As the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina nears, The Discovery Channel is releasing a documentary called Surviving Katrina. In what is probably the ultimate in ironic detachment, it appears to be a show focusing on what people did to help each other in a time of crisis. Now I am all for a good story, but if that documentary focuses on the good aspects and ignores all of the negative aspects, I am going to start looking to see if it was funded by a GOP contributor.
I don’t live in New Orleans, of course, so I can only base my assessment of what was really going on down there on what I saw on the internet (I do refuse to watch television news, you are better off just making things up and calling them the truth). Because of an absolute lack of any immediate help, many of the residents (particularly those in the low income areas who couldn’t realistically afford to evacuate) were forced to extreme measures to survive. I don’t mean to say that all the looting and the such actually happened, I want to focus more on the assisted evacuation, some week after the initial tragedy. Think about it, and use common sense. You are trapped in a flooded home with no electricity, food or running water. A week later, buses show up to start evacuating people, but not nearly enough buses to get everyone out. Do you really think people just lined up in an orderly fashion, then said “too bad” as the last bus drove away without them? Hell no, I am willing to bet they fought each other for seats on those buses, because that is exactly what I would have done.
There was relief from non-governmental sources during the whole fiasco; I remember reading that Wal-Mart (how I loathe that corporation) actually had semi trucks with bottled water on site in less than 24 hours; There were many other organizations that also provided much needed support, things like food, blankets, and personal hygiene products -again, all private organizations- Once the evacuation was complete (at least 10 days after it should have been), the people’s good nature got a chance to shine through.
The Red Cross raised an astronomical sum of money to help those left homeless, as did many other organizations. Many foreign countries even made substantial donations to the relief effort; Kuwait alone donated 500 Million dollars, many other countries joined in with multi-million dollar donations. Eventually, television news stations quit running stories about the affected area, so, in the eyes of the average US citizen it was over. The problem is that the average US citizen doesn’t actually live in New Orleans.
When Katrina initially hit, I remember thinking to myself that it was tragic that a city with such history could be destroyed. But that got me to thinking. A city with that much history has something else that many cities don’t have: old, privately-owned homes with extremely poor residents. I don’t know this to be true, but I am not actually going to look it up either, as such I am just guessing. Many houses in the New Orleans area were old, it is fair to assume that many of the houses had been privately owned for decades, and that the owners of the homes could certainly not afford to buy a new home on today’s market. Since the homes were already paid for, it can fairly be assumed that many of the poor residents may also have quit carrying homeowners insurance, as it is not required unless you have a mortgage. Do you see where this is going?
In addition to these low income homeowners that are now displaced, there will also be low income tenants that are affected. Certainly there were many old homes that were being rented, the type that barely made it past inspection, and probably wouldn’t even do that were it not for the area they were located in. These run-down homes would have been renting for far less than fair market value because their condition would have required it. Again, the only people this would be affecting is the poor. Aunt Nellie (even though she wasn’t really your Aunt, that was what you always called her) had been renting you that house for the last 11 years, you could barely afford to make the rent, but Aunt Nellie was compassionate and would let a little slide so long as you helped her change the shingles on the roof to keep it from leaking.
A lot of these houses should probably have been condemned a long time ago, but the city had let it slide, knowing the situation and not wanting to start a fuss with poor communities. Unfortunately, now there are building inspectors rolling in and checking over all the structures. These houses don’t stand a chance. Aunt Nellie certainly can’t afford to build brand new houses, and even if she could finance it, she wouldn’t be able to rent them so cheap, since she would have to make mortgage payments. Even if 10% of the Aunt Nellie’s out there are willing to be so philanthropic as to rebuild on their own dime and keep the rent the same, that will still leave the vast majority of the poor without an affordable place (affordable to them) to live.
So now to do a quick news search.
Here is the first story I found that matched my search criteria:
Report: New Orleans lacks affordable housing
The news stories that I am reading don’t go into a lot of detail, but I think it is fair to assume that the very poor in New Orleans are the ones affected by this the most. It is sad that as the city tries to rebuild, the struggle of the displaced poor doesn’t get any sort of national attention. As the outpouring of support when the hurricane actually hit shows, the American people really will help those in need, as I am sure they would help now, if they only knew that for the poor in New Orleans this ordeal is far from over.