The Impact of Katrina Race and Class

The Impact of Katrina Race and Class


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Many of the most segregated neighborhoods with the highest poverty rates are those identified as “projects,” a reference to the prominence of public housing within their borders. The project neighborhoods typically had poverty rates in the range of 60-80% of the population, unemployment is above 20%, they were all predominantly black (with African Americans accounting for 90% or more of their residents), and 80% or more of residents were renters.




The Impact of Katrina Race and Class 

in Storm-Damaged Neighborhoods

By John R. Logan

Katrina’s Substantial Disproportionate Impact on African Americans


Early media reports about the wind damage and flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina focused on New Orleans, and especially on the people who had been unable to escape the city before it flooded. Images of poor and predominantly black people crowded into the Superdome and Convention Center supported the impression that Katrina had disproportionately affected poor, black neighborhoods. The purpose of this report is to evaluate more precisely what neighborhoods were heavily damaged, including not only New Orleans but also the coastal communities in Mississippi that bore the brunt of hurricane-force winds.

In brief an analysis of FEMA storm damage data shows that the storm’s impact was disproportionately borne by the region’s African American community, by people who rented their homes, and by the poor and unemployed. 

1. More than a third of the region’s 1.7 million residents lived in areas that suffered flooding or moderate to catastrophic storm damage, according to FEMA. The majority of people living in damaged areas were in the City of New Orleans (over 350,000), with additional concentrations in suburban Jefferson Parish (175,000) and St. Bernard Parish (53,000) and along the Mississippi Coast (54,000).

2. In the region as a whole, the disparities in storm damage are shown in the following comparisons (arranged in order of the degree of disparity):

• By race. Damaged areas were 45.8% black, compared to 26.4% in undamaged areas.

• By housing tenure. 45.7% of homes in damaged areas were occupied by renters, compared to 30.9% in undamaged communities.

• By poverty and employment status. 20.9% of households had incomes below the poverty line in damaged areas, compared to 15.3% in undamaged areas. 7.6% of persons in the labor force were unemployed in damaged areas (before the storm), compared to 6.0% in undamaged areas.

3. These comparisons are heavily influenced by the experience of the City of New Orleans. Outside the city, there were actually smaller shares of African American, poor, and unemployed residents in the damaged areas.

4. Closer inspection of neighborhoods within New Orleans shows that some affluent white neighborhoods were hard hit, while some poor minority neighborhoods were spared. Yet if the post-Katrina city were limited to the population previously living in areas that were undamaged by the storm – that is, if nobody were able to return to damaged neighborhoods – New Orleans is at risk of losing more than 80% of its black population. 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.

*   *   *   *   * 

A similar analysis has been completed by the Congressional Research Service (available at This report reaches similar conclusions regarding the region as a whole, but provides more detailed information about variations among neighborhoods in the City of New Orleans, where the majority of affected persons lived. To supplement this report, Brown University’s American Communities Project has developed a web-based map system that includes all of the information analyzed here.

The site is . It identifies the broad zones of the three-state region where FEMA was authorized to provide assistance. It also shows the more specific areas classified as flooded or moderately to catastrophically storm-damaged by FEMA. 

At a detailed zoom level, the user can display aerial photographs from early September 2001 that have been made available by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at The web system also displays a wide variety of population characteristics from Census 2000 for census tracts. Within the City of New Orleans, it is also possible to see how census tracts are grouped into neighborhoods by the city for planning

Some largely white neighborhoods of affluent homeowners were completely flooded, while some relatively poor black neighborhoods were spared. However there is a general tendency as shown in Table 2 for blacks and poor residents to have greater odds of being in harm’s way.

Discussions of the racially differential impact of Katrina have often emphasized the Lower Ninth Ward (where many homes were entirely demolished by the breach in the levee of the Industrial Canal) and New Orleans East. Most neighborhoods in these planning districts were more than 85% black, and most residences were damaged. A majority of residents of both of these planning districts were homeowners, though there were clear class distinctions between the two areas. More than a third of Lower Ninth Ward residents were below the poverty line, and nearly 14% were unemployed. New Orleans East had a considerably larger middle class component, though it was not among the city’s most affluent sections.

Many of the most segregated neighborhoods with the highest poverty rates are those identified as “projects,” a reference to the prominence of public housing within their borders. The project neighborhoods typically had poverty rates in the range of 60-80% of the population, unemployment is above 20%, they were all predominantly black (with African Americans accounting for 90% or more of their residents), and 80% or more of residents were renters.

