The Spark

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

Using Katrina to change the face of New Orleans

Aug 25, 2008

Three years after the storm surge from Hurricane Katrina breached the levees in New Orleans, the city is being rebuilt, but in a very different way than it stood before.

While the population in wealthier areas of the city like Lakewood is 30% less than before Katrina, the population in lower income areas like the Lower Ninth Ward and Holy Cross is down 65 to 89%. Overall, the city’s black population has declined. And the number of elderly residents is down, with 50% fewer retired workers receiving Social Security benefits.

Fewer poor, black and working class people have come back to New Orleans because the wealthy and their politicians have made conscious decisions to remove the housing, transportation, and schools needed for them to return.

There is less affordable housing available since most of the homes in lower-income areas have not been rebuilt. And in the face of this housing shortage, the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is destroying 4,500 public housing units, promising to replace them – sometime in the future – with “mixed-income” rental homes that will be unaffordable to many displaced residents. The housing shortage is likely to get worse, since FEMA also decided to get rid of its formaldehyde-laced trailers, without replacing them.

Families that do return to New Orleans face a declining school system. When school started in September of 2006, more than a year after the hurricane, the schools had too few buses and textbooks, no hot lunches, and facilities were run-down. There were 106 unfilled teacher positions.

Since that time, changes to the school system have created a divide between students from more well-off areas and those from poorer areas. The best schools in the traditional school system, the magnet schools, allowed to selectively admit students, located mainly in the better off areas, were restarted. The rest were turned over to a new school district, which turned many of them into charter schools run by private companies. Those schools are definitely not better off than they were before Katrina.

The government may not have planned the flooding in order to move out poor and black residents, but the wealthy class has certainly taken advantage of it. By excluding the poor and black population, the very people to whom New Orleans owes its culture and traditions, the wealthy are gentrifying New Orleans. This same gentrification has been happening in every major city in the country. Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that followed simply increased the speed at which it occurred in New Orleans.