Before Hurricane Katrina, the majority of the New Orleans population included renters. In the wake of the hurricane, a disproportionate amount of rental housing was destroyed, particularly in the affordable and public sectors. However, the majority of the funding for reconstruction was allocated to homeowners and initiatives to increase homeownership. The then president Bush stated that “homeownership is one of the great strengths of any community, and it must be a central part of our vision for the revival of this region” (Herring 2016). Thus, the vast majority of funding went towards homeowners, who ended up receiving billions of dollars in government emergency aid. The majority of New Orleans citizens before the storm—renters—not only did not receive this kind of aid, but they also faced double rents, assignment to trailer parks, and even displacement to other cities.
Moreover, before Hurricane Katrina, more than 5000 people, who were mostly African Americans, lived in public housing. However, during the hurricane, 46% of the public housing stock was destroyed. After the hurricane, the demolition of the rest of the city’s projects were approved by the New Orleans City Council. Even by 2013, new public housing units numbered 2,114 to replace the 6,171 public housing units that were found before Katrina.
Due to all this, there exists a greater gap between the rich and the poor in New Orleans now. The poverty rate and homelessness has increased; the African American population has decreased. Residential areas that used to be affordable have been gentrified, benefiting the investors and property owners, all the while decreasing the amount of affordable rental housing available.
The inequities before and during a disaster are often played out further in the period after a disaster. Many minorities and the poor have had greater difficulties recovering from disasters due to less insurance, lower incomes, fewer savings, more unemployment, less access to communication channels and information, and the intensification of existing poverty. Katrina was not an isolated incident; it is part of the socioeconomic political condition known as environmental injustice, where people of color and the lower class are exposed to greater environmental risks while receiving fewer environmental services.
Greenberg, M (2014). The Disaster Inside the Disaster: Hurricane Sandy and Post-crisis Redevelopment. New Labor Forum. Vol 23(1) 44–52.
Herring, C and Rosenman, E (2016) Engels in the crescent city: revisiting the housing question in post-Katrina New Orleans. ACME 15(3):617-623