August 29, 2015 marks ten years since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, killing 1,833 people and destroying 5,363 homes in the Lower 9th Ward alone.
As eyes around the world turn to New Orleans to reflect on what was lost and discover the city’s remarkable progress, we will be out front sharing our story and celebrating the rebirth of a vital and vibrant community.
We know you have questions – and we have answers! Tanya Harris is here to provide help on understanding the storm, the devastation and the historic Lower 9th Ward community. (Check out Tanya’s answers to the first group of questions at the bottom of this page.)
On August 29, 2005, Tanya was sitting on a motel room bed in Lafayette, LA watching the Lower 9th Ward – the neighborhood where she lived all her life – fill up with water.
“I knew then that I wouldn’t be returning home for quite some time. And the feeling of helplessness was incredible,” she says.
Since she returned to the city a few months after the storm, Tanya has rebuilt her family home and helped hundreds of other families do the same. She’s dedicated her life to serving the neighborhood that raised her – and today she serves as Make It Right’s community outreach manager.
Tanya is happy to answer any of your questions! She can give you facts and figures, share personal stories of friends and family and their journey home, tell you where to find the secret tennis courts in the Lower 9th Ward or make restaurant recommendations.
More things to know about Tanya:
- She just got married last month!
- She has a dog named Eddie.
- She likes Sade AND Metallica.
- She won’t tell you this, but she has won a lot of awards for her work, most recently named a “Katrina Hero” by A Community Voice – Louisiana.
Do you think there are improvements to New Orleans living conditions since Katrina hit, or do you think there is still room for improvement?
I’m encouraged by the strides in infrastructure replacement as well as changes to the antiquated business practices of pre-Katrina New Orleans. But as a city, we must still address crime, education, blight and economic opportunities. I believe that improvements from increased youth job training / trade programs (like those available through Make It Right) to neighborhood beautification will have a significant impact on not only continued recovery but the city’s future.
Why has the Lower Ninth Ward been so grossly neglected by City Hall officials (e.g. high grass, slow rebuilding efforts, etc.)?
While I can’t speak for the city of New Orleans, I can say that organizations like Make It Right and others were formed in reaction to the slow pace of recovery in the Lower 9th Ward. Community activism forged strong leadership and more cohesiveness and cooperation among existing groups in the neighborhood.
Recovery lagged, but the residents were galvanized around the goal of resurrecting the community. Residents, organizations and volunteers have made faster recovery of the Lower 9 a priority. Our organization has hosted thousands of volunteers who have cleared grass, brush and debris from the neighborhood. By being proactive and working together, residents of the Lower 9 and those who support us have increased not only the pace of neighborhood recovery but neighborhood hope as well.
Being as the ten year anniversary is coming up I just wanted to know how much longer do you think it’ll take for the city to finish rebuilding the Lower 9?
When is the Lower 9th Ward going to really come back?
There are many factors affecting recovery and rebuilding in the Lower 9th Ward. I believe that residents must be involved in planning and implementation as well as stay actively engaged to shorten the timeline on that process.
That said, many people don’t realize all the rebuilding progress that has been made. The city has repaved roads, partially in pervious concrete to reduce flooding, and planted new trees along the new streets. Dr. Martin Luther King High School, a $38 million dollar building, is currently under construction just blocks away from Make It Right’s neighborhood. The wonderful Sanchez Community Center, a 65,000-square-foot facility with a pool, a gym, commercial kitchen, performance space, health clinic and senior center opened in the neighborhood over a year ago. Restaurants and retail shops are cropping up around the community – and Make It Right is working to redevelop commercial space along Claiborne Avenue.
So, to sum up, we’ve still got a long way to go – but we’re growing and rebuilding more than a lot of people realize (partially due to hand-wringing press coverage by reporters who don’t dig far enough into the story here).
What do you see as the most positive thing happening now in New Orleans that is helping the city to begin to recover from Katrina?
Quite a few things, but here are some at the top of my list:
- Community activism/organizing
- Greater community participation in issues that affect the neighborhood
- New standards and accountability
- Critical thinking about long-term sustainability
- New interest in green building
- Fresh ideas / approaches to old, chronic problems
Hurricane Katrina placed a heavy financial burden on African American families in the Lower 9th Ward, many of whom have not returned to their ‘Beloved City.’ What are some of the resources in place to ensure that these families have the opportunity to rebuild in New Orleans and return home?
Affordable homeownership organizations like Make It Right have given hundreds of residents the opportunity to come home in a safe and sustainable way. We work with homeowners to make sure that they can take advantage of every subsidy available to them, secure affordable and fair loans and ensure that mortgage, insurance and tax payments make up no more than 30% of a homeowner’s income. Many other groups are working in the neighborhood to provide similar services, including legal aid and rehabbing existing homes.
I was one of the earlier applicants to have my house demolished after Katrina. They left the slab and at a later date the City started removing the slabs but they refuse to remove mine. Now I can’t sell my land, thanks to the City of New Orleans. I’ve gotten calls from private companies for years claiming that they an file a claim with my insurance company and rear of the slab for free under NFIP but when I contact my insurance company the agent said that they would not honor such a claim. I want to know what I can do to get the City of New Orleans to complete their demolition.
Demolition isn’t my area of expertise – but the Lower 9th Ward Homeowners Association has advocates on staff who may be able to help you get your slab removed.