Pre-Katrina vulnerabilities and the Post-Katrina housing crisis


The story of the Community Revitalization Fund must be contextualized not just in the contours of the disaster that befell New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, but also in the vulnerabilities — environmental, demographic, and infrastructural — that existed before the storm.

If the city [was] going to return, people [had] to be able to live here. And there was no housing.

- Ellen Lee, Former Senior Vice-President of Programs, Greater New Orleans Foundation
(Currently: Director of Housing Policy and Community Development, City of New Orleans)


Given the deterioration of the coastal wetlands, sea level rise, and New Orleans’ elevation, the city had become increasingly vulnerable to flooding over time.


Compared to cities of similar size in 2000, New Orleans had a high overall poverty rate, low median household income, and low home-ownership rate. Racial segregation at the neighborhood level was on the rise, as was concentrated poverty.

Racial disparities shaped economic and environmental vulnerability to the storm (2000 data).

Home ownership rate56% 41%
Household median income$40,390$21,461
Poverty rate11%35%


Not only were the land and the people vulnerable before Katrina, but so was the local public and nonprofit infrastructure. One area in which that infrastructure was particularly weak was affordable housing.

The affordable housing sector was not meeting the needs of the city’s poorest residents.

Housing cost burden: In 2000, 67% of extremely low-income households paid more than 30% of their income on housing costs. 56% of very low- income households paid more than 50% of their income on housing costs.

Unlike other cities with a population of over 400,000, New Orleans has few strong community development corporations, no national housing intermediary, few philanthropic organizations, limited government involvement in housing development, and a dearth of community development experts.

– Greater New Orleans Foundation proposal to a national foundation
to request participation in the Community Revitalization Fund, 2006

The Impact of Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina made landfall near the Mississippi-Louisiana border on August 29, 2005. As levees surrounding New Orleans crumbled, water surged into the city. At least 70% of the city’s occupied housing units were damaged.

It was just like devastation came through Katrina in the blink of an eye and wiped away everything here in one night.

– single mother of two whose Gentilly home was flooded by 10 feet of water

housing units damaged
as estimated by the The Department of Housing and Urban Development


of owner-occupied housing
units received damage

of renter-occupied housing
units received damage

of the white population
lived in flooded areas

of the black population
lived in flooded areas

Post-Katrina and the Question of Rebuilding

Though land was available for rebuilding post-Katrina, the question of how New Orleans would rebuild to accommodate its substantial low-income population was an open one.

As conflict developed over how to rebuild the city, the Louisiana Redevelopment Authority in 2006 asked the Rockefeller Foundation to facilitate a citywide planning process. Rockefeller sent Carey Shea to New Orleans to guide the Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP) process. GNOF hosted Shea and participated in the process. This work became GNOF’s entry into the creation of the Community Revitalization Fund.

In 2006, the Greater New Orleans Foundation began to invite foundations to participate in a $25 million, five-year initiative – the Community Revitalization Fund.

How do we both build housing now – because the need is now and the need is urgent – but at the same time build infrastructure for the long term so that we have a stronger community development sector in the city?

– Liza Cowan, Former Program Officer, Greater New Orleans Foundation

Back: The Community Revitalization Fund:
A Summative Evaluation