There are six such neighborhoods in New Orleans (though there are concentrations of public housing or Section 8 housing in other parts of the city). In five of them with a combined 2000 population of over 15,000 persons (Calliope, Iberville, St. Bernard Area, Desire, and Florida) the entire territory meets this report’s definition of damaged areas. The Fischer Project neighborhood in Algiers was little damaged. (A seventh project neighborhood, the St. Thomas Project in the Central City/Garden District, was demolished in 2002, replaced by a Wal-Mart and new predominantly market-rate condominiums. . . .

At the other end of the class spectrum are a number of more advantaged neighborhoods with poverty rates below 10% or unemployment rates below 5%. In the most heavily impacted planning districts, few neighborhoods meet either criterion. These include the Lake-Terrace/Lake Oaks neighborhood in Gentilly and the Read Boulevard East neighborhood in New Orleans East. Most such neighborhoods are in the Lakeview Planning District, which is an area with a small black population, mostly homeowners, and very low rates of poverty and unemployment. Here only the Lakeshore/Lake Vista neighborhood, adjacent to Lake Pontchartrain, was partly spared.

Few residents in the French Quarter, a predominantly white neighborhood with a poverty rate of about 11% and unemployment below 5%, lived in tracts that were flooded. Among other neighborhoods with a national reputation for affluence, the Garden District neighborhood was not flooded and only 40% of the Audubon/University neighborhood (home of Tulane University and Loyola University) was damaged.

*   *   *   *   *

Policy implications

The sheer number of people who lived in heavily damaged areas – over 640,000 – is a reminder of the scale of Katrina’s impact. Because the storm hit large numbers of people of every race and class, it seems likely that public support for policies to assist these people will also cut across race and class lines. However there was also a substantial disproportionate impact on African Americans and people with fewer resources.

These disparities stem from within the City of New Orleans itself, and more specifically from vulnerability to flooding. This is a pattern with deep roots, and although Katrina caused the most extensive flooding in memory, prior studies by historians (such as An Unnatural Metropolis by Craig Colten) have demonstrated that both high ground and public investments in drainage and pumping systems consistently worked to the advantage of certain neighborhoods in past storms.

There are major variations across the region that are likely to affect the process of recovery. Damage was extensive on the Mississippi Coast, and the area’s largest single source of employment – casino gambling – was knocked out of operation. In comparison to New Orleans, however, the number of people living in areas of moderate or greater damage was small, only about 50,000. And also in contrast to New Orleans, only a small share of these people were black and a majority were homeowners.

It is difficult to assess the importance of race in recovery policy in Mississippi, but in a politically conservative state it could make a big difference that white homeowners constitute the bulk of claimants for state assistance. Further, these people are easier to serve for several reasons.

1. First, they are identifiable and – because they retain an ownership interest in their properties – they should prove easier for authorities to contact.

2. Second, since much of the damage wrought by Katrina in this area was by wind and rain damage, standard homeowner policies offer substantial private sector coverage of damage losses. For those with uninsured flood damage, the state government currently expects federal aid to be sufficient to fund payments of $150,000 to individual homeowners.

3. Third, the low density of housing in this area means that typically even when one’s home was uninhabitable, there was space for a trailer in the driveway. Since in addition the loss of electrical power was relatively short-term in Mississippi, and basic public services could be restored within a reasonable time, homeowners in this region more readily met the requirements for a FEMA-provided trailer – space and confirmed utility hookups.

In contrast, consider the situation in New Orleans. More than half the persons in damaged areas were renters, unlikely to be protected in any way by property insurance, and 30% fell below the poverty line and were therefore unlikely to have personal resources to return to the city. By the end of 2005, power was still unavailable much of the city, and actual connections to electric power required residents to present evidence of inspection by a licensed electrician before power would be restored to an individual home. The utility company (a subsidiary of the Entergy Corporation) had filed for bankruptcy protection in September.

People who previously lived in public housing seem to have the least chances to return, given current policy. All public housing in the affected areas has been closed (and special barriers bolted to the doors), and residents have been allotted rental housing assistance in areas where they have relocated for up to 18 months. Plans for reopening the projects or for constructing new affordable housing have not become public.

For many of the same reasons that rebuilding will be facilitated on the Mississippi Coast, the white residents of the City of New Orleans are more likely than black residents to be able to return to their neighborhoods, even if the neighborhood is reopened. Whites are more likely to be homeowners (55% compared to 42% among African American households), 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.

In the pre-Katrina black population, 35% were below the poverty line and the median household income was only $25,000. Among whites, only 11% were poor and the median income was more than twice as high – $61,000.

Therefore even among homeowners, blacks are less likely to have the means to rebuild than are whites. There is potential for political coalitions that cut across the racial and class divisions that have helped structure city politics over the decades.

Residents of such very different neighborhoods as Lakeview and the Lower Ninth Ward have a shared interest in short-term assistance programs such as subsidies for temporary housing outside the city. Up to now few city residents have qualified for FEMA trailers outside their homes because they do not own the home, or there is insufficient space for a trailer, or public utilities remain unavailable.

