Katrina 3-Year Coverage: Reports show that New Orleans recovery still has a long way to go

Today marks the third anniversary of Katrina's landfall over the Gulf Coast, but the recovery efforts in New Orleans remain slow and problematic and several barriers remain to rebuilding, according to several reports released this month.

Gulf Coast rebuilding must become a priority for the next president

"If the history of the Katrina recovery were written today, it would be a tragedy. Far too little progress has been made despite the remarkable effort and ingenuity of the people of the region who are fighting to restore their homes and their lives," Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, said in a recent press release. "Much of the progress has come at the hands of Gulf Coast residents - in spite of significant hurdles placed in front of them by the federal government. The next administration must act quickly to remove those hurdles so Gulf Coast residents can truly and finally recover from the storms."

In a new report, Oxfam America called on both presidential candidates to renew the federal government's commitment to rebuilding the region. "Mirror on America: How the state of Gulf Coast recovery reflects on us all," reveals the slow pace of recovery in the region, what more needs to be done to rebuild, and urges the next administration to make recovery a national priority.

Some of the key findings include:

  • More than 35,000 individuals still living in FEMA trailers in the Gulf Coast;
  • Only 12 percent of African-American evacuees who returned to New Orleans after the hurricanes were able to find work, compared with 45 percent of white evacuees;
  • In Louisiana 82,000 apartments were damaged or destroyed by Katrina and Rita, but the highest official estimate proposes to replace only about 25,000 affordable units;
  • In Mississippi, federal money that was mandated for use in rebuilding low-income housing was, instead, diverted to improving the shipyards in Biloxi;
  • Compliance with federal labor laws has been ignored with frequent occurrences of safety and health violations, wage theft and exploitative treatment of immigrant workers.

Oxfam is urging the next administration to create an Office for Gulf Coast Recovery headed by a federal coordinator; to make sure all federally subsidized housing destroyed in the storms is reopened or replaced; to require states Gulf Coast states that receive federal recovery dollars to provide regular reports on the use of those funds; and to ensure compliance with labor laws.

"A new administration will face the challenge of correcting the mistakes of its predecessor and a critical opportunity to rebuild the Gulf Coast better and stronger," said Rhonda Jackson, Louisiana State Policy Specialist for Oxfam America, in a press release. "The time is now to renew our promise and commit to a full Gulf Coast recovery."

Gulf Coast residents wonder if they have been forgotten

Earlier this month, the Kaiser Family Foundation released its second survey of the attitudes and experiences of New Orleans' residents. It found that six in ten New Orleans residents say they do not think the rebuilding of New Orleans is a priority for Congress and the president, and even more (65 percent) say they think "most Americans have forgotten about the challenges facing New Orleans." Three in four say the federal government has not provided enough money and other support to the city. The survey also found that 55 percent feel there has been little or no progress in rebuilding neighborhoods, and 72 percent who said federal recovery money has been misspent. Residents feel ignored by policymakers in Washington, underwhelmed by the financial help provided by the federal government, and forgotten by their fellow Americans, the report found.

New Orleans faces a blight epidemic

A new data analysis by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center reveals that 16 of 50 New Orleans neighborhoods that flooded following Katrina have less than half of the households they did in June 2005. Neighborhoods struggling most to repopulate include many lower-income neighborhoods such as the heavily damaged Lower Ninth Ward, which currently has only 11 percent of its pre-Katrina number of households.

GNOCDC also found that New Orleans has a far greater proportion of vacant homes than any other city in the country, due in large part to the lagging recovery. More than one in three residential addresses are now vacant or unoccupied. According to the GNOCDC's New Orleans Index:

New Orleans may be confronting fully 65,000 blighted properties or empty lots. Rising rents, now 46 percent higher than before the storm, threaten the ability of many essential service workers to afford housing, as wages are not keeping pace. The labor market remains tight as the service and construction industries seek workers. The public service infrastructure in the city remains thin, especially public transit, which saw ridership grow by 45 percent in the past year. And, the latest maps from the Army Corps of Engineers suggest that a number of neighborhoods in the city remain at risk of six to eight feet of flooding from a "1 percent" storm, signaling the need to commit to a coastal restoration plan that goes well beyond levees.

Housing remains a barrier to long-term rebuilding

A lack of affordable housing and a lack public services continue to plague the city where rents are now 46 percent higher than before the storm. As we previously reported, PolicyLink's report, "A Long Way Home: The State of Housing Recovery in Louisiana 2008," shows that thousands of residents who want to return home are facing a critical rental housing shortage, inadequate rebuilding grants and a recovery plagued by red tape and ever-changing rules.

Katrina Fatigue impacting donations

The Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation reports that "Katrina fatigue" in Congress and elsewhere could affect future efforts, according to the Times-Picayune. In a new report, "Chronicles of Resilience and Resolve," the charitable nonprofit says that the government in Washington and the general public are showing a decline in interest and in support, thus "making it difficult to find allies to advocate for more federal funds to support Gulf Coast recovery."

Katrina cleanup far from over

The Associated Press reports that New Orleans is not even close to being finished with cleaning up the wreckage created three years ago by Hurricane Katrina. In an environmental assessment for the third Katrina anniversary, the Government Accountability Office found numerous environmental violations, such as illegal dumping and disposal of hazardous materials in landfills not suited to take them.