[URBANTH-L]NEWS: Half New Orleans Poor Population Permanently
jancius at ohio.edu
Tue Mar 4 12:14:15 EST 2008
Half New Orleans Poor Permanently Displaced: Failure or
By Bill Quigley
Submitted to portside
March 3, 2008
Government reports confirm that half of the working
poor, elderly and disabled who lived in New Orleans
before Katrina have not returned. Because of critical
shortages in low cost housing, few now expect tens of
thousands of poor and working people to ever be able to
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH)
reports Medicaid, medical assistance for aged, blind,
disabled and low-wage working families, is down 46%
from pre-Katrina levels. DHH reports before Katrina
there were 134,249 people in New Orleans on Medicaid.
February 2008 reports show participation down to 72,211
(a loss of 62,038 since Katrina). Medicaid is down
dramatically in every category: by 50% for the aged,
53% for blind, 48% for the disabled and 52% for
The Social Security Administration documents that fewer
than half the elderly are back. New Orleans was home
to 37,805 retired workers who received Social Security
before Katrina, now there are 18,940 - a 50% reduction.
Before Katrina, there were 12,870 disabled workers
receiving Social Security Disability in New Orleans,
now there are 5350 - 59% less. Before there were 9425
widowers in New Orleans receiving Social Security
survivor's benefits, now there are less than half,
Children of working class families have not returned.
Public school enrollment in New Orleans was 66,372
before Katrina. Latest figures are 32,149 - a 52%
Public transit numbers are down 75% since Katrina.
Prior to Katrina there were frequently over 3 million
rides per month. In January 2008, there were 732,000
rides. The Regional Transit Authority says the
reduction reflects that New Orleans has far fewer
poorer, transit dependent residents.
Figures from the Louisiana Department of Social
Services show the number of families receiving food
stamps in New Orleans has dropped from 46,551 in June
of 2005 to 22,768 in January 2008. Welfare numbers
are also down. The Louisiana Families Independence
Temporary Assistance Program was down from 5764
recipients (mostly children) in July 2005 to 1412 in
the latest report.
While there are no precise figures on the racial
breakdown of the poor and working people still
displaced, indications strongly suggest they are
overwhelmingly African American. The black population
of New Orleans has plummeted by 57 percent, while white
population fell 36 percent, according to census data.
The areas which are fully recovering are more affluent
and predominately white. New Orleans, which was 67
percent black before Katrina, is estimated to be no
higher than 58 percent black now.
The reduction in poor and low-wage workers in New
Orleans is no surprise to social workers. Don Everard,
director of social service agency Hope House, says New
Orleans is a much tougher town for poor people than
before Katrina. "Housing costs a lot more and there is
much less of it," says Everard. "The job market is
also very unstable. The rise in wages after Katrina
has mostly fallen backwards and people are not getting
enough hours of work on a regular basis."
The displacement of tens of thousands of people is now
expected to be permanent because there is both a
current shortage of affordable housing and no plan to
create affordable rental housing for tens of thousands
of the displaced.
In the most blatant sign of government action to reduce
the numbers of poor people in New Orleans, the U.S.
Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is
demolishing thousands of intact public housing
apartments. HUD is spending nearly a billion dollars
with questionable developers to end up with much less
affordable housing. Right after Katrina, HUD
Secretary Alphonso Jackson predicted New Orleans was
"not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if
ever again." He then worked to make that prediction
According to Policy Link, a national research
institute, the crisis in affordable housing means
barely 2 in 5 renters in Louisiana can return to
affordable homes. In New Orleans, all the funds
currently approved by HUD and other government agencies
(not spent, only approved) for housing for low-income
renters will only rebuild one-third of the pre-Katrina
affordable rental housing stock.
Hope House sees four to five hundred needy people a
month. "Most of the people we see are working people
facing eviction, utility cutoffs, or they are already
homeless" reports Everard. The New Orleans homeless
population has already doubled from pre-Katrina numbers
to approximately 12,000 people.
Everard noted that because of FEMA's recent
announcement that it was closing 35,000 still occupied
trailers across the gulf, homelessness is likely to get
a lot worse.
United Nations officials recently called for an
immediate halt to the demolitions of public housing in
New Orleans saying demolition is a violation of human
rights and will force predominately black residents
into homelessness. "The spiraling costs of private
housing and rental units, and in particular the
demolition of public housing, puts these communities in
further distress, increasing poverty and homelessness,"
said a joint statement by UN experts in housing and
minority issues. "We therefore call on the Federal
Government and State and local authorities to
immediately halt the demolitions of public housing in
New Orleans." Similar calls have been made by Senators
Clinton and Obama. Despite these calls, the
The rebuilding has gone as many planned. Right after
Katrina, one wealthy businessman told the Wall Street
Journal, "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want
to see it done in a completely different way:
demographically, geographically and politically."
Elected officials, from national officials like
President Bush and HUD Secretary Jackson to local city
council members, who are presumably sleeping in their
own beds, apparently concur. Policies put in place so
far do not appear overly concerned about the tens of
thousands of working poor, the elderly and the disabled
who are not able to come home.
The political implications of a dramatic reduction in
poor and working mostly African American people in New
Orleans are straightforward. The reduction directly
helps Republicans who have fought for years to reduce
the impact of the overwhelmingly Democratic New Orleans
on state-wide politics in Louisiana. In the jargon of
political experts, Louisiana, before Katrina, was a
"pink state." The state went for Clinton twice and then
for Bush twice, with U.S. Senators from each party.
The forced relocation of hundreds of thousands, mostly
lower income and African-American, could alter the
balance between the two major parties in Louisiana and
the opportunities for black elected officials in New
Given the political and governmental officials and
policies in place now, one of the major casualties of
Katrina will be the permanent displacement of tens of
thousands of African Americans, the working poor, their
children, the elderly, and the disabled.
Those who wanted a different New Orleans rebuilt
probably see the concentrated displacement as a
success. However, if the test of a society is how it
treats its weakest and most vulnerable members, the
aftermath of Katrina earns all of us a failing grade.
Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and law professor
at Loyola University College of Law in New Orleans. He
can be reached at quigley77 at gmail.com Interested
persons can contact Hope House through Don Everard at
deverard at bellsouth.net
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