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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: People inside and outside of New Orleans
think the city’s recovery after Hurricane Katrina
has been slow and uneven. Five years after the devastating storm, Marketplace’s Eve Troeh checked out the Big Easy with the man who heads up the government’s rebuilding efforts there.
EVE TROEH: Ommeed Sathe describes his agency’s goal like this.
OMMED SATHE: Trying to build pockets of strength, and doing it everywhere.
Sathe directs the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority. He took me on a city recovery tour. Our first stop was St. Claude Avenue. The wide street divides two neighborhoods called the Bywater and St. Roch. One’s doing well. The other flooded, and it’s lagging. Sathe’s pushing the city to restore a streetcar line down the middle.
SATHE: So this is actually the historic streetcar named Desire line. As that streetcar line comes back, we think this will become a much more desirable place for people to invest and live in.
Convincing residents is just one part of the equation. Project investors are another. Sathe spends a lot of time on the phone, arranging deals.
SATHE: Well go ahead and submit it, we’re going to extend the deadline. That’s why we got the subsidies are in there.
He admires the individual homeowners who rebuilt. They got New Orleans back on its feet. But to grow from here, he says the city needs to solve the puzzle of large-scale development.
SATHE: It’s much cheaper to build 20 or 30 or 40 houses at a time than it is to build one. But you can’t either get financing or identify demand ahead of time for all those properties. And so people are forced to build a few at a time, which makes their costs go up, which makes it hard to find buyers.
Sathe drives across a drawbridge to the Lower Ninth Ward. This area flooded more than 10 feet. Now a new flood wall is in place. And right behind it…
TROEH: We see four homes built right behind this.
SATHE: Behind where the levee breach was. You couldn’t pick a more illogical place for four homes to go. There’s not another house whitn blocks of these. They’re right next to what is a dump.
Sathe says no government subsidy went into this project. It’s…
SATHE: Private investors choosing to put these homes up and people choosing to live there.
He says speculators can buy property in flooded areas for cheap, and rent it. But Sathe’s agency wants to restore home ownership to these areas. And this may be the main conflict of rebuilding: government aiming for the top, while the real estate market races to the bottom.
I’m Eve Troeh for Marketplace.
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