A 20-Point Plan to Destroy Black New Orleans

As reconstruction and rebuilding move forward in New Orleans and the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coast region, it is clear that the lethargic and inept emergency response after Hurricane Katrina was a disaster that overshadowed the deadly storm itself. Yet, there is a "second disaster" in the making - driven by racism, classism, elitism, paternalism and old-fashioned greed.

The following "Twenty-Point Plan to Destroy Black New Orleans" is based on trends and observations made over the past three months. Hopefully, the good people of New Orleans, Louisiana, the Gulf Coast and the United States will not allow this plan to go forward - and instead adopt a principled plan and approach to rebuilding and bringing back New Orleans that is respectful of all of its citizens.

1. Selectively hand out FEMA grants. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is being consistent in the slow response in getting aid to Katrina survivors. FEMA's grant assistance program favors middle-income households. Make it difficult for low-income and Black Katrina survivors to access government assistance. Direct the bulk of the grant assistance to middle-income white storm victims. The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and several other legal groups have sued FEMA over its response and handling of aid to storm victims. FEMA has referred more than 2 million people, many of them with low incomes, to the Small Business Administration to get the loans.

2. Systematically deny the poor and Blacks SSA loans. Screen out poor and deny Black households disaster loans. The New York Times editorial summed up this problem: "The Poor Need Not Apply." The Small Business Administration has processed only a third of the 276,000 home loan applications it has received. However, the SBA has rejected 82 percent of the applications it received, a higher percentage than in most previous disasters. Well-off neighborhoods like Lakeview have received 47 percent of the loan approvals, while poverty-stricken neighborhoods have gotten 7 percent. Middle-class Black neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city have lower loan rates.

3. Award insurance claims using the "wind or water" trap. Because of the enormity of the damage in the wake of Katrina, insurance companies will categorize a lot of legitimate wind claims as flood- or water-related. The "wind or water" problem will hit Black storm victims hardest because they are likely to have their insurance with small companies - since the major firms "redlined" many Black neighborhoods. Most rebuilding funds after disasters come from private insurance - not the government.

4. Redline Black insurance policyholders. Numerous studies show that African Americans are more likely than whites to receive insufficient insurance settlement amounts. Insurance firms target Black policyholders for low and inadequate insurance settlements based on majority Black zip codes to subsidize fair settlements made to white policyholders. If Black homeowners and business owners expect to recover from Katrina, then they must receive full and just insurance settlements. FEMA and the SBA cannot be counted on to rebuild Black communities.

5. Use "green building" and flood-proofing codes to restrict redevelopment. Requiring rebuilding plans to conform to "green building" materials and new flood-proofing codes can price many low- and moderate-income homeowners and small business owners out of the market. This will hit Black homeowners and Black business owners especially hard since they generally have lower incomes and lower wealth.

6. Apply discriminatory environmental clean-up standards. Failure to apply uniform clean-up standards can kill off Black neighborhoods. Use of full-scale cleanup of white neighborhoods to residential standards, while allowing no cleanup or partial cleanup - industrial standards - of Black residential neighborhoods. Failure to clean up Black residential areas can act as a disincentive for redevelopment. It could also make people sick. Use the argument that Slack neighborhoods were already highly polluted with background contamination, or "hot spots," exceeding EPA safe levels pre-Katrina and thus need not be cleaned to more rigorous residential standards.

7. Sacrifice "Iow-Iying" Black neighborhoods in the name of saving the wetlands and environmental restoration. Allow Black neighborhoods like the Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East to be "yielded back to the swamp" while allowing similar low-lying white areas to be rebuilt and redeveloped. This is a form of "ethnic cleansing" that was not possible before Katrina. Instead of emphasizing equitable rebuilding, uniform clean-up standards, equal protection and environmental justice for African American communities, public officials should send mixed signals for rebuilding vulnerable "low-lying" Black neighborhoods.

8. Promote a smaller, more upscale and "whiter" New Orleans. Concentrating on getting less-damaged neighborhoods up and running could translate into a smaller, more upscale and whiter New Orleans and a dramatically down-sized Black community. Clearly, shrinking New Orleans neighborhoods disproportionately shrinks Black votes, Black political power and Black wealth.

9. Revise land use and zoning ordinances to exclude. Katrina can be used to change land use and zoning codes to "zone against" undesirable land uses that were not politically possible before the storm. Also, "expulsive" zoning can be used to push out certain land uses and certain people.

10. Phased rebuilding and restoration scheme that concentrates on the "high ground." New Orleans officials are being advised to concentrate rebuilding on the areas that remained high and dry after Katrina. These areas are disproportionately white and affluent. This scenario builds on pre-existing inequities and "white privilege" and ensures future inequities and "white privilege." By the time rebuilding gets around to Black "low-lying" areas, there are not likely to be any rebuilding funds left. This is the "oops, we are out of funds" scenario.

