In Context

The housing challenges that already existed prior to Katrina made rebuilding particularly difficult. With no central place to get information about property acquisition, investment was very low. Blighted, abandoned and tax-adjudicated properties were common, and there was no system in place for handling them effectively. Prior to Katrina, 26,000 blighted properties were either tax-adjudicated or not under the city's control.

Much of the federal aid for recovery went toward the Road Home program, which was administered by a private contractor hired by the state and designed to help Louisiana residents get back into their homes. This program, however, ended up serving as a road block for many. Renters were largely ineligible for aid, and the program gave maximum grants of $150,000 based on the assessed values of homes pre-Katrina, without accounting for the rise in the cost of building materials and contractors following the storm. As a result, the funds residents were able to attain were much lower than the actual cost of rebuilding (a cost which rose to nearly $100 per square foot.) According to the Seattle Journal for Social Justice, the average homeowner in the Road Home program received $54,586 less than he or she actually needed to rebuild. Relief aid was based on property values, so homeowners in more affluent neighborhoods, which were largely populated by white people and generally had incurred less damage, received more aid than homeowners in places like the Lower Ninth Ward.

Though by fall 2006 approximately 34,000 homeowners had completed Road Home applications, the relief program had issued a total of only 13,000 checks. Carolyn Parker was one of the first to apply for Road Home assistance and was told the process would be accelerated since her mortgage had been paid off for 10 years, but she did not receive funds until 2008.

After many state-level investigations into the failure of the Road Home program, a 2008 lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) alleging discriminatory practices. In July 2011, HUD agreed to pay $62 million to 1,300 Louisiana homeowners.

Caption: Carolyn Parker cleaning out debris in her home after Katrina
Credit: Courtesy of I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful

» Finger, Davida. "Stranded and Squandered: Lost on the Road Home." Seattle Journal for Social Justice, 2008.
» Fletcher, Michael A.. "HUD to pay $62 million to La. Homeowners to settle Road Home lawsuit." The Washington Post. July 6, 2011.
» Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. "In the Wake of Katrina: The Continuing Saga of Housing and Rebuilding in New Orleans."
» University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "State of the Ninth Ward: An Analysis of the Ninth Ward Since Hurricane Katrina."