The city of New Orleans could lose up to 80 percent of its black population if people displaced by Hurricane Katrina are not able to return to damaged neighborhoods, according to an ongoing university study.
“This means that policy choices affecting who can return, to which neighborhoods, and with what forms of public and private assistance, will greatly affect the future character of the city,” according to the Brown University study, which is being funded by the National Science Foundation.
The lead researcher, sociology professor John Logan, determined that if the city’s returning population was limited to neighborhoods undamaged by Katrina, half of the white population would not return and 80 percent of the black population would not return.
“There’s very good reason for people to be concerned that the future New Orleans will not be a place for the people who used to live there, that there won’t be room in New Orleans for large segments of the population that used to call it home,” said Logan, who studies urban areas.
The study used maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that detailed flood and wind damage and compared them to data from the 2000 U.S. Census to determine who and what areas were affected.
It found the storm-damaged areas had been 75 percent black, compared to 46 percent black in undamaged areas of the city. It also found that 29 percent of the households in damaged areas lived below the poverty line, compared with 24 percent of households in undamaged areas.
Most were renters
More than half of those who lived in the city’s damaged neighborhoods were renters, the analysis found.
“The odds of living in a damaged area were clearly much greater for blacks, renters and poor people,” Logan said in a statement issued with the analysis. “In these respects, the most vulnerable residents turned out also to be at greatest risk.”
Elliott Stonecipher, a demographer and political analyst based in Shreveport, La., said the analysis gets to the heart of the debate over how to rebuild New Orleans. Racial tensions have been high with some worried that those in charge of the rebuilding will push black residents out of the city.
“For this storm to suddenly rip that away from them, that feeling is at the heart of this growing racial impasse,” Stonecipher said.