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Black-White Views of Katrina Recovery Differ Sharply, Poll Finds

this-is-the-price-i-paid-by-staying-in-ne(Trice Edney Wire) – Despite declarations of a “new” New Orleans and a reinvented, world-class city that has moved beyond race, a new poll conducted by the Public Policy Research Lab at Louisiana State University shows that when it comes to how residents view post-Katrina recovery the racial divide remains.

The poll’s results, released during the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, found that nearly four out of five white residents believe that the Crescent City has mostly recovered while nearly three out of five Black New Orleanians say it has not, a divide that reflects different views of economic opportunities for residents, privatization of the city’s public schools, ongoing efforts to reform the city’s police department, a lack of affordable housing and overall quality of life.

The survey results were released Monday, Aug. 24, just five days before the official 10th anniversary of the devastating 2005 storm and subsequent levee breaks that flooded nearly 80 percent of New Orleans, claimed at least 1,800 lives and displaced more than 150,000 residents.

Several dozen events, including community service projects, vigils, symposiums and conferences, have been planned to mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, address ongoing challenges and tout recovery efforts.

While the Mercedes-Benz Superdome has undergone several post-Katrina renovations, the city has more restaurants than it did before the storm and New Orleans has become a favorite destination for idealistic millennials hoping to leave their mark on the world, many challenges remain.

The murder rate continues to rise even though the city has fewer residents than it did before Katrina, parts of the city appear as they did just weeks after Katrina and the city’s embattled police department continues to lose officers faster than it can replace them.

As if that were not enough, more than 100,000 Black residents have not returned to New Orleans, 52 percent of the city’s Black men are unemployed and there is a wide income disparity between Blacks and whites with the median white family income being $60,553 and Black families earning a paltry $25,102.

Race relations have been further strained by efforts by the state-run Recovery School District to build a school for Black children atop a former city dump where at least eight toxic metals have been found, ongoing struggles by Black businesses to win public contracts from City Hall and a fiery debate about the removal of Confederate monuments from public places across New Orleans.

President Barack Obama visited New Orleans Thursday, making stops in the Lower Ninth Ward and the Faubourg Tremé to chat with residents and visit Dooky Chase chef Leah Chase and Willie Mae’s Scotch House to sample the fried chicken.

Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton were scheduled to visit the city and other parts of the still-rebounding Gulf Coast Friday and Saturday.

While mainstream media have largely focused on the progress made over the past decade, many of the city’s African-American residents remain concerned about the future of Black New Orleans.

The displacement of more than 100,000 Black residents— some of whom opted not to return because of better opportunities found in other states — and an influx of young white professionals, along with the mass firing of 7,500 Black public school administrators, educators and paraprofessionals after Katrina, have significantly reduced the Black population and diluted Black political power in this majority-Black city.

New Orleans is being led by a white mayor for the first time in three decades and until last year’s local elections, the city had a majority-white City Council. It also has a white district attorney and majority-white Orleans Parish School Board.

Complicating matters is the fact that some of the area’s legislators are seeking to remove Algiers, a section of the city that lies on the West Bank, from New Orleans’ jurisdiction, a move that would further reduce the Black majority and erode Black voting strength in New Orleans.

Meanwhile, property taxes and rental rates continue to rise in this city where 60 percent of its residents are renters and energy and water bills have also risen sharply since Hurricane Katrina.

All of these things and more are on the minds of Black residents as city leaders and mainstream media celebrate post-Katrina recovery milestones.

The LSU survey reflects a wide disparity in the way the city’s Blacks and whites view the recovery and underscores the need for initiatives that address the needs and concerns of communities of color.

LSU researchers reported that more than one-third of Black respondents say that the quality of life has gotten worse since Katrina, while 41 percent of white residents believe their quality of life has improved. That 41 percent is double the number of Blacks who believe life in New Orleans has gotten better since the storm and flood.

The survey found that Black women, in particular, say they are having a difficult time rebuilding their lives in post-Katrina New Orleans a decade after the storm.

While many of these Black residents’ voices have been drowned out by local elected officials and mainstream media organizations reporting on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, these stories are being told by groups like Common Ground, Community United for Change and the African-American Leadership Project, and at gatherings like “A People’s History of Katrina” conference, which took place Sunday in New Orleans.

The poll of 2,195 respondents, in New Orleans and elsewhere in southeast Louisiana, was conducted via telephone interviews from July 7 to Aug. 10. The margin of error within the city was plus or minus five percentage points.