The Color of Disaster: Race and Housing Loss in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina



Elizabeth Fussell, Associate Professor of Population Studies and Environment and Society, Brown University

After Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans on August 29, 2005, the city’s population became older, wealthier, and whiter, as residents returned to the city in unequal proportions. Flood-related housing damage was responsible for displacing as many as half of the residents of the city, especially African-American residents who were segregated in low-elevation neighborhoods or neighborhoods in which the levees failed. This study asks whether pre-disaster characteristics of housing units or occupants’ demographic and social characteristics were more important in explaining housing unit occupancy outcomes four years after the disaster. While housing occupants’ race is a significant factor in predicting residential turnover or demolition of a housing unit, housing unit and neighborhood characteristics explain more of the variation in occupancy outcomes. The study findings contribute to our sociological understandings of how residential segregation and disinvestment in majority African-American neighborhoods make residents of those neighborhoods more vulnerable to disasters. 

Elizabeth Fussell is Associate Professor of Population Studies and Environment and Society (Research) at Brown University, as well as Editor-in-Chief of Population & Environment. Since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck, she has investigated disparities in the disaster’s long-term effects on the health, wellbeing, and residential mobility of the residents of New Orleans using innovative methods and datasets. She has extended this research agenda to study the effects of hurricanes and other exogenous shocks on the population of the United States and Puerto Rico. Fussell’s research is supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Russell Sage Foundation and published in Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, Demography, Population, Space, & Place, Population & Environment, and Social Science & Medicine among others. 

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