On August 29, 2005, one of the worse natural disasters in American history destroyed a large portion of the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. In the devastating hurricane, at least 1,245 people were killed by the intense water surge and subsequent flooding. During the natural disaster, American citizens of which a large percentage were Black residents, were pleading for help from the federal government as if they were refugees from a foreign land. The situation was so dire and with no help for the residents of the city from the federal government, Kanye West famously said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
They city has languished in despair for many years but there is a big push by developer Pres Kabacoff of HRI Properties, to turn parts of the city into an Afro-Caribbean Paris. While many historically Black sections, such as the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans still looks like Katrina occurred yesterday, other parts of the city are virtually unrecognizable. Many neighborhoods which were predominantly Black, are now gentrified and unaffordable to many of the people that grew up in those areas. From chic restaurants to high-end coffee bars, the face of certain sections of New Orleans has completely changed. In places that were predominantly Black, today it’s difficult to even find a Black person except for someone that is an employee of one of these high-end establishments.
In a city with a large population depending on rental housing, the rebuilt portions of New Orleans is virtually unaffordable to many of the residents who lived there just prior to Hurricane Katrina barreling into the city. While speaking to a reporter, Mr. Kabacoff pointedly told her who the revitalized city is being geared towards. He said, “we’ve got lots of people like you that are coming to town. 30,000 of them. It took many years to make people comfortable, but now this urban revitalization, not only in New Orleans, but all over the country, is becoming a movement.” His statement clearly shows that the rebuilt New Orleans is being marketed to well-to-do millennials, who are more than likely not the Black residents that lived in the city for many generations.
While Mr. Kabacoff painted a pictured of an inclusive rebuilt city, a local resident who lived in the St. Bernard Housing Projects said that is not the case. Housing records show just a fraction of the mixed-income housing units in the HRI properties that have replaced the St. Bernard Housing Projects, have gone to residents that lived in the area prior to Hurricane Katrina. Unlike the high-end developer, Neal Morris of Redmellon Restoration & Development, is using tax-incentives to purchase and rehabilitate homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Morris intends to rent these homes to locals at affordable rates. Another person that’s trying to keep the city affordable to the locals of New Orleans is store owner, Burnell Cotlon. Located in the Lower Ninth Ward, Mr. Cotlon’s store is the only places for miles where local residents can go to purchase food. He used all the money he had to purchase the store and he’s now trying to raise $80,000 to open other vital services such as a laundromat.
What are your thoughts on the changing face of New Orleans?