As we near the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on August 29th, it’s worth remembering Mayor Ray Nagin’s controversial campaign comment that “This city will be chocolate at the end of the day. This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be."
Before the storm 66% of New Orleans residents were African American. Brown University Sociologist, John Logan, published a detailed structural analysis of New Orleans and the Coast after Katrina concludes “if the post-Katrina city were limited to the population previously living in areas that were undamaged by the storm – that is, if nobody were able to return to damaged neighborhoods – New Orleans is at risk of losing more than 80% of its black population”. (full report here)
- By race. Damaged areas were 45.8% black, compared to 26.4% in undamaged areas.
- By housing tenure. 45.7% of homes in damaged areas were occupied by renters, compared to 30.9% in undamaged communities.
- By poverty and employment status. 20.9% of households had incomes below the poverty line in damaged areas, compared to 15.3% in undamaged areas. 7.6% of persons in the labor force were unemployed in damaged areas (before the storm), compared to 6.0% in undamaged areas.”
Today, the racial composition of the city is still unsettled. However, there are three important forces that will change the composition of the economic status of ownership of the land in New Orleans, whatever the racial composition of the residents of the city may be in the future.
1. Eminent Domain. The Bring New Orleans Back Commission plans to make aggressive use of the power of eminent domain authorized by the Kelo v. New London case which held that a city is entitled to take a privately owned residence to provide land for a private developer to advance a development plan that the elected officials deem to be for a “public purpose”.
2. The Federal Government announced that it will raze 5,000 Units of Public Housing.
The St. Bernard, C. J. Peete, B. W. Cooper and Lafitte housing developments where the demolition will take place represent more than 60 percent of the conventional public housing in the city. This destruction of housing for poor residents prompted one former resident of the projects to say “they are trying to steal New Orleans from us”
3. Market Forces. The New York Times reports today that the prices of housing, even badly damaged housing, all over the city have increased in value above what the prices were before the storm. “. Speculators, and bargain hunters have stimulated demand for housing, driving up prices, touching off a Post Katrina gold rush, in which “flooded houses in the city are being bought as well, often at deep discounts of as much as $50 a square foot less than they would have sold for before the hurricane”
The combination of the three factors listed above will create virtually irresistable forces to displace the poorest former residents, including renters and many owners of homes in the Ninth Ward, the area of the city most devasted by flooding from the breached levees.
In a series of posts this week I will explore the potential impact of the convergence of federal and local property ownership policies with market forces that will realign the distribution of ownership of private residential land in New Orleans after the storm.