As long as issues can be framed so that demands are oriented toward FEMA (an external target) or toward demands for services like electricity or schools or police protection that affect all segments of the public, the appearance of unity can be maintained. The City Council’s repeated stands in favor of rebuilding all parts of the city – a question on which the Council is unlikely to have the final word – is a reflection of this temporary unity.

Yet variations across neighborhoods


and across race and class


are likely to support the emergence of a sense of conflicting interests. In December 2005 conflict took the form of opposition to proposals to locate FEMA trailers in public spaces within neighborhoods that sustained less damage. In this case the interests of advantaged neighborhoods (advantaged by protection from flooding and by having residents in place to express their views) were in conflict with the interests of absent residents who have no place to return. Not surprisingly the City Council gave its members veto power over new trailer parks in the areas that they represent.

In the longer term there is likely to be competition between damaged neighborhoods for the supports that will be necessary for rebuilding. In mid-January 2006, the Bring New Orleans Back Commission (a policy group formed by city government) released a planning report that began to address this question. The Commission identified some parts of the city as “immediate opportunity areas.” 

[I]t is clear that the Commission proposes rebuilding in some areas that were flooded. They include areas along the river near the central business district, Holy Cross in the Lower Ninth Ward Planning District, and Lakewood/West End and Lakeshore/Lake Vista bordering Lake Pontchartrain. Generally these are zones where sustained flooding was under about four feet.

The Commission also recommended the designation of large portions of the city as “neighborhood planning” areas. Within these areas the Commission recommends a temporary halt on issuance of building permits. Only where there is evidence within the next four months that residents are committed to returning to each neighborhood in large numbers would rebuilding be approved.

The precise criteria underlying these designations have not been announced, and the Commission’s recommendations have not been formally adopted. This is a temporary solution to the political problem that few public officials are willing to state openly that some areas will not be permitted to be resettled. On its face it leaves the decision to local residents. Clearly some areas are at risk of being closed to reconstruction.

In January 2006, the full-time population of the city has been estimated at only 150,000. The analysis in this report suggests that if the future city were limited to the population previously living in zones undamaged by Katrina it would risk losing about 50% of its white residents but more than 80% of its black population. This is why the continuing question about the hurricane is this: whose city will be rebuilt?


John R. Logan / Professor of Sociology, Brown University / Director, Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences / (401) 863-2267 /

*   *   *   *   *

Angry, but comin’ home!

New Orleans, LA, The New Orleans Agenda, By J. Brown


A firsthand account by a Katrina Survival.

While I want desperately to return to New Orleans, I am well aware of the shortage in housing. So, I went into the FEMA Center which is located inside the Jewish Community Center on St. Charles Avenue to discuss housing. Every FEMA Center seems to be different and I get different answers at each. I’ve gone to Shreveport and the Dallas, TX centers who have given me nothing but misinformation. So, I decided to come home to see about getting some clear answers since this is where the catastrophe happened.

When I sat down in front of a young FEMA worker, I asked her if there was some sort of “voucher” program to assist with housing here in New Orleans. I know vouchers where being given out in Houston and Dallas, TX. I simply just wasn’t a recipient of one. She responded “No”. In addition to her telling me “no”, she also said that FEMA had directed them (the workers) to “Encourage us not to return to the city.” I was taken aback and thought just maybe she was young and didn’t know any better. So, I asked her to repeat her sentence as I had a very puzzled look and she noticed it immediately. She said, “We’ve been told to encourage people to relocate outside of the state.” My response to her was “You mean temporarily?” and she said “No. Permanently.”

Still astonished, I said to her half crying and angry “No, that can’t be! How are we supposed to rebuild if you’re telling us to stay away!?” She then looked to her right at her co-worker (who happened to be a black man, she was white) and said to him “Isn’t that right?” He responded with a resounding “Yes!” She then said to me, “Let me check your records. I see where you’ve requested more rental assistance and it usually takes 2 to 4 weeks. But that’s all the assistance you’ll receive. After that, you’re on your own!”

This has only strengthened my resolve to return to the N.O. But why are they telling people this and have you heard of this from others and does other city officials know about FEMA’s practice to shun people away from returning. Tell me who I need to share this information with as it clearly defeats the purpose of rebuilding, repopulating an already broken city.

posted 28 January 2006

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—


*   *   *   *   *

The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *


*   *   *   *   *







update 14 January 2012




Home  Katrina New Orleans Flood Index   Jerry W. Ward Jr. Table

Related files:   The Conspiracy to Whiten New Orleans   The Impact of Katrina Race and Class    Plan Designed to Take Treme

Post Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.