In Measuring Post-Katrina Recovery, A Racial Gap Emerges Ten years after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, much progress has been made to rebuild the city, but black and white residents assess the recovery quite differently.
NPR logo

In Measuring Post-Katrina Recovery, A Racial Gap Emerges

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/432254189/432356624" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
In Measuring Post-Katrina Recovery, A Racial Gap Emerges

In Measuring Post-Katrina Recovery, A Racial Gap Emerges

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/432254189/432356624" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's been 10 years since the levees failed in New Orleans and the waters of Lake Pontchartrain flooded most of the city. New Orleans residents say there's been much progress since Hurricane Katrina. But as NPR's Cheryl Corley reports, blacks and white often assess the recovery differently.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: How can you tell if a city has come back from a tragedy as devastating as Hurricane Katrina? You can measure returning population, new housing, jobs, infrastructure and quality of life. A new NPR/Kaiser Family Foundation Poll found that a majority surveyed, 54 percent, say New Orleans has mostly recovered. Break it down racially, though, and the numbers show a big gap. Just 44 percent of black New Orleanians think the city has come back. The number is much higher for white residents, at 70 percent.

EMILY WOLFF: So this is one of the anchors that the community worked really, really hard to rebuild and renovate in the years after the storm.

CORLEY: Emily Wolff, the director of the Broadmoor Improvement Association, is talking about Broadmoor's library and community center. Broadmoor is one of the most diverse areas in New Orleans, and residents fought against plans to turn the low-lying land into a park. On this day, a group of friends have come in to play their regularly scheduled game of mahjong. They're white, and one of them, Cheri Babich, who responded to the NPR/Kaiser poll, is enthusiastic about the city's prospects.

CHERI BABICH: Now we've got, like, young people moving in here. And there's a lot of - I mean, there's new restaurants opening every week. It's just amazing. I mean, so many people are just bustling around and working, and it's great.

CORLEY: Some areas have even more people in housing than even before Katrina. Mary Logsdon, who lives in one of those neighborhoods, says there's a bit of a downside to the boom.

MARY LOGSDON: Rents have gotten unbelievably high.

CORLEY: And, for many longtime residents, unaffordable. They've had to move elsewhere. But two-thirds of whites and those with higher incomes say the recovery efforts have helped people like them, either some or a lot. About 10 miles northeast, there are several neighborhoods in the New Orleans East region.

SYLVIA SCINEAUX-RICHARD: This subdivision is called Lake Forest Estates.

CORLEY: Sylvia Scineaux-Richard is realtor. She's black and a former biology professor. In subdivisions here, the houses are big, the lawns expansive, and it looks like a well-to-do suburban neighborhood.

SCINEAUX-RICHARD: You're not going to see a whole lot of blight in these areas here because people had invested quite a bit of money in these homes, as you can see. These are not throw-away types of properties.

CORLEY: Most of the homes here are occupied. In other areas of New Orleans East, not so. One reason for that disparity is the way the rebuilding grants worked. The Louisiana Road Home program maxed out federal rebuilding money at a home's pre-Katrina value. That meant more money for wealthier homeowners and substantially less for those in poorer neighborhoods. Civil rights activists and homeowners filed suit, accusing the program of discrimination. A settlement eventually allowed homeowners to apply for additional funds. Back in her home, Scineaux-Richard says there should be more of a focus on New Orleans East.

SCINEAUX-RICHARD: New Orleans East deserves to have the rebirth here and the renovation as a priority because we were so badly devastated and damaged.

CORLEY: About five miles from Scineaux-Richard's subdivision, where there are more abandoned homes, residents have an even greater sense of the recovery leaving them behind, particularly when it comes to employment. Sixty-six percent of whites in the NPR/Kaiser poll say New Orleans has good job opportunities for young people. Only 35 percent of African-Americans say so. Twenty-six-year-old promoter, Johnny Conrad, said the prospects for young African-Americans are bleak.

JOHNNY CONRAD: There ain't no jobs out here. Why you think they got people on the corner making money, man? The system down here is made.

CORLEY: No jobs around.

CONRAD: None.

CORLEY: Twenty-one-year-old Tooty Jones is a student. She says connections are key.

TOOTY JONES: It's all in who you know. If you don't know nobody, you going to struggle for the longest. That's why I'm getting from down here.

CORLEY: Charles West, a city hall strategist, oversees a program designed to prepare people for job opportunities and match them with employers.

CHARLES WEST: Fifty-two percent of the African-American men in this city are not working, and so it is a major challenge for us to address the disparities and economic opportunity for our most disadvantaged, which in this city, in large part, are African-American men.

CORLEY: And there are several organizations trying to shift those employment numbers, too. At Liberty's Kitchen, there are young baristas, mostly black, taking coffee orders or preparing food. This is a workforce training program for 16 to 24-year-olds who are out of school and out of work. Twenty-year-old Jason Johnson says he's hopeful about the future. He says the culinary skills and interacting with customers will help when he starts his own business.

JASON JOHNSON: I want to open a jazz club to bring back the jazz culture, honestly, around the world, to be honest, and have a place for, like, artists and people in those types of fields to just come and have free expression of themselves.

CORLEY: Twenty-one-year-old Chondra Allen wants to own her own restaurant, too.

CHONDRA ALLEN: There's opportunities, but it may not be known so that makes it difficult to have - to actually get to them because you're not sure what is out there for you to get.

CORLEY: David Emond, the head of the training program, says New Orleans is the number one city that millennials are moving to, and it's important that the young people already in the city be part of New Orleans' economic boom.

DAVID EMOND: You can really argue that the most dramatic impact of the storm was on these kids who were torn out of schools, ripped away from families, you know, moved to different cities, lost all of the networks that were there to support them, and, in many cases, have never really fully recovered.

CORLEY: And recovery is key, he says, in a city with so many possibilities. Cheryl Corley, NPR News.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.