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After Katrina

Charting paths out of devastation to rebuild a social infrastructure and a model for other cities

Habitat for Humanity volunteers building the organization's 500th hurricane-recovery house.

About the Research

Many of New Orleans' problems predated the storm: widespread poverty, a failing public education system, low wages, and a weak tax base. Urban Institute researchers have studied these urban blights for nearly 40 years and knew what to reinforce when the storms of September 2005 compounded the old problems and swept in some new.  

Within weeks, we set a baseline with both the demographics of the disaster, a snapshot of race, poverty, and federal food stamps data for New Orleans and other cities receiving evacuees, and the state of the nonprofit sector in Louisiana, a pulse on the size and fiscal health of organizations delivering health and human services to storm victims.  

Within months, we delivered policymakers an essay collection, After Katrina: Rebuilding Opportunity and Equity into the New New Orleans, with proposals that strike a workable balance between road-tested ideas and much-needed innovation.

Another essay collection grew out of a December 2005 seminar jointly sponsored by the Urban Institute's Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy and Harvard University’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations. After Katrina: Public Expectation and Charities' Response explores the U.S. capacity to respond to disaster, including lessons learned from September 11.

In March 2007, we published After Katrina: Shared Challenges for Rebuilding Communities, a collection of essays about policies and models that can help guide rebuilding efforts. Together, the essays lay an important foundation for developing action plans to address the underlying issues of poverty, inequality, and weak social infrastructures that have been persistent in the region for decades.

What's NewA New Orleans store accepts clothing donations for Hurricane Victims

At the second anniversary of Katrina's devastation of the Gulf Coast region, where do we stand? In a series of short interviews and other features, Urban Instititute researchers discuss the most significant accomplishments and the critical issues that still remain.

New Orleans urgently needs to rebuild affordable rental housing to recover fully and fairly, Margery Austin Turner told the House Committee on Financial Services on February 6. Read the full testimony.

The Katrina Reading Room, sponsored by Living Cities, Inc., compiles research on recovery, rebuilding, and overall disaster response from UI and three other think tanks: the Metropolitan Policy Program of The Brookings Institution, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Initiative for a Competitive Inner City.

A new research bibliography prepared for the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations-Urban Institute conference held in November 2006, Translating Research into Action: Nonprofits and the Renaissance of New Orleans provides a collection of readings on issues important to the rebuilding of the region and the role of nonprofits in dealing with those issues.

Complete List of Katrina Papers


Young Children after Katrina: A Proposal to Heal the Damage and Create Opportunity in New Orleans
This essay offers evidence about effective large-scale interventions for young children that might reverse the damage caused by families' displacement.

Criminal Justice

After Katrina: Washed Away? Justice in New Orleans
This report provides a comprehensive review of the acute and lasting impact of Hurricane Katrina on the criminal justice system of New Orleans.

Cultural Vitality

Rebuilding the Cultural Vitality of New Orleans
This essay discusses prospects for rebuilding New Orleans' culture, specifically with an eye toward including creative cultural expression.


Katrina's Economic Impact
Rudy Penner, a UI senior fellow and former director of the Congressional Budget Office, delivered a speech to the Dulles-Herndon Chamber of Commerce on the disaster’s consequences to the national economy.

Gasoline Taxes and Rising Fuel Prices in the Aftermath of Katrina
This paper discusses potential ramifications to artificially lowering fuel prices or varying taxes on the gas.

Katrina: Demographics of a Disaster
This fact sheet gives a snapshot of race, poverty, and federal food stamp data for the United States, New Orleans, and select cities receiving evacuees.


The Future of Public Education in New Orleans
Education could be one of the bright spots in New Orleans’ recovery effort, and this essay considers how it may even establish a new model for school districts nationally.

Government and Social Services

Building a Better Safety Net for the New New Orleans
Katrina hit some of the most vulnerable populations in New Orleans hardest and this essay calls for a better system to protect the elderly, poor, and disabled in crises.

Insuring Against Catastrophes: The Lessons From Katrina
This article focuses on the conceptual issues involved in insuring against major catastrophes and the practical problems involved in developing a coherent strategy.

