New Orleans, Louisiana
Strong Cities, Strong Communities City Profile
Janae Ladet and Joseph Schilling
Overview and Local Dynamics
New Orleans presented policy and program challenges accelerated and exacerbated by Hurricane Katrina, which hit the region in 2005. Katrina displaced more than 1 million people from the central Gulf Coast, creating the largest diaspora in US history (Ladd, Marszalek, and Gill 2006). Although the city received more than $120 billion in federal resources for hurricane recovery and revitalization, it was still struggling from years of population loss, poverty, high crime, and unhealthy housing at the time of Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) implementation.
In 2013, 52 percent of working-age African American men did not have jobs, and the median wage of white men in New Orleans, $60,075, was nearly twice that of African American men, $31,018.1 The port city has a poverty rate of 27 percent, and most residents are African American. Among families in New Orleans, 65 percent are financially insecure, with less than $2,000 in savings, compared with 52 percent nationally (Elliott and Kalish 2017).
Education and health services remain the top industries and employers. The city has several major anchor institutions, including Tulane University, Loyola University, the University of New Orleans, University Medical Center New Orleans, and a Veterans Administration Medical Center. Universities and hospitals drive the local economy, and more than 20 percent of the local population works in education and health care.
Implementation of the SC2 pilot initiative in New Orleans began in September 2011 under the leadership of Mitch Landrieu, who was mayor for the duration of SC2. According to a formal evaluation of the SC2 initiative, the mayor was clear about his top priorities, which were murder reduction and economic development (Abt Associates 2014, 99). At the time, New Orleans was the murder capital of the United States. The mayor sought SC2’s assistance and expertise to develop a comprehensive suite of strategies to prevent and address crime.
After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans adopted the Unified New Orleans Plan to create the blueprint for a comprehensive recovery, but its local economy was still struggling. In 2012, Mayor Landrieu launched a city economic development plan called Prosperity NOLA to implement the vision set forth in the Unified New Orleans Plan. As a follow-up, the German Marshall Fund and SC2 fellows organized boot camps to support and advance the Prosperity NOLA plan and the mayor’s economic development agenda.
During the first phase, the SC2 team included 25 federal staff representing 12 agencies. There were four full-time members in the group—two from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and two from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Erich Caulfield from HUD was the Community Solutions Team (CST) lead for the entire SC2 effort. Other team members were based out of Washington, DC, or federal offices in the region. The mayor’s director of strategic partnerships oversaw the engagement on SC2 activities along with other top city officials and department heads involved with the mayor’s priorities.
SC2 is not a new program—it’s a new way. The frustration for all cities [is] that government needs to work better, whatever our party. SC2 has helped break down stovepipes between federal agencies.
—New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu
Projects and Initiatives
Working in close partnership with the mayor, city officials, and their partners, the New Orleans CST and SC2 fellows engaged in various capacity-building and technical assistance activities to improve federal and local government relationships. These SC2 engagements were driven by the mayor’s identified priorities and collaborative SC2 work plan to facilitate economic growth within constrained local governments, a key goal of SC2. These federal-local collaborations involved trainings, workshops, consultations, and concrete policy and development projects supported with guidance and assistance from the CSTs, federal agencies, and resources. Each activity helped build trust and establish stronger partnerships between the city and the federal government and provided the city additional short-term capacities. Below, we highlight a few projects and products from the SC2 initiative in New Orleans.
- Reopening of the Loyola Avenue–Union Passenger Terminal Streetcar. The line connects to Amtrak and intercity bus and streetcar service. The Department of Transportation members of the SC2 team provided technical assistance and engaged in follow-up conversations. With $45 million invested through the department’s Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery program, SC2 support ensured the streetcar line expansion was completed in time for the 2013 Super Bowl. In addition, the private sector contributed most of the nearly $2.7 billion to build and renovate properties along or near the streetcar corridor, including hotels, offices, and sports facilities damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
- $4 million in roadway enhancement and construction jobs. SC2 worked with the city to identify and use an innovative, new pilot program that has made it easier to combine US Department of Transportation (DOT) and HUD funding for a high-priority infrastructure and economic development project. New Orleans was the first city in the nation to use this flexibility, which can be employed in other communities.
- Behavioral health guide with New Orleans Health Department. New Orleans health officials lacked quantitative and qualitative data about primary care. SC2 worked with HHS, the New Orleans Health Department, and other state and local partners to develop the city’s behavioral health strategic framework (NOLA Health 2013).
- The framework outlines a path for addressing the behavioral health needs of area residents and represents the first comprehensive plan of its kind, in addition to establishing a Behavioral Health Council to implement the plan. This newly established collaborative effort to improve systemwide service delivery has reduced the number of emergency room patients awaiting mental health care 26 percent since 2012.
