October 05, 2005

More Than a Month Later

More than a month later, when you'd think New Orleans would need its city employees most, New Orlean's Mayor, Ray Nagin, has laid off 3000 workers, half the city's workforce. The city's revenues have shrunk enormously, and he is not able to find state, federal, or private funding to keep these people on the payroll, helping to rebuild New Orleans.

More than a month later, hundreds of thousands of victims of Katrina are still without housing .

It's more than a month later and we don't even have names of the dead.

More than a month later, perhaps 400,000 evacuees, all of whom have lost jobs, are looking for work, any kind of work.

More than a month later, the bureaucratic red tape is still preventing assistance from getting to the people who need it most.

As for New Orleans itself, two hopeful, former Clinton HUD officials propose equitable redevelopment :

Many observers have raised the prospect that a rebuilt New Orleans will resemble a Las Vegas or Disneyland on the Gulf, dominated by the entertainment and tourism industry, favoring luxury housing, and planned by a group that even The Wall Street Journal labeled ''the power elite." Clearly, that is an outcome to be avoided.

But how? They have a dream:

By equitable redevelopment, we mean something much more specific, however, including housing affordable to families at a wide range of income levels, measurably better public transportation and other job links, schools that are on track to succeed, healthcare access, a smart retail mix, business linkages to the regional economy, a viable tax base, and more mixed-income communities that reflect how urban America can and should function.

Wow. Hurricanes should hit all the major urban centers of America, and then we could finally fulfill our dream of an equitable society, with good schools and hospitals for all, mass transportation for the people, affordable housing for all, an equitable tax system, and the dream goes on.

The two Globe writers believe this is "ambitious" but "realistic."

With Karl Rove, Halliburton, and the corporate power brokers of New Orleans and Louisiana in charge of this rebuilding, does anyone really believe that an "equitable redevelopment" is possible?

The fact is, so many things are conspiring to prevent people from returning to New Orleans.

Many are finding shelter and jobs elsewhere, simply because they must. They can't wait to be offered jobs and homes in New Orleans. The thousands who find jobs and settle down in towns and cities across the country will probably never return.

The sad thing is that many of them will be underemployed for a long time. Nurses without licenses will work temporary hospital menial jobs. Shipyard workers will become greeters at Wal-Mart. Many people who had good jobs can't even find their old employers to use as references. Higher wage workers can only find low wage work. And low wage workers are lucky to find any work at all.

Then, there are those who never want to return anyway. The fears and losses they experienced prevent them from even imagining a return to a place that was such a nightmare for them.

For those who want to return, how will they get back? Scattered all over the country, either unemployted or working low wage jobs, living in temporary housing, they have no vehicles, they have no m oney to pay for a way back, and when they do go back, what will state and federal government offer them?

The grim reality is that certain facts have been created by the aftermath of Katrina. Certain powerful forces have been set in motion. And none of them bode well for the people who could benefit from equitable redevelopment.

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