Business Interests Win Out Over the Poor in Post-Katrina New Orleans

Some eight months after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, about 125,000 homes remain damaged and unoccupied. More than 60 percent of its residents—but an estimated 80 percent of the city’s pre-storm African-American population—are scattered in trailers and temporary accommodations.

The question arises whether many of the storm refugees will ever be able to return. In a forceful article, Mike Davis presents the following arguments that show that post-disaster decision-making may be as destructive to large segments of the city as the storm itself:

  • Local elected officials have been dis-empowered by a combination of forces including land developers and other business elites, conservative think tanks, “New Urbanists,” and neo-Democrats. City Council has been largely shut out of deliberations regarding rebuilding.
  • Land developers and other interested parties have pushed a plan that would effectively convert “black people’s neighborhoods into white people’s parks.”
  • “The economic foundations of the city’s African-American middle class … have been swept away by deliberate decisions made in the White House.” For instance, the federal Small Business Administration has effectively redlined black neighborhoods by rejecting a majority of loan applications by local businesses and homeowners.
  • “The paramount beneficiaries of Katrina relief aid have been the giant engineering firms KBR (A Halliburton subsidiary) and the Shaw Group…” and there is evidence of substantial profiteering.
  • “The Pentagon won approval for a whopping $4.4 billion in base repairs, but Congress cut out the $250 million allocated to combat coastal erosion.”
  • Post-Katrina demographic shifts may result in a realignment of political and electoral power.
  • Trade-union and community organizers are opposing these developments.

Related Links:

Mike Davis, “Who Is Killing New Orleans?” The Nation (New York), 10 April 2006, pp. 11-20 (www.thenation.com).