This post summarizes week seven of Schree Greene’s Environmental Justice Corps fellowship at LABB.
Earlier this summer as I was exploring New Orleans, I met an elderly African American woman named Edna. During our conversation, Edna said, “Since Hurricane Katrina, there is no longer a place called ‘the projects.’ Before the hurricane, all I had to pay was rent. After the hurricane, they expect me to pay rent, water and electricity. I couldn’t afford it then, so what makes them think I can afford it now? It’s because they have moved the upper class into what was once the projects.”
When Edna mentions “the projects,” she is referring to the low-income housing developments across the city, several of which were torn down after Katrina to make way for mixed-income housing. On July 8, I took a self-motivated visit to the Lower 9th Ward and that’s when I experienced the reality of Edna’s words.
I realized that some of the houses that were once affordable for many African Americans are now too expensive because people with higher incomes have moved into the area. While the Lower 9th Ward consisted mostly of low-income homeowners and rentals before Katrina, rebuilding efforts like the Make It Right Foundation have changed the makeup of the community. As of 2009, the average income in the Lower 9th Ward was $11,000 while the average price of a newly built house was $150,000. Before Katrina, the average price for a home was $25,000. (For more on housing figures, check out this link. For more on income, see here.)
In reality, Edna’s argument is valid. If the residents of the Lower 9th Ward and other poorer neighborhoods in the city are living at the poverty level, how can they possibly afford a house that is more than triple their income or public housing that has become more expensive? The correct answer is they can’t and I believe this is happening to the residents on purpose.
Although the new houses constructed in the Lower 9th Ward are appealing, the majority of the area is consumed by thigh-high grass and vacant lots. Areas that once had stores or food markets now have abandoned buildings that are barely stable. I saw kids running through grassy parking lots just to have a recreational area. I saw mothers walking and carrying their children in the dangerous heat just to reach the closest grocery stores. I saw homeless families lying under shady trees to avoid the hot sun.
It is evident injustice when children don’t have access to safe recreational areas and families can’t afford what was once decent housing. I was completely devastated to witness such a horrific sight six years after Hurricane Katrina. From my perspective, African Americans are being forced out of the city in the easiest way possible — by making housing too expensive. This kind of concern over mixed-use housing was brought up when the New Orleans City Council voted to demolish some of the housing projects in 2007 (read about that here).
Based on my self-guided tour, there are still questions that linger in my mind: What type of work is being done in the Lower 9th Ward and other neighborhoods to help benefit the community? What types of programs for children are available? What challenges make the development process so slow?
Tomorrow, I will take part in a guided tour of the Global Green center and areas of the Lower 9th Ward. While there, I plan to investigate the answers to the questions at hand. Stay tuned for next week’s blog to find out more about what I’ve learned in the Lower 9th Ward.