Public Housing in New Orleans: Looking Back 12 Years After Hurricane Katrina

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New Orleans is one of America’s finest cities.  A mixture of culture, arts, music, food and entertainment make it one of the most popular cities for domestic and international travelers.  In 2005, a horrible storm hit the city and caused the most damage up to that point of any natural disaster in the USA.  Much of the city was destroyed and that included public housing.  After the hurricane was over, many residents were spread out all over the USA especially the south.  Residents soon learned that much of the housing was going to be torn down even housing that was not in bad shape.  This caused quite a uproar and many residents complained in DC and New Orleans.  Before the hurricane, there were 5,000 units of housing and now that number is down to 1,900.

Dislocation:

An interesting report showed that one year after Hurricane Katrina, only around 50% of the people who had been forced to flee has returned.  Many people including public housing residents ended up in Houston. A large proportion of residents ended up in Louisiana and other southern states.  The report also found that younger people were more likely to move far away from New Orleans than people older than that bracket.

The Tear Down:

After the hurricane ended and the waters subsided, the next step was trying to figure out what to do with an aging housing stock.  A massive plan was launched to remove 4500-5000 units and replace them with more mixed use development.  While there were many protests the housing authority in the city brought out that many of the units were slated to be demolished ahead of the hurricane. There were a lot of legal battles but in the end, most of these units were torn down.

The Rebuild:

The big four housing communities in New Orleans were torn down and in their places new communities were developed.  The result was a mixed income lower density concept with four-plexes at Marrero Commons, Columbia Parc, Faubourg Lafitte and Harmony Oaks.  Although new development did take place, all the units torn down did not get rebuilt. The New Orleans Housing Authority has many more vouchers then in previous times.  Thanks to WWW. Nola.com you can see some of these difference below.

St. Thomas, where redevelopment began well before the storm, had 1,510 public housing units. Its replacement, River Garden, has 182.

St. Bernard had 1,464. Columbia Parc has 221.

C.J. Peete, also known as the Magnolia, had 1,403. Harmony Oaks has 193.

Desire had 1,860. The Estates has 283.

Rebuilding Buildings Easy; Rebuilding Community Not:

Many of the residents moving back into the newly redeveloped buildings and neighborhoods appreciate the quality of the housing.  A NPR article brought out several examples of how happy residents were when they moved into the new apartments or homes.  However; throughout that article it was clear that many residents missed the community that had once been.  Everything from sitting out on the steps and talking to neighbors to grilling or having block parties.   The big parties are not allowed and this makes it hard for those who used to live in these areas to feel like they are gaining a missing sense of community.

NOLA Moving Forward:

New Orleans saw a lot of destruction, turmoil and rebuilding over the last 10-12 years.  While great strides were made in redeveloping old and outdated public housing, the housing authority and city should take care to cultivate the feeling of place that residents may feel is missing.  Having a great home is important but feeling comfortable and supported in your environment is just as important.

Source Material:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/public-housing-coming-down-in-new-orleans/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4048822/

https://www.npr.org/2015/08/17/431267040/after-katrina-new-orleans-public-housing-is-a-mix-of-pastel-and-promises

http://www.nola.com/katrina/index.ssf/2015/08/new_orleans_public_housing_dem.html

 

 

Author: jcrites

Josh Crites is an American social housing professional with both practical and research experience. He has worked at 3 social housing companies in the USA in roles ranging from policy and operations to process improvement and strategy. Josh is a former Alexander von Humboldt German Chancellor Fellow. During that fellowship, Josh researched and worked with social housing companies in Germany, The Netherlands, Portugal, Scotland, England, Estonia and Spain. He is an avid writer and advocate for the provision of social housing around the world.

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