Large homes and lush lawns are common in Lake Forest Estates, a subdivision in New Orleans East. After Katrina, 6-foot-deep flood waters devastated the region. Cheryl Corley/NPR
How can you tell if a city has come back from a tragedy as devastating as Hurricane Katrina?
Ten years after the levees failed in New Orleans, and the waters of Lake Pontchartrain, whipped up by Hurricane Katrina, flooded most of the city, New Orleans residents say there’s been much progress since then.
A new NPR/Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that a majority surveyed — 54 percent — says New Orleans has mostly recovered, measured by returning population, new housing, jobs, infrastructure and quality of life.
Break the results down by race, however, 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.
In the Broadmoor area, one of the most diverse in New Orleans, residents fought down plans to turn a parcel of low-lying land into a park. Now a new library and community center at the site hosts classes, clubs and events.
“This is one of the anchors the community worked really, really hard to rebuild and to renovate in the years after the storm,” says Emily Wolf, director of the Broadmoor Improvement Association.
Cheri Babich (center) and her friends gather at the Broadmoor library for a weekly game of mahjong. Residents rallied to save the building after the low-lying area was designated to become a park in the aftermath of extensive Katrina-related flooding.
On this day, a group of friends has come in to play its regularly scheduled game of Mahjong. They’re white, and one of them, Cheri Babich, is enthusiastic about the city’s prospects.
“Now we’ve got young people moving in here,” Babich says. “There’s new restaurants opening every week. It’s just amazing. So many people are just bustling around and working. It’s great.”
Some areas have more people and 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.
“Rents have gotten unbelievably high,” Logsdon says.
For many long-time residents, rents are unaffordable and 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 of Broadmoor is the Lake Forest Estates subdivision, one of several neighborhoods in the New Orleans East region. Houses here are big, lawns expansive.
Realtor Sylvia Scineaux-Richard, a black former biology professor, describes this neighborhood as well-to-do.
Realtor Sylvia Scineaux-Richard says residents of New Orleans East were among the first to return to repair flood-damaged homes. Scineaux-Richard doesn’t expect New Orleans to fully recover from Hurricane Katrina for another five to 10 years. Cheryl Corley/NPR
“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,” Scineaux-Richard says. “These are not throw-away types of properties.”
Most of the homes here are occupied; in other areas of New Orleans East, not so much. One reason for the 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, meaning 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.
Scineaux-Richard says there should be more of a focus on New Orleans East.
“New Orleans East deserves to have the rebirth here and the renovation as a priority, because we were so badly devastated and damaged,” she says.