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Five Years since Hurricane Katrina: Pain Index Still at Crisis Level for Many

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NEW ORLEANS (NNPA) - It will be five years since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29. The impact remains quite painful for many. This article looks at what has happened since Katrina - not from the perspective of the higher ups looking down from their offices, but from the street level view of the people – a view which looks at the impact on the elderly, the renter, people of color, the disabled, the working and non-working poor. So, while one commentator may happily say that the median income in New Orleans has risen since Katrina, a street level perspective recognizes that is because large numbers of the poorest people have not been able to return.

Five years after Katrina, tens of thousands of homes in New Orleans remain vacant or blighted. Tens of thousands of African-American children who were in the public schools have not made it back, nor have their parents. New Orleans has lost at least 100,000 people. Thousands of elderly and disabled people have not made it back. Affordable housing is not readily available so tens of thousands pay rents that are out of proportion to their wages. Race and gender remain excellent indicators of who is underpaid, who is a renter, who is in public school and who is low income.

In short, the challenges facing New Orleans after Katrina are the same ones facing millions of people of color, women, the elderly and disabled and their children across the U.S. Katrina just made these challenges clearer in New Orleans than in many other places. Here is where we are five years later:

Overall population

Five years after Katrina, the most liberal estimates are that 141,000 fewer people live in the metro New Orleans area. The actual population changes will not be clear until official Census Bureau findings are released in November, but it is safe to say that over 100,000 fewer live in the City of New Orleans.

The New Orleans metro area is made up of several parishes, primarily Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and St. Tammany. Orleans had 455,000 people before Katrina. Now they have 354,000. Jefferson had 451,000 before Katrina; now 443,000. Plaquemines had 28,000 before Katrina; now 20,000. St. Bernard had 64,000 before Katrina; now 40,000.

Displaced People

Louisiana residents are located in more than 5,500 cities across the nation, the largest concentrations in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and San Antonio. A majority of displaced residents are women – 59 percent, compared to 41 percent men. A third earn less than $20,000 a year.

Lost Housing

More than one in four residential addresses in New Orleans is vacant or blighted – by far the highest rate in the U.S. Though the numbers have been reduced somewhat in the last three years, 50,100 residential properties in New Orleans remain blighted or have no structure on them.

About 58 percent of city renters and 45 percent of suburban renters pay more than 35 percent of their pre-tax household income for housing. Households should spend less than 30 percent of income on housing. Anything over 30 percent means that housing is not really affordable for that family and they are likely to cut back on other necessities.

Over 5,000 families are on the waiting list for traditional public housing and another 28,960 families are on the waiting list for housing vouchers – more than double what it was before Katrina and the government destruction of thousands of public housing apartments. Since the post-Katrina bulldozing of several major public housing developments, there has been more than a 75 percent reduction in the number of public housing apartments available.


Under Louisiana’s “Road Home” program to rebuild storm-damaged housing, rebuilding grants for homeowners on average fell about $35,000 short. The shortfall hit highly flooded, historically African-American communities particularly hard. The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center filed suit in 2008 against state and federal agencies charging that the grant policy was racially discriminatory and that Black homeowners received far smaller grants than White homeowners.

The judge in that case has opined that “on average, African-American homeowners received awards that fell farther short of the cost of repairing their homes than did White recipients.”

The judge also found it “regrettable that this effort” to rebuild New Orleans “appears to have proceeded in a manner that disadvantaged African-American homeowners who wish to repair their homes.”

At least 19,746 applications for rebuilding homes that are eligible for funding have not received any money from the Road Home Program grants.

Economic Health

The metro area has 95,000 fewer jobs than before Katrina, down about 16 percent.

Black and Latino households earn incomes that are $26,000 (44 percent) and $15,000 (25 percent) lower than Whites. White household income is $56,000, Latino household income is $41,000 and African-American household income is $35,000 in the metro New Orleans area.

New Orleans has a poverty rate of 23 percent more than double the national average of 11 percent. But because of the loss of people in New Orleans, there are now more poor people living in the surrounding suburban parishes than in the city.

Within New Orleans the majority of households are lower-income.

Public and Private Education

The number of students in public schools in New Orleans, which are over 90 percent African-American, has declined by 43 percent since Katrina.

But an average increase of 5 percent a year in enrollment for the last two years (35,976 to 38,051 from 2008-2009 alone) indicates that people whose children attend public schools continue to return as housing and employment opportunities allow.

In 2008, 85 percent of White students in New Orleans attended private schools, one of the highest percentages in a major city in the U.S.

New Orleans now has more charter schools than any other public school system in the country. Of the 89 public schools in New Orleans, 48, more than half, are charter schools. In other words, sixty percent of students now attend privately managed but publicly funded schools. The Metro area has recovered 79 percent of public and private school enrollment.

People Receiving Public Assistance

More than one-third of Social Security recipients who lived in New Orleans have not returned. There were 74,535 in 2004 and 47,000 in December 2009.

