Four days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Kanye West stunned TV producers and people across the country when he accused President George W. Bush of not caring about black people during a live telethon supporting recovery efforts.
As the nation remembers the devastation of Hurricane Katrina ten years ago, attention is focused on the recovery, and whether the resources provided to the Gulf Coast region have been distributed in an equitable manner. The evidence suggests that black communities have lost out and have suffered from disproportionate support from federal, state and local governments.
In 2010, the Center for Social Inclusion issued a report (pdf) on Gulf Coast recovery programs, warning “many of these dollars have supported projects that have done little to advance recovery for communities of color and poor communities affected by the storm.” The report found that, while over $69 billion in federal aid had been distributed to the region, federal authorities allowed states to divert resources away from the hardest hit communities and exclude vulnerable populations from the decision-making process.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour — whose state was supposed to use 50 percent of a Community Development Block Grant to assist low-income people — secured a waiver from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to prioritize compensation for middle- and higher-income residents. Casinos were built on the Mississippi shoreline, where a staggering 37 percent of the residents are poor.
New Orleans’ black community was destroyed by Katrina and local government decisions. In flood-ravaged areas such as the poor, black Ninth Ward, recovery efforts were delayed by two to four years because the city planned to redline certain areas and turn other to lagoons and abandon them as livable spaces. And the Louisiana legislature took over the New Orleans school district and fired all 7,500 employees — including 4,600 teachers — who were mostly African-American in this predominantly black school system. The teaching profession was a staple of New Orleans’ black middle class. According to data from Tulane University, the percentage of black teachers fell from 71 percent in 2005 to under 50 percent in 2014.
Further, white decision-makers kept poor black people from returning by enacting discriminatory ordinances to “clean up” public housing and remake the city in a whiter image. Pre-fabricated housing and multi-family dwellings were restricted, and the cost of single-family residences was increased.
Moreover, Jefferson Parish banned new, low-income housing developments, and St. Bernard Parish passed a Jim Crow-style “blood relative ordinance” which restricted rentals by landlords to their own relatives, citing the “need to maintain the integrity and stability of established neighborhoods.” The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center sued St. Bernard Parish, which paid a $1.8 million settlement.
According to a 2006 study from the National Fair Housing Alliance, black Katrina evacuees experienced a 66 percent racial discrimination rate, with higher rent prices and security deposits than whites.
A study (pdf) from the Institute For Women’s Policy Research found black women who were displaced by the demolition of public housing were not taken into account when the government formulated disaster relief efforts. Although public officials claimed that these low-income women and their families did not want to return to New Orleans after the disaster, they did, yet they lacked the necessary resources and support. Further, a housing voucher system proved far more expensive for low-income people than public housing. In New Orleans, there are 3,221 fewer low-income apartment houses today than in 2005, and most new units are unaffordable to those who lived in public housing pre-Katrina.
In addition, some federal recovery programs were racially biased. For example, the $10 billion Road Home program, which was to pay up to $150,000 to homeowners with flood damage, was based not on the cost of the repairs but the appraised value of the property. This meant blacks were shortchanged, as homes in white areas were worth far more than comparable homes in black areas.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove