Katrina & Beyond

Dearth of New Orleans Housing Stymies Businesses

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A severe housing shortage is hampering efforts by local businesses to reopen in New Orleans. Despite the availability of work, many job seekers are staying away because they can't find a place to live.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

In New Orleans, a lot of different pieces have to come together for the city to put its economy back together. Think of it as a big jigsaw puzzle. Employers need workers, businesses need customers, and customer need basic services. All this depends on a corner piece of the puzzle, and that's housing, and that's in short supply, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY reporting:

An oversized LSU Tiger stands waiting to greet customers at Mike Cirio's(ph) po' boy shop on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. But the restaurant won't be ready to open for another week or so. The brick floors and walk-in cooler have been scrubbed clean. But Cirio's head chef has moved to Atlanta. He doesn't know when or if she and others will be coming back.

Mr. MIKE CIRIO (Restaurant Owner): Yesterday when my phone came back on, I had two employees that called from Texas, and they want to come back. And I would love to have them back, but they need housing.

HORSLEY: Cirio's own home was destroyed by the hurricane, along with two rental properties he owned in the city's Lakeview neighborhood.

Mr. CIRIO: I'm staying at a friend's house tonight. In the six weeks, I've slept at eight different homes. I'm like a Gypsy; I carry a bag with me at all times.

HORSLEY: `Help wanted' signs are posted all over New Orleans. But many would-be workers are discouraged because they don't have places to live. The Winn-Dixie supermarket on Tchoupitoulas Street managed to open last week with limited hours. Manager Marla Hubble doesn't like turning away customers after 5 PM. But with only about one-fifth of her usual work force, she doesn't have much choice.

Ms. MARLA HUBBLE (Manager, Winn-Dixie): I have my regular employees contacting me every day, and they're--the same story is, `We can't come back because we have no place to live.'

HORSLEY: One Winn-Dixie employee volunteered her motor home. A district manager told her to park it behind the store.

The federal government has similar plans. Vice Admiral Thad Allen of the Coast Guard, who is in charge of the relief effort, says in some cases FEMA has put temporary trailers on work sites so displaced employees can live where their jobs are.

Vice Admiral THAD ALLEN (US Coast Guard): A big success story we visited a week or so ago is a Folgers coffee plant in New Orleans. They went out and established an area for a trailer park there and were able to take folks from East New Orleans and St. Bernard's Parish and actually put them in the travel trailers at their work site. That's a win-win situation. The employees are into a better housing situation, and we all have Folgers coffee.

HORSLEY: The scale of the task is daunting. Allen says between 200 and 250,000 homes in Louisiana were left unlivable by the hurricanes, and some 400,000 people who fled the storms are still living in hotel rooms. Allen's goal is to move those evacuees into semipermanent housing. For residents of places like the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish, he says, it could be months or years before their own neighborhoods are livable again.

Vice Adm. ALLEN: Our number-one priority will be to place these people in longer-term housing situations in Louisiana to the extent that we can. And the goal being to get them someplace where they can stay six months, 12 months, maybe 18 months, give them a bridge to their permanent housing solution. Right now being in a shelter or being in a hotel is somewhat a bridge to nowhere.

HORSLEY: Housing is only one concern for print shop owner Wayne Chandless(ph). After he lost his home to the hurricane, Chandless managed to find the last vacant apartment in a French Quarter building. But he's still in danger of losing his business unless more people return to the area. Much of his printing work used to come from an office building that's closed for at least three months.

Mr. WAYNE CHANDLESS (Print Shop Owner): In a 50-story building full of offices and the building's empty now. So it's pretty bad. It's pretty devastating. You can't survive off of a few bars in the French Quarter because they don't order printing; they order booze. I get very angry at people who tell me, `I understand your problem,' because they don't understand the problem. I don't understand it, and I'm here.

HORSLEY: A sign on the door of the print shop advertises free copies of FEMA assistance forms. So far Chandless hasn't had any takers. Scott Horsley, NPR News, New Orleans.

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