September 24, 2005
Ethnic cleansing, Louisiana-style
Mark Drennen plans a brighter, whiter future for New Orleans:
As president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc, Drennen was in an expansive mood, pumped up by signs from Washington that the corporations he represents were about to receive a package of tax breaks, subsidies and relaxed regulations so generous that it would make the job of a lobbyist virtually obsolete.
Listening to Drennen enthuse about the opportunities opened up by the storm, I was struck by his reference to African-Americans in New Orleans as “the minority community”. At 67% of the population, they are the clear majority; whites like Drennen make up 27%. It was, no doubt, a simple verbal slip, but I couldn’t help feeling that it was also a glimpse into the desired demographics of the new and improved city being imagined by its white elite. “I honestly don’t know, and I don’t think anyone knows, how they are going to fit in,” Drennen said of the city’s unemployed.
New Orleans is already displaying signs of a demographic shift so dramatic that some evacuees describe it as ethnic cleansing. Before the mayor, Ray Nagin, called for a second evacuation, the people streaming back into dry areas were mostly white, while those with no homes to return to are overwhelmingly black. This, we are assured, is not a conspiracy; it is simple geography - a reflection of the fact that wealth in New Orleans buys altitude.
… As for the hundreds of thousands of residents whose low-lying homes and housing projects were destroyed by the flood, Drennen says the city now has an opportunity for “21st-century thinking”: rather than rebuild ghettoes, New Orleans should be resettled with “mixed income” housing, where rich and poor, black and white, live side by side.
What Drennen does not say is that this kind of urban integration could happen tomorrow, on a massive scale. Roughly 70,000 of New Orleans’s poorest homeless evacuees could move back to the city, alongside returning white homeowners, without a single new structure being built. Take the Lower Garden District, where Drennen himself lives. It has a surprisingly high vacancy rate - 17%, according to the 2000 census. At that time 702 housing units stood vacant, and since the market has not improved and the district was barely flooded, they are presumably still vacant. It is much the same in the other dry areas, with landlords preferring to board up apartments rather than lower rents.
In areas that sustained only minor damage and are on the mayor’s repopulation list, there are at least 11,600 empty apartments and houses. If Jefferson Parish is included, that number soars to 23,270. That means homes could be found for roughly 70,000 evacuees. With the city’s permanently homeless residents estimated at 200,000, that is a significant dent in New Orleans’s housing crisis.
But—like truly “mixed income” housing that New Orleans’ poor, made poorer by Katrina, could actually afford—it's not gonna happen.
TrackBack URL for this entry: