NEW ORLEANS' BROAD STREET used to be a major Black commercial district. Since the city's flooding, Broad Street's barber shops, clothing stores and restaurants have been replaced by a mile of shuttered stores and abandoned homes, while nearby public housing residents have been blocked from returning.
Many visitors assume that flooding and other storm-related damage destroyed these homes and business. However, the main obstacle to these businesses opening is not structural damage. This neighborhood is a casualty of the dispossession of Black people from New Orleans, a city that was once 500,000 people and 70 percent Black, and is now estimated at fewer than 200,000 people, perhaps 45 percent Black.
The St. Bernard public housing development was relatively untouched by the storm. Its main problem was decades of neglect. "We've been having mold, mildew and backed-up sewers for years," said Pamela Mahogany, a St Bernard resident. "I've been here 42 years, and it's been a hazard the whole time. They never cared before. This is part of their goal to tear our development down."
Instead of repairing public housing after the storm, the Housing Authority of New Orleans, under the direction of the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, chose to allow the buildings to remain empty for a year, finally announcing just before the anniversary of Katrina that the homes would be torn down.
"We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans," Louisiana Congressman Richard Baker said shortly after Katrina. "We couldn't do it, but God did." A few months later, Oliver Thomas, New Orleans' City Council president, declared: "We don't need soap opera watchers right now," referring to public housing residents.
In New Orleans politics, no one is defending public housing residents, and...