Rebuilding Efforts in New Orleans Are Lagging Far Behind

One year after Katrina, the City of New Orleans still does not have a comprehensive rebuilding plan, and prospects are that the city will have miles of neglected neighborhoods for decades. HousingHundreds of thousands of people from the Gulf Coast remain displaced, more than 200,000 of them in New Orleans alone. Race, poverty, age, and physical ability are great indicators of who has and who has not made it home. Texas is still home to more than a quarter million storm evacuees, most of them jobless and poor. Another 100,000 displaced people are in Georgia. In Louisiana, there are 73,000 families in FEMA trailers. New Orleans lost more than 43,000 rental apartments. Rents in the undamaged parts of the area have skyrocketed. Over 100,000 homeowners in Louisiana are on a waiting list for federal rebuilding assistance through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, but so far, no money has been distributed. [Note: The first checks were finally mailed out just as the one-year anniversary of the storm approached, but so far amount to only a tiny fraction of the allocated money.] Water and ElectricityThe New Orleans water system suffers from massive leaks: of more than 130 million gallons pumped per day, only 50 million gallons are delivered to users. In the Lower Ninth Ward, the water has still not been certified as safe to drink. Only half the homes in New Orleans have electricity. Power outages are common. Health CareHalf the hospitals open before Katrina are still closed. Healthcare could actually get worse, given shortages of doctors and health care workers in the face of surging demand from the uninsured. There is no hospital at all in the city for psychiatric patients. JobsOver 18,000 businesses in Louisiana suffered “catastrophic” damage. The number of workers in the metropolitan New Orleans area has fallen from 630,000 before Katrina to about 400,000. Tens of thousands of migrant workers have come to the Gulf Coast to work in the recovery, but many discovered wages to be low and working conditions hazardous. Public EducationBefore Katrina, 56,000 students were enrolled in over 100 public schools in New Orleans. At the end of the school year there were only 12,500. After the storm, the local school board gave many of the best public schools to charter groups. The union contract with the New Orleans public school teachers was not renewed and 7,500 employees were terminated. Where Did the Money Go?Congress appropriated over $100 billion to rebuild the Gulf Coast. But there is little evidence of actual reconstruction. There are many examples of fraud, waste and patronage. Billions of dollars in no-bid FEMA contracts went to Bechtel Corporation, the Shaw Group, CH2M Hill, and Fluor Corporation—companies well-connected politically to the Bush administration. But for all the setbacks, there are also signs of hope, writes Quigley. He points to those who rebuild even in the face of official obstruction, a local newspaper—the Times-Picayune—that provides quality documentation of the Gulf Coast region's efforts to repair, volunteering and acts of solidarity among people from every walk of life.

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