New Orleans has become significantly wealthier, somewhat less African-American, and much more blighted in the five years since Hurricane Katrina, according to statistics compiled by demographer Greg Rigamer of GCR & Associates. Rigamer presented the figures to the city's Disaster and Recovery Committee on June 30, and they portend initial 2010 Census findings that will be released in December. The census numbers will form the basis for the difficult political task of redistricting, and figures for those purposes will be released in March 2011.
Before Katrina, the city was 67.5 percent black and 28 percent white. Today the city is 61 percent black and 34 percent white, Rigamer said. "We know that many of our residents who were displaced did not have the resources to return," he said. "Maybe they didn't have anything to return to. A lot of our citizens who depend on public infrastructure, public health care, public education, public housing — these resources have been limited."
New Orleans has had the steepest decline in poverty among major cities in America from 2000 to 2008, Rigamer noted. In 2000, the city had 23.7 percent of its people living below the federal poverty line; in 2008, that number tumbled to 14.9 percent. Rigamer said those numbers came from the American Community Survey, a division of the U.S. Census Bureau.
Despite the decline in the local poverty rate, Rigamer noted that blight continues to be a problem, with almost a third of the city's properties either unoccupied, abandoned or blighted — "a colossal number," he said. Of 52,800 New Orleans applicants to the state's Road Home program, 34,921 applicants have closed on their homes and are moving forward, but about 14,000 are showing no sign of progress after having received the money. "There is a colossal compliance issue in front of us," Rigamer said, urging the council to look into donating out-of-compliance properties to the Louisiana Land Trust.
"When you say people got significant money from Road Home, that doesn't mean they got enough to do it," Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell responded.
"I know a lot of people in the Lower 9th who really, really got shafted by Road Home," Councilman Jon Johnson added. "I think the last thing we need to be talking about is having these people give up their property until every single avenue has been taken." — Matt Davis