Rebuilding New Orleans

November 15, 2010

Because of my interest in low-income housing, I have been wanting to spend some time in New Orleans, to see the progress being made there. Until last week, I had returned only once (in 2006, a year after Hurricane Katrina).  That visit we just talked to people in the Quarter and spent some money. We were welcomed with open arms; at that time tourists were still few and far between.

Recently I went back to spend a week in the city. I had a chance to visit the neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and to to survey some of the new affordable housing that’s being created there.  In the next few days I’ll have pictures ready to upload. But in the meantime, I thought I’d share some of my overall impressions. I am still sorting out everything I saw. It was definitely sensory overload.

Before the storm, 500,000 people lived in greater New Orleans. Hundreds of thousands of residents left in anticipation of the hurricane, and many of them have never returned. The 2010 census will be released in early 2011, and should provide more accurate information. But the estimate I was given locally was 350,000 current residents.

There are empty houses everywhere. In fact, New Orleans now leads the nation in derelict property, with 44,000 abandoned buildings and empty lots. That is 25% of the city’s real estate, a greater percentage than Detroit, which is in some areas a ghost town, or Baltimore.

All around downtown one sees abandoned buildings. Charity Hospital, which provided 2800 beds, sits vacant and will be relocated to another block. Many businesses closed and will never reopen. Schools are empty, filled with mold and beyond any repair.

We’ve heard a lot about the 9th Ward (upper and lower), and so like many people, I had the misconception that only poor people lost their homes in the storm. In fact, 80% of New Orleans was under water for weeks.

Beautiful City Park was virtually destroyed, but has been largely restored through the efforts of volunteers, including many horticulturists and landscapers from all over the country. The adjacent middle class neighborhood of Gentilly suffered destruction of 81% of its houses. Lakeview, a beautiful neighborhood that fronts Lake Pontchartrain, was similarly affected.  Throughout the midtown neighborhoods, families are obviously working on their homes, using any extra money they can generate to make repairs.

Most residents of New Orleans did not have flood insurance. Homeowners insurance was usually sufficient to replace roofs and exterior materials, but coverage did not extend to any of the water damage or resulting mold. So in the more affluent neighborhoods, just as in the very low-income neighborhoods, many houses sit empty, their occupants having simply walked away. Other houses have been torn down, so that one drives down many residential blocks and sees only a few houses, with other driveways that lead to lots now overgrown with grass.

Writing this, I first had to touch on the extent of the damage, because it is simply stunning to see.  But much progress has been made, and in my next post I will describe the restoration efforts I observed.  It was inspirational to see the work of thousands of volunteers, and the creative use of grant funding to rebuild the city.

Meanwhile, if you would like to know more about the government programs that support the development of affordable housing, and how you can participate as an investor or developer, visit:

One Response to Rebuilding New Orleans

  1. Grants Rebuild New Orleans | on September 16, 2011 at 3:38 am

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