I interpreted his promise to mean that he would make sure that low-income people who had been driven from their homes by the flood would be able to return. He hasn’t kept that promise. According to the latest report, low-income people who have been receiving section 8 rental assistance say they aren’t allowed to return to New Orleans because New Orleans is considered a “higher rent” city and they won’t be allowed to get rental assistance there.
Were it not for the planners, this neighborhood might have been rebuilt already.
Flickr photo by Ed Yourdon.
If New Orleans is now a “higher rent” city, it is the fault of Mayor Nagin and the other government officials and planners who have obstructed efforts to reconstruct the city. As Mercatus scholar Daniel Rothschild pointed out in his presentation at the Preserving the American Dream conference in Houston, planners talked Nagin into the idea that reconstruction should be along New Urbanist lines.
This created two problems. First, it can take years to plan, but people want to rebuild right away. Second, despite claims to the contrary, New Urbanism drives up the cost of housing.
Rothschild’s fellow researcher, Eileen Norcross, also gave a presentation at the conference comparing Louisiana’s and Mississippi’s approaches to reconstruction. (You can read the paper on which Norcross’ PowerPoint presentation was based.) In a nutshell, Mississippi handed out a lot of money and got out of the way. Louisiana imposed a bunch of rules that changed all the time, and the rules tended to favor people who already had money. As one New Orleans resident said, “They were giving out money to people on the outskirts who had minor damage. What about people at the epicenter?”
As I’ve noted before, when Bandon, Oregon, was burned to the ground in 1936, the city immediately handed out permits to rebuild. All the paper in the town was burned, so they wrote the permits on some cedar shingles that happened to survive. The state of Oregon hired a planner who wrote a detailed plan for reconstruction. People claimed to love it, but by the time the plan was done, it was too late: the town was already rebuilt.
As one planner emailed me recently, “people are in no mood for big new plans immediately in the wake of a disaster. They are traumatized and mostly want to go back to the stability and comfort of ‘the day before,’ even with the old problems (like inevitable flooding). There are also, frankly, more boring tangible things that hobble brave new plans, ie property and
political boundaries and buried infrastructure.” As a result, most cities hit by disaster are “built almost exactly as before.”
The Mercatus Center has an entire project looking at the effects of planning and regulation on reconstruction. I particularly recommend a paper on how planning can create uncertainty that discourages reconstruction.