Forced Relocation Fears Persist in New Orleans
New Orleans Renewal Plan Will Rely on Neighborhoods to Guide Rebuilding Efforts
By SIGFRID RYDQUIST
Jan. 11, 2006 — As the Bring Back New Orleans Commission prepares to publicly present its recommendation for rebuilding the city, residents like Rhonda Mansion Johnson are living in fear of what it might bring.
"It's very unfortunate that we have to live like that," said Johnson, whose Gentilly neighborhood was severely flooded. "Every day in fear of someone knocking on my door and saying: 'Well, your neighbors are not coming back, your neighborhood is not coming back, we're going to have to take your home from you. You're going to have to leave.'"
In September, with New Orleans still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Katrina and parts of the city still underwater, Mayor Ray Nagin introduced a handpicked commission of local business leaders to point New Orleans toward its future.
"For tomorrow and today the skies are sunny and we hold a promise of a much better New Orleans," he said. Nagin promised to "take every resource we have to help the city of New Orleans rebuild itself."
Rumors have long circulated throughout the city that residents will not be allowed to return to some areas, or that neighborhoods will be closed if they do not repopulate in a certain amount of time. Months ago a proposal by Urban Land Institute suggested delaying the rebuilding of certain hard-hit areas to avoid creating sparse areas surrounded by desolation. The controversial plan enraged citizens, who loudly voiced their opinions at the mayor's town hall meetings.
Hoping Neighborhoods Will Create Their Own Plans
ABC News has learned that the commission will recommend a process of neighborhood participation to create unified rebuilding plans over the next several months. The committee hopes that with the support of professional planners, neighborhood leaders will develop a strategy for rebuilding and possibly consolidating or relocating their own neighborhoods as one.
With the residents' own best interests at stake, the commission hopes the outcome will be more beneficial to each area. The commission also hopes to offer a buyout plan for those looking to sell their homes. It hopes its plan will be more attractive than current proposals, the most generous of which would offer homeowners 60 percent of their homes' value.
New Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps will likely determine building standards and insurance rates for homes in low-lying areas. It may turn out to be too costly to rebuild or insure homes in some areas where houses may need to be built up to five feet above ground. FEMA is waiting for Army Corps of Engineers projections from the newly proposed levee system, which should be ready in the next few months.
By letting the residents decide their own fate, the commission for now is avoiding the controversial possibility of abandoning some neighborhoods. But once the FEMA flood maps are published, the reality is some neighborhoods may have to relocate. The commission hopes that in the dialogue over the next few months, neighborhoods can come up with contingency plans to help these neighborhoods remain intact.