Long after recovery, Hurricane's effects will remain, say experts

by David Kassabain

Washington - The effects of Hurricane Katrina could further segregate New Orleans racially and economically, a panel of social science experts and others said Tuesday.

More than just temporary relief efforts are needed to combat a growing economic, social and cultural vacuum typically seen by lower-income residents after natural disasters and other emergencies, the panelists said. They spoke at an event hosted by the Urban Institute, which investigates urban social and economic issues.

Consequences could range from large numbers of the predominantly African-American evacuees permanently relocating, to city planners shifting new homes for African-Americans and other minorities to different areas of New Orleans. That could result in even less diversity, the group said. Long-term housing and education problems could also affect evacuees for decades to come, they added.

"We're going to commit a lot of money rebuilding the physical structure of New Orleans ? I don't think we have a clue about how the social structure collapsed," said Roderick Harrison, founding director of DataBank at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

Rebuilding is historically done at the expense of those poor and people of color after prime real estate is reclaimed and those with little power are shifted to less desirable locations, said Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the National Museum of African History and Culture.

More than 29 percent of the population of New Orleans was below the poverty line, compared to about 13 percent nationally, according to 2000 U.S. Census data. More than 67 percent of the city was African-American.

Beyond housing, jobs created from recovery efforts are typically temporary and often result in a reduction of permanent work, especially for those with little skills, Bunch said. "It's clear to me that this migration is really a long-term challenge ? not a six-month or one-year challenge," Bunch said.

Families with school-age children run some of the greatest risks for suffering permanent sociological trauma after disasters, said Olivia Golden, director of Assessing the New Federalism Project. "After a child's life has been disrupted, bad public responses can make things worse," Golden said. "If parents lives are stable ? children can be amazingly resilient."

Low-income families are going to face affordability issues when they return, said Margery Austin Turner, director of the Center on Metropolitan Housing Communities at the Urban Institute. Security and closeness to school and work are just as important as finding shelter, she said. "It's especially important that we don't make those same mistakes again," Turner said. "Temporary housing like RV's or mobile homes might be necessary, but they pose the serious risk of creating new isolated ghettos for evacuees."

Large portions of New Orleans can?t be rebuilt, Harrison said. "In 10 to 20 years from now, I think you are going to see a much smaller city," he said.

Source: Scripps Howard Foundation