The Atlantic Hurricane season officially started on June 1. The Data Center’s recent report, Rigging the Real Estate Market: Segregation, Inequality, and Disaster Risk, reminds us that disasters don’t affect everyone equally. The report highlights some of the history that led to an unfair disaster risk burden on people of lower-income and people of color in New Orleans.
Early in New Orleans’ history, wealthy New Orleanians were able to buy the land above sea level, while lower income residents, including free people of color, settled on lower ground. This made it so the homes of the white and wealthy were less susceptible to flooding.
Fast-forward to the levees failing after Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, and while the storm displaced many people across the city, African American residents were more likely to be impacted by flooding than other groups: 68 percent of African Americans faced displacement, compared to 43 percent of whites.
The Road Home recovery program that awarded homeowners money to return and rebuild ultimately enforced patterns of segregation and inequality by giving larger monetary amounts to homeowners in predominantly white neighborhoods than homeowners in predominately African American neighborhoods based on either the home’s pre-storm value or the cost to rebuild, whichever was the lesser amount.
“As a result, homeowners in segregated white neighborhoods, which had higher pre-storm values, received higher grant awards than homeowners in predominantly African American neighborhoods, who were frequently awarded the lower pre-storm value of the home. This was true even when the homes were the same size and age, and the damage was similar,” the report states. GNOFHAC filed a lawsuit against HUD and the State of Louisiana and reached a $62 million settlement in 2011.
A 2015 Louisiana State University report found that 70 percent of long-term white residents were able to return to New Orleans within one year, whereas only 42 percent of long-term black residents made it back in the same time period.
The faulty Road Home program was just part of the reason so many African American residents did not return to rebuild. Low-income and African American homeowners often did not know their homes were located in a floodplain because of outdated maps used by mortgage banks and insurance companies. For the working-class families that did have flood insurance, few had enough to cover a total loss of their home.
If you’re in the process of preparing for this year’s hurricane season, and you don’t have your own transportation to leave during a mandatory evacuation, go to your closest “evacuspot” to use City-assisted evacuation. Watch this video to find out more: