Thursday, August 10, 2006

Little Progress in New Orleans – One Year Later

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media

Yesterday, I posted a story about the hundreds of families in the New Orleans area who are still without housing, or even able to get into the trailers that are on their property.

And now today, a new report has been issued by the Brookings Institution that highlights how slowly things have been progressing in New Orleans in the areas of housing, labor, infrastructure and services over the past year.

To say the least, things aren’t progressing the way that they should be. However, it is a somewhat mixed bag, as there are some signs of life in certain areas, albeit certainly not at a level that is acceptable for a major American city. The full report (linked above) is around 16 pages but there are some highlights (or lowlights) which are noted below:


While the first 6 months after Katrina hit was extremely slow in terms of housing demolitions, rehabilitation and building, things seem to have picked up somewhat over the past six months. According to the report:

Housing rehabilitation, and demolition, are well underway while the housing market tightens, raising rent and home prices. Across the most hard-hit parishes in the New Orleans area, the pace of demolitions has accelerated in the last six months while the number of permits issued for rehab has nearly doubled in the city. Yet, housing is less affordable as rent prices in the region have increased by 39 percent over the year and home sale prices have spiked in suburban parishes.

So, the housing market is starting to pick up but the rents and prices have increased to the point where they are less affordable to those who were there to begin with. Doesn’t sound too good to me – in fact it seems as though we are headed towards another installment of “class warfare” whereby the lower income people will be squeezed out of the region for bigger McMansions and a “revitalized New Orleans” (ugh...)

Public Services and Infrastructure

This is an area which has been very weak over the past year. In order for jobs to pick up, in order for businesses to come back and thrive (or at least not fail), there needs to be a way for people, ESPECIALLY lower income people to get around the region. However, bus service as well as gas and electrical services are still at very low levels:
Across the city, public services and infrastructure remain thin and slow to rebound. Approximately half of all bus and streetcar routes are back up and running, while only 17 percent of buses are in use, a level of service that has not changed since January. Gas and electricity service is reaching only 41 and 60 percent of the pre-Katrina customer base, respectively.

Now, I’m not sure how people can get around if there is little electricity, transportation or other similar services. But as I said above, I don’t see how you can revitalize the area without making significant investments in the infrastructure and transportation.

Labor and Employment

This is another area that has been very weak, and shows (at least to me) that Kanye West was right on point back in 2005. Job creation is down. Unemployment is still very high. Not a good formula for rebuilding a major city.
The labor force in the New Orleans region is 30 percent smaller today than one year ago and has grown slowly over the last six months; meanwhile, the unemployment rate remains higher than pre-Katrina. The New Orleans metro area lost 190,000 workers over the past year, with the health and education services industries suffering the largest percentage declines. In the past six months, the region has seen 3.4 percent more jobs but much of that may reflect the rise in new job seekers. The unemployment rate is now 7.2 percent, higher than last August.

Despite the fact that over $100 billion (yes, with a “B”) has been allocated to the Gulf Coast, over 275,000 workers were displaced from the hurricane - and nearly one quarter of them are still unemployed. And what was that about the economy turning a corner?

Also mentioned in the report is the fact that there are only around 1/3 of the public schools open, nearly a full year after the hurricane. Additionally, less than 25% of child care centers are open, and even those which are open are operating at lower capacity than pre-Katrina. Further, the number of hospitals which are open is at approximately 50% of pre-Katrina levels (at least in the Orleans Parish). But even this number is misleading, as:
But, with the closing of Charity Hospital in New Orleans, there remains a concern about the extent to which the uninsured and indigent population is getting adequate health care attention as the state and federal government work to overhaul the two-tier health care system in the state.

Not in the report, but reported yesterday is the fact that the health care situation is still so bad that people can’t be treated for skin or respiratory problems from dust, mold and other particles from the storm. Additionally and what makes this more maddening is that the funds for emergency services are being held up by the “congressional budget process” (meaning they just don’t give a damn about helping these people).

The one bit of good news is that the hotel and tourism industry is back to 80% of pre-Katrina levels, but this is small consolation for the hundreds of thousands who have lost everything and still don’t have much in the way of assistance.

Unfortunately, there has been way too little in the way of investment, assistance or any acceptable level of reconstruction for the Gulf Coast region. To completely ignore an entire segment of the population, ESPECIALLY one that is in such need of assistance, is certainly not the American way.

And for the government to turn their backs on this region in such a time of need, after so little was done to help prevent the massive damage to the region and to people’s lives is both disgraceful and disgusting.

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