Medicaid recipients have declined by 31 percent: pre-Katrina enrollment in Medicaid in New Orleans was 134,249. December 2009 enrollment was 93,310.

Supplemental Security Income recipients are down from pre-Katrina 26,654 to 16,514 – a 38 percent decline.

Public Transportation

Total ridership has declined to 65.7 percent – from over 33 million in 2004 to about 13 million projected for 2010.


Violent crimes and property crimes have risen in New Orleans since Katrina and remain well above national rates.

The challenges of post-Katrina New Orleans reflect the problems of many urban and suburban areas of the US – insufficient affordable rents, racially segregated schools with falling populations, great disparities in income by color of households, serious pollution from remote uncaring corporations, and reductions in the public services like transportation. Katrina made these more visible five years ago and continues to make a great illustration of America’s failures to treat all citizens with dignity and its failure to achieve our promise of liberty and justice for all.

Bill Quigley is legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans; Davida Finger is also a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans; Lance Hill is executive director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University. They can be reached at quigley77@gmail.com; dfinger@loyno.edu; and lhill@tulane.edu respectively.

Anti-prison Gerrymandering Bill Passes in New York

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By Stephon Johnson, Special to the NNPA from the Amsterdam News –

NEW YORK (NNPA) - The New York State Senate has passed legislation that could end prison gerrymandering once and for all. Passed as part of the revenue bill, the legislation states that people in prison be counted in their home communities and not the communities where they’re incarcerated for the purpose of redrawing district lines. The bill awaits Gov. David Paterson’s signature.

“I’m really just excited,” said State Sen. Eric Schneiderman when speaking with the AmNews. “I spoke to the governor and the governor’s council and I’m sure he’ll sign it. Once it’s signed, I will work with him and I will also work with the incoming administration to make sure that the ball doesn’t get dropped.”

Across the country, sentiments have been expressed that prisoners being counted at institutional addresses is unfair to their home communities. Redistricting lines can determine the racial and economic balance of a political district. Also, census counts determine funding to specifical neighborhoods.

“It’s not a complicated process,” Schneiderman said. “It’s about making sure the [Department of Correctional Services] enters the right information into the new census blocks.... The politics are hard. The technology’s easy."

Schneiderman couldn’t help but redirect the attention to the amount of time that he and a coalition of groups and individuals put in to help this bill see the light of day. He also mentioned promoting the idea of prison gerrymandering bills with other states in time for reapportionment.

“The other thing is that we have a coalition that we built over the past five or six years that includes the NAACP, David Jones and the Hip Hop Action Network, and Eddie Ellis and Edith Wagner from the Prison Policy Initiative,” said Schneiderman. “What we’re going to do is get together and figure out how to use this and try to get other states in on this as well before the 2012 [redistricting] lines are drawn.”

The NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund released a statement praising the passing of the bill and marking the vote as a new day in New York State.

“The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund congratulates the New York State Senate for passing legislation to end prison-based gerrymandering in New York,” read the statement. “Their courageous decision will bring New York’s redistricting process in line with basic principles of democracy and will serve as a model for other states in the effort to count incarcerated populations correctly in the next round of redistricting. ... Prison-based gerrymandering artificially inflates population numbers—and thus, political influence—in districts where prisons are located at the expense of all other districts,” continued the statement. “With approximately 60,000 incarcerated persons in New York State, the proper counting of incarcerated individuals is critical to ensuring fair representation throughout the state.”

Schneiderman believes that Andrew Cuomo, the reported front-runner for New York State governor, will carry the torch that this bill lit to ensure its enforcement.

“I think Cuomo understands this and he will come through,” said Schneiderman. “If [Republican gubernatorial candidate] Carl Paladino became governor, I’d be worried. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.

“This is a big deal,” Schneiderman stated. “Things like this and repealing the Rockefeller Drug Laws makes me feel like banging my head against the wall in Albany for all these years and suffering in the Senate was worth it.”

After Death of 13-Year-old: Jackson, Other Pastors Call for Federal Intervention in Cities

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By Wendell Hutson, Special to the NNPA from the Chicago Defender –

CHICAGO (NNPA) - The last time Robert Freeman Sr. saw his son the 13-year-old looked happy and was full of joy. On July 28 the teen was gunned down in the 11500 block of South Perry Avenue.

“He was a good son and lived life to its fullest. I loved him very much and now he is gone,” Freeman said. Robert Jr. was the oldest of his three children.

According to Chicago police, the son was shot more than 20 times by an unknown assailant during the day as he stood with friends on the street. Freeman Sr. lives one block away on 115th Street and Lafayette Avenue and has lived there since 1970.

“Even though I have another son (and a daughter) there is something special about your first born,” he told the Defender. “I now know how other parents feel when they have to bury their kids. Parents should not out-live their children but when you live in a violent community things like this are bound to happen.”

On Aug. 2, Freeman, 44, joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, and two-dozen Black ministers gathered at the corner of 116th Street and Perry Avenue to pray for the community and call for federal intervention on the plight of urban areas.