Building Opportunity and Equity into the New New Orleans: A Framework for Policy and Action
This essay assesses the challenges of rebuilding a city where the social infrastructure was failing long before the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina or the chaos of evacuation.

Federalism after Hurricane Katrina: How Can Social Programs Respond to a Major Disaster?
Programs that provide housing assistance, unemployment benefits, health care, and welfare to low-income people have complex federal-state structures explored by this paper.

Health Policy and Government Services

Initial Health Policy Responses to Hurricane Katrina and Possible Next Steps
This essay examines some of the early responses to the many health care issues that surfaced in Katrina's wake.

Hospitals in Hurricane Katrina: Challenges Facing Custodial Institutions in a Disaster
This paper explores what happened in New Orleans-area hospitals during and after Hurricane Katrina and why hospitals had such varied experiences.

Five Questions: Bradford Gray on New Orleans-area hospitals after Hurricane Katrina


Affordable Rental Housing in Healthy Communities: Rebuilding After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
This report presents promising programs and practices that would expand the availability of permanent, affordable rental housing in the ongoing effort to recover from the storms.

Affordable Housing in Healthy Neighborhoods: Critical Policy Challenges Facing the Greater New Orleans Region
Testimony presented to the House Financial Services Committee on February 6, 2007 described the urgent need to rebuild affordable rental housing in New Orleans.

Rebuilding Affordable Housing in New Orleans: The Challenge of Creating Inclusive Communities
This essay sizes up the challenge of providing housing for New Orleans residents, with tens of thousands of families displaced.

Five Questions: Margery Austin Turner on rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.


Providing Long-Term Services after Major Disasters
This brief highlights the lessons learned from the Urban Institute's assessment of the American Red Cross September 11th Recovery Program.

Open and Operating? An Assessment of Louisiana Nonprofit Health and Human Services after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
Survey results provide data on the nonprofit sector in southern Louisiana and ascertain how ready the groups are to play pivotal roles in the state's recovery.

The Aftermath of Katrina: State of the Nonprofit Sector in Louisiana
This fact sheet characterizes the size and fiscal health of organizations delivering health and human services to storm victims.

Charities on the Frontline and Making the Best Use of Tax Policy to Help Them
UI Senior Fellow Eugene Steuerle testifies before Congress on how tax incentives can foster giving in national disasters.


Employment Issues and Challenges in Post-Katrina New Orleans
Several hundred thousand former residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast lost their jobs, and this essay discusses how many required help going back to the labor market.


Urban Institute experts frequently opined in the weeks and months after Katrina.

HUD Disappoints in Housing Crisis
A Times-Picayune opinion piece suggests that more ingenuity is required to shelter evacuees in the next emergency.

Resiliency Is Not Enough: Young Children and the Rebuilding of New Orleans
This piece offers successful models to combat the trauma of Katrina on young children.

Responsible Relocation: Real Opportunities for Families Displaced by Katrina
Emergency housing vouchers, this opinion piece argues, could allow families displaced by Katrina to pay for decent rental housing in the private market.

Kids Need Help to the Silver Lining
This Times-Picayune piece says that children uprooted by Katrina require help, not just safer neighborhoods and better schools, to get a new start in life.

Viewpoint: Katrina Could Help the Poor
For the British audience, a BBC News viewpoint explains why Katrina rekindled interest in American poverty.

Home-buying Vouchers for Storm Victims
A piece in The Providence Journal suggests that Americans look at Armenia's housing-purchase voucher program for one way to help displaced homeowners.

First Tuesday: Issues and Insights after Hurricane Katrina

First Tuesdays logoAn expert panel spoke on the response to this disaster at the Urban Institute on October 4, 2005. Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the National Museum of American History and Culture, explained how America has historically struggled to match its interests in such disasters as the great Mississippi flood of 1927 with the needs of a racially and economically diverse populace. UI's Margery Austin Turner explained why housing is not just about shelter. Resettling New Orleans residents requires thinking about level of security and safety, access to quality schools for your kids to attend, and proximity to employment opportunities. Olivia Golden, also of UI, spoke on the circumstances of children and families and the state service systems that responded to them before the hurricane.

Full transcript

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