Responding to Hurricane Ida: We are not trapped to repeat the sins of Katrina recovery

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Marc Morial

 

By MARC H. MORIAL

National Urban League

 

“In the wake of Katrina, contractors charged the same amount to rebuild a three-bedroom house, whether it was in the Lower 9th Ward or on high ground Uptown. But rebuilding grants didn’t take that into consideration. The state-run Road Home program devised a grant formula based not upon rebuilding costs but on pre-storm home values. Since majority-Black neighborhoods had lower property values, White homeowners received a markedly higher grants than Black homeowner with comparable houses. The end result was that more White homeowners were able to rebuild, while more Black homeowners couldn’t afford to do so.”

  • Politico Magazine, “The Dark Side of Katrina Recovery”

 

Almost three weeks after Hurricane Ida made landfall in Southeast Louisiana before barreling up the east coast thousands of homes remain uninhabitable, industrial sites are shut down, businesses are shuttered and at least 46,000 homes and businesses remain without electrical power.

As recovery from the storm continues around the nation, the National Urban League and our affiliates are mobilizing relief efforts on the ground while urging state and local elected officials to avoid the missteps that hindered recovery after Katrina and ground their programs inequity and racial justice.

A recent FEMA Advisory Committee Report, based on a Rice University study, found that federal recovery funding after a disaster disproportionally benefits White entrepreneurs. When major disasters strike and significant federal resources are invested, there is an increase in white net worth and a corresponding decrease in net worth for Black people.

I pointed to this report in a letter I sent last week to the governors of Louisiana, New York and New Jersey, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and presidents of the several Louisiana parishes.

I reminded them that we are not trapped to repeat the sins of the decade-plus recovery from Katrina. We are not required to continue policies that, since Katrina, have led to inequitable recovery for Black families and unequal opportunities for Black businesses to thrive and contribute to the recoveries across all communities.

While Ida did strike on Katrina’s anniversary, our federal, state and local elected officials have the power to make sure the recovery in no way resembles the slow, inequitable and imbalanced recovery in Louisiana; a recovery that has left many White neighborhoods thriving and White-owned businesses expanding and left too many Black communities behind.

The National Urban League recommends that the following guidelines to level the playing field and contribute to a recovery in which we all can take pride:

Make the earliest funding for impacted citizens truly and equally available. Due to FEMA’s application and compensation process, Black families often receive fewer funds.  To remedy this injustice, FEMA damage assessments should no longer be done solely in-person or over-the-phone, but with the flyover and digital imagery technology used by insurance companies. Not only would this save time and money, but it would also strip unconscious bias from the process and lead to equitable and accurate compensation. Furthermore, because of decades of redlining and racial bias in-home appraisals, FEMA should prohibit appraised home values from being used to determine compensation.

Improve the timeliness and methodology for Community Development Block Grant funding. A year after funding that drives most post-disaster residential recovery. Congress still has not allocated any funding for recovery from Hurricanes Laura and Delta, and other storms that devastated American communities last year. The process is much more efficient in states that reimburse homeowners for CDBG-eligible rebuilding work. A Recovery Acceleration Fund model would make the reimbursement pathway accessible to all CDBG-qualifying homeowners.

The billions of dollars that will be invested into the region must be made available to Black-owned businesses. The labyrinth of paperwork, onerous requirements and high costs effectively screen out small and mid-sized Black businesses in the very communities that are impacted. When and where large contracts are deployed, they must be held accountable to ensure they provide sub-contract opportunities for Black-owned businesses in a real and meaningful way.

There is generational and life-altering impact when recoveries don’t work and are not equitable. Since COVID, the importance of home and community has been reinforced for all of us.

In Louisiana, the hardest-hit region, the Urban League community is taking on its traditional role of economic first responder.

The Urban League of Louisiana, along with Thrive New Orleans, Convoy of Care, PepsiCo and National Urban League, has organized a Hurricane Ida Relief Giveaway on Sept. 18, to distribute food, water, baby formula, diapers, clothing, feminine products, cleaning supplies and tarps.

The affiliate also has partnered with the Foundation for Louisiana to establish the Black Business Works Fund to help businesses stand back up in the aftermath of the storm and be stronger on the other side. Many Black-owned businesses are anchors in their communities, often hiring those who many others don’t and won’t. Creating supports that allow these businesses to remain competitive not only helps them but also helps the community to rebound.

For more information or to contribute to these efforts, visit https://urbanleaguela.org/ida.

 

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League. He can be reached through https://nul.org.

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