Katrina +5: Billions of Dollars Later, La. Has Made Strides

Despite evidence of progress on the anniversary of Katrina, recovery is still a learning process

The LRA’s fourth-quarter 2010 report shows that of $35.5 billion allocated to rebuilding, $17.4 has been spent; 13.6 billion has been allocated and spent on the National Flood Insurance Program; $14.8 billion of the $15.8 billion allocated to disaster relief has been spent; and $6.9 billion allocated for Small Business Administration loans has been spent.

The bulk of $13.4 billion in CBDG funding went to housing programs, specifically the Road Home Program, because that’s where there was the greatest damage and need. But according to Samuels, New Orleans in particular tells a tale of two cities. Much of the central business and tourism districts have been restored and are up and running, but there are still some neighborhoods where not a lot has changed and others that are in as bad a condition as they were immediately after the storm.

“Affordable housing is a major issue. A lot of the public housing was shut down and the logic for shutting it down defied reason,” said Samuels. “It almost seemed like they didn’t want people to come back because some of those facilities were structurally sound.” The city is suffering he said, from limited housing opportunities and the limited number of schools that have opened. “Rents have skyrocketed and some schools have waiting lists, which is keeping families away.”

Keegan concedes that there are still unmet needs and the LRA is seeking ways to develop more nuanced neighborhoods that will include affordable housing and commercial investments. The organization is launching economic development programs that would invest in the development, redevelopment and acquisition of commercial properties and new buildings for commercial corridors, for which many parishes will be able to apply.

She said that significant improvements have been made to the state’s public infrastructure, but because the funding has been “a bit patchwork,” the state hasn’t yet been able to focus on improving the entire infrastructure system as opposed to a specific road or sewer.

New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish are in the process of building back their hospital systems, but in the interim, smaller community-based health centers have served a great purpose, Keegan said. “We have a significant challenge in that their post-Katrina funding has dried up. They’re seeking additional funding to ensure that we can keep the doors of those community facilities open as we try to rebuild the larger hospitals.”

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