HUD head addresses Institute on Katrina
July 28, 2006
U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson spoke Friday evening at the Aspen Institute’s Paepcke Auditorium about the Bush administration’s role in rebuilding New Orleans nearly one year after Hurricane Katrina.While expressing his support of President Bush’s relief efforts, Jackson also emphasized the hurricane’s influence outside the political realm. “This was a storm that affected every American because of the devastation caused and the disparity revealed,” Jackson said. Jackson insists that the solution in New Orleans is not simply to reconstruct, but to build better homes. He said Katrina “only made a bad situation worse.”According to Jackson, housing in New Orleans before the storm was in a very sad state. With houses dating back to the 1930s, 40 percent of the population of New Orleans living in poverty and a prevalence of violent crimes, Jackson stated that a better quality of life must be brought to these pockets of depravity which exist throughout the nation. He expressed that “these are not just homes, they are communities.” Hurricane Katrina, Jackson said, was necessary in order to show the potential harm of these areas of poverty. Jackson spoke about crime as another consequences of concentrated poverty, which he attributes to a lack of economic development as well as an absence of ideals and values within these communities. Jackson also expressed frustration with those who insist upon studying poverty without making efforts to get people out of it. Jackson’s plan to rebuild New Orleans is to work with Louisiana’s government to “replace the concentration of poverty with mixed-income families.” He said the government of New Orleans cannot rebuild the city itself but must rely on partnerships with the federal government and private investors. However, Jackson also said that the best people to make the decisions are locals: “We will not dictate. We will work with the city. The government of New Orleans must decide where and what to rebuild.” However removed Aspen may seem, Jackson’s message to Aspen and other wealthier communities was clear.”No community is safe,” he said. “If we don’t pursue changes in the quality of life in these areas, every community can consider itself vulnerable.” Jackson’s speech left some audience members unsatisfied. One asked about the specifics of the current situation in New Orleans. Another questioned the affordability of allowing New Orleans to rebuild itself without more involvement from the federal government. The details of the rebuilding mission in New Orleans, as well as the extent to which the federal government should and shouldn’t be interfering, remained largely unaddressed.