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 their damaged
neighborhoods, according to an analysis released Thursday by a Brown University
Blacks and the poor were disproportionately affected by Katrina, according
to the study led by Brown Professor John R. Logan. The analysis concludes that
the difficulty in moving back to the city could mean a massive loss of population,
overwhelmingly among blacks.
New Orleans was more than 65 percent black before Katrina hit in August, but
it appears most of the estimated 135,000 residents who have been able to return
are white. Mayor Ray Nagin recently apologized for saying New Orleans would
remain a "chocolate city" as he tried to allay fears that blacks would
The study found that if New Orleans' returning population was limited to the
neighborhoods undamaged by Katrina, about half the white population would not
return and 80 percent of its black population would not.
"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 was affected and in what numbers.
It found the hurricane-damaged areas of New Orleans were 75 percent black compared
to 46 percent black in undamaged areas of the city. It also found that 29 percent
of the households in those areas lived below the poverty line, compared with
24 percent of households in undamaged areas.
More than half of those who lived in the city's damaged neighborhoods were
renters, the analysis found. Those people were unlikely to have property insurance,
and because so many are poor, would be unlikely to have the resources to return
to the city.
"The odds of living in a damaged area were clearly much greater for blacks,
renters and poor people," the study said. "In these respects the most
vulnerable residents turned out also to be at greatest risk."
Along the Gulf Coast, about 46 percent of the population in damaged areas was
black, compared with 26 percent in non-damaged areas. The study did not consider
areas damaged if they reported just superficial problems, such as missing roof
By sheer numbers, the study noted there were almost as many non-Hispanic whites
as blacks affected in damaged areas of the Gulf Coast region -- just under 300,000
of both populations. But it said that whites would be more likely to return
to damaged neighborhoods.
"Whites are more likely to be homeowners," the study said. "But
more important, they are much more likely to have the personal resources to
reinvest in their homes or to find a new residence in a difficult housing market."
Some former residents may not be able to return to their old neighborhoods
even if they wanted to, Logan said. Parts of New Orleans may close forever to
development, renters can't necessarily return to homes they've left for months,
and the housing market is tight. In addition, several large public housing complexes
in the city have been closed since the storm and the federal Department of Housing
and Urban Development has not offered specific details on how or when those
projects may be restored or rebuilt.