Becky Bohrer, AP, Feb. 9, 2007
New Orleans is a city on a knife’s edge.
A year and a half after Hurricane Katrina, an alarming number of residents are leaving or seriously thinking of getting out for good.
They have become fed up with the violence, the bureaucracy, the political finger-pointing, the sluggish rebuilding and the doubts about the safety of the levees.
A meaner city
A survey released in November found that 32 percent of city residents polled may leave within two years. University of New Orleans political scientist Susan Howell, who did the survey, said more will give up if the recovery does not pick up speed.
In fact, figures from the nation’s top three movers suggest more people left the area last year than came to stay.
Mayor C. Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco have urged residents to return under rebuilding plans with names like Bring New Orleans Back and Road Home. The mayor has warned the recovery will take a decade and urges patience.
But New Orleans’ population appears to have plateaued at about half the pre-storm level of 455,000, well short of Nagin’s prediction of 300,000 by the end of 2006. And in many ways, it is a meaner city than it was before the hurricane.
New Orleans ended 2006 with 161 homicides, for a murder rate higher than it was before Katrina and more than 4 1/2 times the national average for cities its size. After starting 2007 with practically one killing a day, the city has at least 19 slayings so far this year.
Nagin and Police Chief Warren Riley announced a plan last month to crack down on crime with checkpoints and the putting of more police on the beat.
Blanco’s Road Home program, born 10 months after the storm, has been vilified by politicians and civic leaders as too slow to distribute $7.5 billion in federal aid to buy out homeowners or help them rebuild. As of Feb. 5, Road Home had taken 105,739 applications and resolved only 532 cases, granting $33.8 million. At the current rate, Road Home would take more than 13 years to complete.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., called Road Home a debacle. In hopes of jump-starting the rebuilding of neighborhoods, the mayor has put in place a gap-loan program to let homeowners borrow on their promised Road Home grants.