The legacy of entrenched segregation is still affecting New Orleans to this day, and policies implemented after Hurricane Katrina encouraged gentrification and may have pushed black residents farther from desirable neighborhoods that are safer from flooding, according to a new report from the Data Center, a local nonprofit.

In “Rigging the Real Estate Market: Segregation, Inequality and Disaster Risk,” a team of academics and fair housing advocates go through the history of laws and legal rulings that prevented black residents from buying homes or living in white neighborhoods to make the case that segregation was a deliberate policy choice that continues to have ramifications.

“It’s important to understand that segregation, racial residential segregation, is not the product of individual whims, but that it was socially engineered by government and it has real consequences in terms of access to opportunity, wealth and environmental health risks,” said Stacy Seicshnaydre, the report’s lead author.

The report is one of a series the Data Center is producing to mark New Orleans’ 300th anniversary, examining how the city’s history has shaped the racial disparities still evident today.

The report recounts the long history of segregation and racial disparity in housing from New Orleans' earliest days, when the wealthy would live on the highest land, through racially discriminatory zoning and lending practices and deed restrictions that enforced segregation in the 20th century.

The long-term impact of those policies was to increase wealth disparity, as homes in white areas that were not accessible to black residents increased in value more quickly, according to the report. Many of those neighborhoods also tended to be on higher ground with less risk of flooding and were closer to jobs and other resources.

The response to the flooding during Katrina exacerbated many of these issues. Black families struggled to rebuild, as Road Home money was tied to a property’s value, and many did not have insurance, according to the report.

More displacement came from the demolition of houses in a largely black area of Mid-City to make way for two huge new hospitals, the clustering of subsidized housing vouchers in New Orleans East, and policies implemented by St. Bernard and Jefferson parishes after the storm that prevented New Orleans’ black population from resettling there.

That process also pushed out many African-American families who had homes in black neighborhoods on higher ground, such as the Irish Channel, Black Pearl and Bywater, leading those areas to become majority-white by 2015, according to the report.

“The rebuilding of post-Katrina New Orleans could have reversed residential patterns of racial segregation, given the sheer magnitude of the destruction and the billions in recovery dollars that followed,” according to the report. “Unfortunately, many policy decisions made during the recovery repeated or amplified existing patterns of separation and inequality."

The report was co-authored by officials at the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, and many of its recommendations mirror policies that organization has sought to put in place.

Those include creating a system to hold rental units to specific code standards, limiting short-term rentals to residents with homestead exemptions on the properties they are renting out, and implementing an “inclusionary zoning” policy that would require new residential developments to include affordable units. That last policy would be blocked by a bill now before the Legislature.

“At worst, these practices appear bent on repeating or building on segregationist policies that facilitate wealth creation for whites and deny health, wealth and opportunity to blacks,” according to the report. “At best, they postpone action that is urgently needed to address resegregation and isolation of low-income renters and stark racial wealth inequality.

“Rather than accepting segregation and inequality as an enduring aspect of New Orleans’ tradition and culture, a most fitting way to celebrate our city’s tricentennial would be to pursue a range of policies designed to remediate segregation and foster inclusion.”


Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.​