The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Gulf Coast rebuilding:
Pushing more victims out ... and keeping them out

Nov 21, 2005

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, recently ordered that victims of Hurricane Katrina had to get out of the hotels and motels all over the country where the agency has been housing them. Most of these evacuees – about 150,000 – are poor. A survey in Houston shows that about two-thirds had no bank accounts, credit cards or insurance. Most had family incomes before the hurricane of less than $20,000, and few have jobs today.

These people certainly won’t be able to return to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast area. In New Orleans itself, thousands of people who managed to stay are being forced out of their homes, too. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, recently allowed her order blocking evictions to expire. Thousands of people had to get out of their homes. Landlords in New Orleans quickly filed for nearly 700 eviction notices to force out those who didn’t leave on their own. Judges didn’t really care why people hadn’t paid their rent. They simply referred them to shelters as they ordered them out, usually within 48 hours.

Big contracting companies and their subsidiaries have been making it impossible for unemployed workers from the area to get jobs so they could pay their rent or rebuild their houses. Rather than hiring people from the area, they are using temporary workers brought in from other areas of the U.S. and from other countries to clean and rebuild. These workers are getting low wages to do hard, dirty, dangerous jobs. Many are living in crowded, unsanitary tents or shipping containers in camps patrolled by company “guards.”

Meanwhile, the official unemployment rate in Louisiana shot up to 11.5% in September from 5.8% in August. The business manager of Construction and General Laborers’ Local Union 689 in New Orleans said he had at least 2,000 people willing to take clean-up jobs.

FEMA also recently declared 60,000 houses in the region to be damaged beyond repair. But homeowners will be able to collect a maximum grant of only $26,200, minus any federal assistance they have already received. Those with insurance may not get anything.

This guarantees that many working class homeowners who fled the area will not be able to return. Thousands of others who managed to stay will now have to follow those who left.

Local officials have joined those on the federal and state levels in attacking hurricane victims. In his first town hall meeting with city residents since Katrina, New Orleans Democratic Mayor Ray Nagin recently told them the city will use its power to withhold permits to make it nearly impossible for homeowners to rebuild in low-lying areas. Again, tens of thousands of working class homeowners will never be able to rebuild.

Government officials are using the re-building process to get rid of those with lower incomes, turning over the land they lived on to developers, oil companies, shipping and gambling interests. In other words, its business as usual, but on an even grander scale than before.

By pushing the poor people far away from their homes, officials must believe they won’t face any reaction. They could be wrong.