We just cannot forget or allow any one else to either.

Unknown said...

PPR Scribe - Thank you for the 'link-love'. I agree that Black bloggers need to keep the issue at the forefront for our blog readers. Please help remind us of Katrina-related stories as they come to you over the coming weeks and months...