New Orleans Population at 63% of Pre-Katrina Level, Report says

November 8, 2007

Nearly two-thirds of New Orleans’ pre-Hurricane Katrina population has returned, a new report estimates.

But Greg Rigamer, the demographer who compiled the report, said he expects the growth seen since July 2006 to plateau within the next year as the sense of urgency to return lessens.

Rigamer, whose company, GCR & Associates, has been tracking demographics in post-Katrina New Orleans, said an estimated 288,000 people were living in New Orleans in October. In July 2005, the month before Katrina hit and flooded 80 percent of the city, the population was estimated at 455,000.

Between Oct. 1, 2006, and Oct. 1, 2007, New Orleans’ population grew 19 percent. But that growth rate may not continue, Rigamer said.

“Given the state of the schools and the criminal justice system, it’s hard to understand why the trend has been occurring so long, this long after” Katrina, he said.

Rigamer’s report, released Nov. 5, was based on utility hookups. Last month, the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center used Postal Service data to estimate that New Orleans’ population has reached 70 percent of its pre-Katrina level.

The rebound appears to be “a bunch of decisions made independently by people,” Rigamer said, and not driven by a single event drawing people back.

The rate of repopulation appeared to increase during the past few months, possibly due to families returning for the school year or people finishing their rebuilt homes, GCR senior planner Rafe Rabalais said.

“There’s a tangible difference, if you compare now to a year ago, in terms of commercial activity, traffic on the streets, people walking around, cultural events,” he said.

But some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods have been slow to repopulate – recovering, in some cases, less than one-third of their pre-Katrina populations. In the Lower 9th Ward, only 8 percent, or 1,054 people, had returned by Oct. 1. Even in Lakeview, widely hailed as a symbol of personal initiative and progress in the city’s rebuilding, only 38 percent were back.

Some New Orleans residents may be in the suburbs until they’re able to rebuild in the city, Rabalais said. An estimated 86 percent of the metro area’s population is back.

Mayor Ray Nagin, who has said he believes at least 300,000 people are living in the city, has called 2008 a “tipping point” in New Orleans recovery. Critical infrastructure, such as water and sewer lines, is in need of work.

Violent crime, meanwhile, is up from a year ago; New Orleans has recorded at least 184 homicides this year. The district attorney, Eddie Jordan, resigned recently amid criticism that included questions about his office’s effectiveness in prosecuting major cases.

Nagin has proposed adding $15 million in the general budget for police. More than 40 percent of his proposed $459.6 million budget for 2008 would go for public safety – including $112.3 million directly to the police department.

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