As many as a third of the people now living in the New Orleans area say they may leave within the next two years due to poor quality of life in the storm-stricken city.

That's the finding of a telephone poll of 400 residents of Orleans and Jefferson parishes conducted last month by the Survey Research Center at the University of New Orleans. Susan Howell, the center's director, released the poll's findings yesterday.

The survey found that 17 percent of the residents in both parishes said they are "very likely" to leave, while 15 percent in both parishes said they are "somewhat likely" to leave. At the same time, 67 percent of Orleans residents and 65 percent of Jefferson residents said they were "not very likely" to leave, while the rest said they didn't know.

The poll may actually underestimate the number of area residents who are contemplating moving because it only included people with land-based phone lines. Consequently, it most likely excluded those people still living in trailers.

Residents who are considering leaving cited four things that need to happen in order to make them stay: controlling crime; streamlining the government bureaucracy and making government more proactive; fixing levees and taking other flood-prevention steps; and repairing damaged infrastructure, particularly streets.

Crime and public safety were the most commonly mentioned motivation for leaving, the study found. Thirty-one percent of Orleans Parish residents and 45 percent of Jefferson Parish residents said they do not feel safe in their communities. Earlier this week, even before the poll's findings were released, New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley said he would ask Gov. Kathleen Blanco to extend the National Guard's stay in the city through next June, the Associated Press reports.

Other major problems continue to be availability of housing, which 71 percent of Orleans Parish residents and 35 percent of Jefferson Parish residents ranked as "poor" or "very poor." Besides housing, three other conditions are perceived much more negatively in Orleans than Jefferson Parish: the conditions of streets, control of abandoned houses, and control of trash.

The poll found some improvement in the outlook of New Orleans area residents. The percentage of people in the two parishes who say they are somewhat or very worried about what will happen to them in the next five years declined slightly since the last poll conducted in April, from about two-thirds to about one-half. But that's still high compared to Americans overall, who as the pollsters note tend to be fairly optimistic about the future.

The survey also found improvements in everyday life since April, with respondents now better able to shop for groceries, get around town and make home repairs.

But there was one notable exception to the general upward trajectory: Slightly more Orleans Parish residents -- 50 percent now compared to 45 percent in April -- say they have difficulty getting medical care. Jefferson Parish residents also reported little improvement in this area, underscoring the region's severe shortage of medical personnel.