Jackson said that Black-on-Black crime is a long standing problem in the Black community but reminded those attending the press conference that Blacks do not manufacture guns or illegal drugs.

“The Black community is a target market for drugs and violence,” he added. “As a community we must love and protect our children to prevent more Robert Freeman’s from being brutality murdered.”

Solutions offered by Jackson to slow down the escalating violence in many Black communities are more jobs and better public transportation.

“In this community the unemployment rate for adults is 30 percent and 50 percent for teenagers. We need jobs and job training so people can go back to work,” the civil rights leader explained.

The Rev. Walter Turner, pastor of New Spiritual Light Baptist Church on the South Side, said he agrees that Blacks suffer from more than just violence.

“This is more than violence with guns but violence with economics,” he said. “We need to find a way to make living in economically depressed areas safer.”

The young Freeman’s slaying and the violent weekend that came in its wake ¬– over 20 shootings, with six of them fatal – also had Mayor Richard Daley speaking out.

Daley announced new initiatives to deal with the violence, which he called “our most immediate and pressing challenge” and he agreed that the solution requires many answers.

“Violence is a complex challenge,” Daley said at a news conference held at 15th District Police District Headquarters. “As reasonable people understand, making Chicago safer doesn't have one answer, it has many. That's why we're working on many fronts and in many ways to make our streets safer.”

Daley said that the gang bangers and drug dealers who are responsible for much of the city’s street violence are a “small but violent part” of Chicago.

“The problem is that they believe they're above the law and they don't care about the consequences of their violence,” Daley said. “As a city, we must stand up to them.”

Chicago police report that there were 57 homicides in Chicago last July, and 43 this July.

“But numbers don't provide much consolation if you've lost a family member or friend to violence or feel vulnerable to its awful grip,” Daley said. “The fight to protect Chicago's streets, and especially our children, must continue.”

Saint Paul's College Receives Largest Gift in School History

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspapers –

(NNPA) - Saint Paul’s College a historically Black college, located in Lawrenceville, Va., recently received the largest donation in the school’s history from the estate of former Washington, D.C. Councilwoman Hilda Mason, a St. Paul's alum, and Charles N. Mason, Jr.

The $1.4 million endowment will be used to create a scholarship fund available to students pursuing a degree in any major area at the college.

“My mother was determined, compassionate, and a fighter for all people,” Carolyn Nicholas, Mason’s daughter, said in a statement.

After graduating from Saint Paul’s, Mason began her career as a schoolteacher in the Campbell County public school system. She went on to an illustrious public service career with the D.C. Board of Education, D.C. Council, and the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

School officials said the donation will be invested and the return on those investments will be awarded to deserving students during their annual Honors Day program.

Founded in 1888 by an Episcopal priest as Saint Paul’s Normal and Industrial School, the college opened its doors to former slaves and their children. The school’s name was changed to Saint Paul’s College in 1957 when programs that led to a bachelor’s degree were added to the curriculum.

Security High as Polling Nears for Two Key Elections in Africa

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Special to the NNPA from GIN –

(GIN) – From colonial times to post-independence, Kenya’s food basket, the Rift Valley Province, has been key to Kenya’s politics.

Rift Valley is not just Kenya’s food basket, it is also the region where most of the flowers for the country’s lucrative export industry are grown - with extensive tea plantations, spectacular tourism sites and resorts and a few remaining rich white settler-owned farms and plantations.

It has also been the center of conflict over land ownership between groups dispossessed by white colonial settlers. The outcome of this week’s poll may settle some of these disputes.

Proposed changes to the Constitution include handing powers to Kenya’s 47 counties, such as responsibility for basic health services, agriculture, county roads and water. Public finances and authority over land would be audited by independent bodies to boost accountability.

Maximum leases on land would be reduced, retroactively, to 99 years from 999 years, making ownership accessible to more Kenyans, and property handed out by politicians to their supporters will become public land.

At least 68 percent of Kenyans back the proposed changes to the constitution, according to a recent poll by TNS Research International. About 25 percent plan to reject the document, according to the poll, which had a margin of error of 2.45 percentage points.

In Rwanda, current Pres. Paul Kagame is running for another term of seven years.

The poll was set to take place Aug. 9 amidst a crackdown on political freedoms, including media repression, jailings of opposition leaders, threats of war, attempted assassinations and several killings of political opponents.

The United Nations and U.S.-based Human Rights Watch have called for a full investigation into one of the recent killings, the near decapitation of an opposition leader.

A coalition of human rights groups, the International Humanitarian Law Institute of Minnesota, William Mitchell College of Law, and the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, among others issued a call to disregard the outcome of the election under these circumstances.

In an open letter published in The Black Star News, the group wrote: “We are calling on President Obama and the U.S. State Department not to recognize the legitimacy of Rwanda's upcoming August 9th election results and to stop militarizing Africa and supporting repressive regimes.”

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