Friday, September 30, 2005

HUD chief foresees a 'whiter' Big Easy

Brian DeBose:

A Bush Cabinet officer predicted this week that New Orleans likely will never again be a majority black city, and several black officials are outraged.

Alphonso R. Jackson, secretary of housing and urban development, during a visit with hurricane victims in Houston, said New Orleans would not reach its pre-Katrina population of "500,000 people for a long time," and "it's not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again."

Rep. Danny K. Davis, Illinois Democrat and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, quickly took issue.

"Anybody who can make that kind of projection with some degree of certainty or accuracy must have a crystal ball that I can't see or maybe they are more prophetic than any of us can imagine," he said.

Other members of the caucus said the comments by Mr. Jackson, who is black, could be misconstrued as a goal, particularly considering his position of responsibility in the administration.

"I would beg and hope that the secretary, if that is what he is saying, would re-evaluate the situation," said Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat.

Mr. Jackson, whose remarks were reported by the Houston Chronicle, said New Orleans might reach a population of 375,000 people sometime late next year with a black population of about 40 percent at the highest, down from 67 percent before Hurricane Katrina sent a storm surge that overwhelmed New Orleans levees and flooded 80 percent of the city.

The population of New Orleans before Katrina was a little less than 500,000, surrounded by large, predominantly white suburbs. The largely black Ninth Ward and the predominantly white middle-class Lakeview section near Lake Pontchartrain were overwhelmed by floodwaters.

Mr. Jackson, a former developer and longtime government housing official, said the history of urban reconstruction projects shows that most blacks will not return and others who want to might not have the means or opportunity. His agency will play a critical role in the city's redevelopment through various grant programs, including those for damaged or destroyed properties.

New Orleans' racial makeup up in air

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