11. Apply eminent domain as a Black land grab. Give Katrina evacuees one year to return before the city is allowed to legally "take" their property through eminent domain. Clearly, it will take much longer than a year for most New Orleanians to return home. This proposal could turn into a giant land grab of Black property and loss of Black wealth they have invested in their homes and businesses.

12. No financial assistance for evacuees to return. Thousands of Katrina evacuees were shipped to more than three dozen states with no provisions for return - equivalent to a "one-way" ticket. Many Katrina evacuees are running short of funds. No money translates into no return to their homes and neighborhoods. Promote the "right to return" without committing adequate resources to assist evacuees to return.

13. Keep evacuees away from New Orleans jobs. The nation's unemployment rate was 5 percent in November 2005. The November 2005 jobless rate for Katrina returnees was 12.5 percent, while 27.8 percent of evacuees living elsewhere were unemployed. However, the Black jobless rate was 47 percent in November compared with 13 percent for whites who have not gone back.

Katrina evacuees who have made it back to their home region have much lower levels of joblessness. This is especially important for African Americans whose joblessness rate fell over 30 percentage points for returnees. The problem is that the vast majority of Black Katrina evacuees have not returned to their home region. Only 21 percent of Black evacuees have returned compared with 48 percent of whites.

14. Fail to enforce fair housing laws. Allow housing discrimination against Blacks to run rampant. Katrina created a housing shortage and opened a floodgate of discrimination against Black homeowners and renters. In December 2005, the National Fair Housing Alliance found high rates of housing discrimination against African-Americans displaced by Hurricane Katrina. In 66 percent of the tests conducted by the NFHA, 43 of 65 instances, whites were favored over African-Americans.

15. No commitment to rebuild and replace low- income public housing. Shortly after Katrina struck, even the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development spoke of not rebuilding all of the public housing lost during the storm. The HUD secretary's statement is a powerful signal to New Orleans' poor that public housing may not be around for them to return to.

16. Downplay the Black cultural heritage of New Orleans. Promote rebuilding and the vision of a "new" New Orleans as if the rich Black culture did not matter or act as if it can be replaced or replicated in a "theme park" type redevelopment scenario. Developers should capture and market the "Black essence" of New Orleans without including Black people.

17. Treatment of mixed-income housing as superior to all-Black neighborhoods. First, there is nothing inherently inferior about an "all-Black" neighborhood - or an all-Black anything for that matter. Black New Orleanians who chose to live in neighborhoods that happened to be all-Black - whites have always had the right to move in or move out of these neighborhoods - should not be forced to have their neighborhoods rebuilt as "integrated" or "multicultural" neighborhoods. Also, "mixed-income" housing, to many Blacks, conjures up the idea of 10 percent of the fair market housing units set aside for them. Many Blacks are battle-weary of competing for that 10 percent. New Orleans was 68 percent Black before Katrina - and most Black folks were comfortable with that.

18. Allow "oversight" (overseer) board to manage Katrina funds that flow to New Orleans. Take away "home rule," since the billions of Katrina redevelopment dollars that will flow to New Orleans is too much money for a majority Slack city council and a Black mayor to oversee or manage. More important, the oversight board will need to represent "big-money" interests - real estate, developers, banking, insurance, hotels, law firms, tourist industry etc. - well beyond the purview of a democratically elected city government to ensure that the vision of the "new" New Orleans, "smaller and more upscale," gets implemented.

19. Delay rebuilding and construction of New Orleans schools. The longer the New Orleans schools stay closed, the longer the families with children will stay away. Schools are a major predictor of racial polarization. Before Katrina, over 125,000 New Orleans children were attending schools in the city. Blacks made up 93 percent of New Orleans schools. Evacuated children are enrolled in school districts from Arizona to Pennsylvania. Three months after the storm, only one of the New Orleans' 116 schools was open.

20. Hold elections without appropriate Voting Rights Act safeguards. Almost 300,000 registered voters left New Orleans after Katrina. The powerful storm damaged or destroyed 300 of the 442 polling places. Holding city elections pose major challenges regarding registration, absentee ballots, city workers, polling places and identification for displaced New Orleanians. Identification is required at the polls, and returning residents may not have access to traditional identification papers - birth certificates, drivers' licenses etc. - destroyed by the hurricane. More than three months after Katrina struck, 80 percent of New Orleans voters have not made their way back to the city, including most African Americans, who comprised a two-thirds majority of the population before the storm.

Most of the estimated 60,000 to 100,000 New Orleans residents who have made it back are white and middle class, changing the racial and political complexion of the city. Holding elections while the vast majority of New Orleans voters are displaced outside of their home district and even their home state is unprecedented in the history of the United States, but it also raises racial justice and human rights questions.

Robert D. Bullard is the director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University.