NEW ORLEANS – No less than a half-dozen reports on the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort are being released to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the storm — and nearly all criticize the sluggish pace of the response.
The reports document a host of problems, from the still-unfinished levees to the plight of small businesses and the city's continuing racial divide.
"It's a pretty bleak picture," said Minor Sinclair, who heads the U.S. regional office of Oxfam America, a charitable organization.
Many of the reports focus on the failure of federal dollars to reach their intended targets. Oxfam's report points out that although $17 billion has been approved by Congress to rebuild homes in Louisiana and Mississippi, not one house has been rebuilt with that money in either state.
A report from the Democratic members of the House Small Business Committee found that 80 percent of small businesses on the Gulf Coast have not yet received loans promised by the federal government. The Small Business Administration has approved loans in excess of $10 billion, but only $2 billion has found its way to business owners.
The report also cited massive delays at the federal agency, forcing some business owners to wait as long as 100 days for a decision on loan applications.
"These long delays have not only caused many viable small businesses to fail that would have otherwise survived, but has contributed to the slow recovery of the local economy," the report said.
SBA spokeswoman Anne Marie Frawley said late Tuesday that the agency has approved more than 156,700 loans, 52 percent of them to businesses. Money has been sent to more than 100,000 recipients, she said.
Frawley said that it isn't surprising that all the approved loans haven't yet been disbursed. Thirty-two percent of approved loans remained undisbursed a year after the 2004 hurricanes in Florida, while a year after Katrina, 29 percent remain undisbursed, she said.
Three reports found that the lack of federal aid disproportionately affects black residents and the poor.
In Louisiana and Mississippi, blacks are more likely to be renters than whites, two reports noted, citing census data. Though a large proportion of the dwellings destroyed by Katrina were occupied by renters, only a fraction of the federal housing assistance has been earmarked for rental units, according to several of the studies.
A report by the Mississippi conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said the lack of rental aid will have long-term impacts on places like Biloxi, Miss., where 70 percent of renters were black, and Pascagoula, where 75 percent were black. A report by the Brookings Institution in Washington argued that with rents having risen 39 percent in New Orleans, the need to repair affordable rental units is crucial.
Compounding the problem is the degradation of such services as public transit, which are typically used by low-income residents. A policy paper by the Washington-based Leadership Conference on Civil Rights found that only 49 percent of the New Orleans area bus routes have resumed. Only 17 percent of the buses are operational.
"Many of the poor in New Orleans do not own cars ... so they are dependent on public transportation in order to work," the paper said.
Several studies said the lack of affordable housing continues to weaken the labor pool.
"If people have nowhere to live or if they can't afford to live where they work, it becomes difficult for them to go where the jobs are. ... The end result is that recovery in the struggling areas is being slowed, sometimes to a near halt," said a report by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government and the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.
Amy Liu, author of the Brookings Institution report, pointed to streets that are still choked with debris as evidence of the failings of the recovery effort.
"These still storm-scarred neighborhoods are a stark reminder of the magnitude of the storm," she wrote. "But they also hang like billboards, advertising that little progress has been made."