Hurricane Katrina A Decade Later: A Look Back, A Look Ahead

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast of the United States, forcing more than a million people from their homes and tragically taking more than 1,800 lives.  A decade later, Katrina remains the most devastating and costliest natural disaster in the nation’s history.

This week, U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro and a team of recovery experts looked back at the progress of long-term disaster recovery efforts and the lessons learned over the past decade.

Credit: HUD

“The road to recovery has been long and not without serious challenges, but it’s also shown that though the storm was strong, the resilient spirit of the Gulf Coast was even stronger,” Secretary Castro said. “And as long as there are people who want to come home and communities that need to be rebuilt our job is not done.”

Over the last 10 years, HUD investments have had a major impact on the recovery in the Gulf region. Working closely with state disaster recovery leaders in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama and Florida, HUD’s allocated nearly $20 billion through the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Program.  This funding greatly contributed to long-term recovery of the region’s housing stock, economy, and infrastructure.

In the area of economic development, CDBG –DR funds helped thousands of businesses responsible for creating and retaining thousands of jobs in the Gulf Region.  Through a variety of programs, its estimated HUD funds assisted nearly 5,500 businesses, creating 6,500 permanent jobs.  This assistance helped to sustain Gulf Coast economies during the more recent economic downturn as well as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

As for infrastructure, using CDBG-DR funds, states invested a combined $1.6 billion to replace/improve streets, utilities, sewer lines, schools, hospitals dikes and dams. For example, the State of Louisiana used HUD investments to construct or rehabilitate:

  • 82 new schools
  • 11 higher education facilities
  • 13 healthcare facilities (including the redevelopment of former Charity, Methodist and VA Hospitals in New Orleans).
  • 20 parks and recreational facilities
  • 52 water and sewer projects
  • 22 fisheries in nine coastal parishes

HUD was critical in the redevelopment of damaged public housing throughout the Gulf, most notably New Orleans’ ‘Big Four’ developments (formerly known as C.J. Peete, B.W. Cooper, Lafitte, and St. Bernard).  Hurricane Katrina displaced 3,000 families living in those developments.  Today, four new attractive, mixed-income developments are a vital part of community life in New Orleans.  In fact, the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) is serving significantly more households than before the storm.  HANO is housing or providing rental assistance to 20,000 households (compared to 14,000 in 2005).

HUD’s Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) provided stable housing for tens of thousands of families forced from their homes.  HUD partnered with 306 Public Housing Authorities in 49 states to find temporary affordable rental housing for displaced households to allow them sufficient time to return to their own homes.  By the time this program ended in 2009, HUD helped house nearly 37,000 families.

Looking Ahead: Building Resilience In NOLA

Resilient New Orleans, a concrete, strategic roadmap for the City of New Orleans to build urban resilience, was also unveiled this week. The strategy, a joint effort between New Orleans and 100RC – pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation, proposes 41 actions to build citywide resilience. The strategy will help New Orleans become a more equitable, adaptable and prosperous place for all of its residents as the city approaches its tri-centennial in 2018. Resilient New Orleans includes such items as the establishment of personal emergency savings accounts, the development of a comprehensive storm water management program, and establishing one of the world’s few resilience centers.

Aerial view of downtown New Orleans, LA. Credit: Jupiterimages

The strategy comes with over $1 million in commitments for implementation from 100RC Platform Partners, in both the public and private sectors, as well as additional commitments from other local and national philanthropic organizations. As the city moves towards implementation, it will also have continuing access to a $100 million pool of tools and services from the 100RC network and platform partners.

“Being resilient means more than having levees and wetlands to hold back water,” said New Orleans Mayor Landrieu. “To be a truly resilient society means also combating the longstanding, generational challenges around crime, education and income inequality. It means replacing hatred with empathy, disassociation with harmony, and striking a balance between human needs and the environment that surrounds us. Now, the opportunity is to position New Orleans as a global leader on resilience. The people of New Orleans are a profile in resilience, but more must be done to adapt to new and forthcoming challenges facing our environment and opportunity gaps that persist in our city. We don’t want a New Orleans in which people live a block away but are a mile apart in terms of economic opportunity, and our vision with this strategy is to ensure that as we continue rebuilding our city, no one gets left behind.”

Resilient New Orleans lays out dozens of actionable steps in response to these challenges, focused on several key, tangible pillars, including:

  • Launching an emergency account program, using the model of the Individual Development Account, a savings-matching program for low- and moderate-income earners to set aside funds for emergency uses. The city will work with the Foundation for Louisiana on this new initiative.
  • Implementing a comprehensive storm water management through a partnership between the city, as well as national and international experts, including Greater New Orleans, Inc., Greater New Orleans Foundation, Trust for Public Land, and Dutch water management firm, Deltares. This effort will complement the traditional, or “gray,” drainage system of pipes and pumps with green infrastructure that delays and detains storm water in landscaped spaces.
  • Establishing one of the world’s few Resilience Centers in New Orleans which will serve as a hub for resilience innovation and leadership development. Partners on this initiative include The Rockefeller Foundation, Tulane University, Greater New Orleans, Inc., and the American Institute of Architects.
  • Leading by example through a new partnership with a homegrown company, PosiGen. PosiGen Solar Solutions and their partners will install a photovoltaic cell array and battery backup modules on the New Orleans City Hall complex to reduce strain on the electric grid, and provide redundancy in the face of shocks and outages to critical city systems.
  • Developing a small business resilience initiative to bring technical assistance to small businesses in order to assess their preparedness, identify improvements, and enhance economic stability. Partners include the Walmart Foundation and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.
  • Implementing a resilient infrastructure recovery and risk transfer initiative to deploy private-market assets to improve or repair critical systems after a disruptive event. Partners for this initiative include Swiss Re and Veolia.
  • Establishing a resilience-retrofitting program that incentivizes property owners to invest in risk reduction through a tested financial tool, the Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) initiative. Deutsche Bank is a partner on this initiative.

“Resilient New Orleans is squarely focused on addressing the challenges of the future today and preparing our community to adapt to address those challenges,” said Jeff Hebert, New Orleans Chief Resilience Officer.  “As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we are pivoting from recovery to resilience to provide a better future for the next generation. Because the challenges we have faced over the past three centuries are different from what we’ll face in the future, we need to be prepared to stand up to these challenges in order to thrive in the centuries to come.”