- Housing and homelessness. A local homelessness provider paired HHS Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant resources with Housing Choice Vouchers administered by the local housing authority. Fifty homeless people have qualified for vouchers who otherwise would not have met minimum rent requirements. (2017 White House Report)
- SC2 also helped prevent substantial reductions in health care service delivery by extending the time frame for local clinics to submit claims for reimbursement under the Medicaid waiver program. This effort kept funding flowing to health care clinics; prevented service reductions, closings, and layoffs; and enabled health care providers to continue serving the community.
- SC2 identified a rarely invoked hardship policy that paired federal and local resources to remove a rental assistance barrier for homeless people. By using this policy, the city helped nearly 70 homeless people find housing—people who would have otherwise failed to meet minimum rent requirements.
- Public safety. One of the mayor’s top priorities was to reduce murders. SC2 supported the “NOLA for Life” initiative along with Bloomberg Philanthropy. A link to the report can be found in the reports section.
- Affordable Care Act recruitment and expansion. Assigned to the Health Commissioners Office, an SC2 fellow helped the city implement coverage expansion policy recommendations of the City of New Orleans Health Department to ensure all residents have access to health care.
- Homeownership and launch of homebuyer assistance. Technical assistance from HUD helped relaunch a $52 million first-time homebuyer assistance and neighborhood redevelopment initiative. SC2 teams worked with HUD to provide guidance and expedite the use of Community Development Block Grant funds for the program (Abt Associates 2014, 106).
- Substance abuse needs assessment. The SC2 team supported the efforts of the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana and SAMHSA, which worked with local leaders and community members to develop a regional framework to address substance abuse and identify gaps in services. The needs assessment was the foundation of a multipart plan to develop a larger substance abuse strategy
- New Orleans SC2 Fellowship boot camps. With support from the German Marshall Fund and the Surdna Foundation, SC2 fellows, CSTs, the city, and local partners engaged in a special workshop that focused on how anchor institutions can promote small business and economic development, the role they can play in local workforce development, and how to increase local procurement. These sessions helped “further the impact of the SC2 Fellowship program in each pilot city by providing additional training and mentoring opportunities for several city and civic leaders who work alongside the SC2 fellows."2
- Broadband equity. Another SC2 fellow helped the city develop a strategic action plan for increasing access to broadband internet for low-income residents and for business owners.
- Reductions in service delivery time for community health clinic. SC2 helped prevent reductions in service delivery in the city’s community health clinic system. The team facilitated conversations among government officials at the federal, state, and city levels that extended the time frame for submitting claims for reimbursement. This effort kept funding flowing to the clinics, kept them from reducing services or closing operations, and enabled them to continue serving their communities. The SC2 team also collaborated on a long-term project to adjust how part of the $97.5 million was being invested in the system. These changes will better meet the community’s needs and support the system’s financial stability.
- Permanent support housing voucher. The SC2 team helped establish a permanent supportive housing voucher for people formerly involved in the criminal justice system in collaboration with the city, the state, HUD, SAMHSA, and the US Department of Justice. The voucher provided these people a better opportunity to find a place to live than before the program started and helped them reintegrate into their communities, which made them more likely to transition successfully into society and find a stable job. This led to the city winning economically and socially and helped federal agencies better leverage their investments for greater impact (Abt Associates 2014).
Reports and Media
- New Orleans Mayor’s Office, “Mayor Landrieu Applauds Efforts of Obama Administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative in New Orleans,” press release, April 26, 2013.
- “GMF Hosts Strong, Cities, Strong Communities Bootcamp in New Orleans, LA,” German Marshall Fund of the United States, accessed May 14, 2018.
- Ben Adler, “A Year-One Report Card for Obama’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative,” Next City, April 29, 2013.
1. J. Mijin Cha, “In New Orleans, A Deeper Look at Jobs Data Catalyzes Economic Strategy Focused on Connecting Black Men to Work,” National Equity Atlas, October 21, 2014.
2. “GMF Hosts First Strong Cities, Strong Communities Bootcamp in Fresno, CA,” German Marshall Fund of the United States, accessed May 14, 2018.
Abt Associates. 2014. Evaluation of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Teams Pilots, Final Report. Bethesda, MD: Abt Associates.
Elliott, Diana, and Emma Cancian Kalish. 2017. “New Orleans: The Cost of Eviction and Unpaid Bills of Financially Insecure Families for City Budgets.” Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
Ladd, Anthony E., John Marszalek, and Duane A. Gill. 2006. “The Other Diaspora: New Orleans Student Evacuation Impacts and Responses surrounding Hurricane Katrina.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Southern Sociological Society, New Orleans, LA, March 22–26.
NOLA Health (City of New Orleans Health Department). 2013. A Guide to Behavioral Health Resources in the Greater New Orleans Area. New Orleans: NOLA Health.
City of New Orleans. 2012. NOLA for Life a Comprehensive Murder Reduction Strategy.
White House Council on Strong Cities Strong Communities. 2017. Final Report.