Ida made Louisiana’s housing crisis worse

Ida made Louisiana’s housing crisis worse

Hurricane Ida, the strongest named storm to land in Louisiana in recorded history, left tens of thousands of residents in southeast Louisiana without a home. This comes only a year after Hurricane Laura (now the second strongest named storm in state history) did the same to southwest Louisiana. Neither region has received the support necessary to meet these housing needs, writes Greg Hilburn of the Daily Advertiser, and Louisiana lawmakers are raising alarm:

“We know in Terrebonne Parish 13,000 homes have been completely destroyed (and 98% damaged), so what we’re seeing a significant problem of sheltering,” said Louisiana House Speaker Pro-tem Tanner Magee, R-Houma. “People are living in tents, using rubble to build makeshift structures. “The situation remains critical. I perceive it as a humanitarian crisis.”

As J.C. Canicosa points out in the Illuminator, the federal response to Hurricane Laura’s devastation has been far less than what’s needed. Southwest Louisiana communities, including Lake Charles, have been awaiting federal disaster assistance for over a year. Damages from Ida are expected to be even worse: 

Southwest Louisiana still needs about $1.5 billion to meet housing needs for residents displaced by Hurricanes Laura and Delta. “With Ida, we know it’s going to be more than that,” Edwards said. Over 650,000 Louisianians have already filed FEMA claims following Ida, which struck Southeast Louisiana, and the governor estimated that Louisiana is “on the way” to over 800,000 claims. “We have tremendous unmet housing needs in Louisiana,” Edwards said.

Between Covid and Ida, a tough semester for Louisiana college students
When this academic year began, Louisiana’s institutions of higher education were serving as the frontline of a vaccination campaign for young people while also navigating testing, quarantines and disputes with employees over the controversial decision to reopen campuses and hold in-person classes during a pandemic. Then Ida hit. Jessica Calefati from Politico covers the hardship that has followed:

After months of strategizing how to ease students back to campus as the highly contagious Delta variant surged, college administrators shifted their priorities overnight as Ida scattered everyone. Now they’re busy making sure students have food, water and shelter, and wondering how to counsel many of them through this semester. “Until recently, all we talked about was Covid. Now all we talk about is the hurricane,” Nicholls President Jay Clune said in an interview.

This has raised concerns, particularly for the campuses that were hardest hit, where many students live off-campus and may be at greater risk of exposure to Covid while navigating challenges with housing and food insecurity:

“Students I’ve talked to are hungry, they’re worried about getting gas, they’re trying to take care of their parents and some have children of their own,” said Tyler Legnon, an MBA student who serves as Nicholls’ student body president. “They can’t think about fighting back against the virus until they’re okay.”

Redistricting can be a tool for racially equitable representation
This February, Louisiana lawmakers will convene a special session to reapportion the state’s congressional and state legislative districts. In the past, lawmakers from both parties have often focused on concentrating racial and ethnic minorities into extremely concentrated majority-minority districts that would all but ensure the election of a person of color. But as David Wasserman writes for the Atlantic, some Black lawmakers and advocates for racial justice are shifting their perspective on how to best ensure that representation is achieved equitably:

“If we’re a quarter of the population, we should be a quarter of the seats,” [Congresswoman Terri] Sewell told me recently. In last year’s census, Black residents accounted for 27 percent of Alabama’s population. Black voters, however, effectively wield power in just one of its seven districts—even though two districts with slimmer Black majorities would be possible to draw. “I’m for broadening the representation of African Americans across Alabama, instead of concentrating it in my district,” she said.

Approximately 33% of Louisiana residents identify themselves as Black, but the state’s six-member congressional delegation has only one Black member, who represents the state’s only majority-minority district. Many redistricting experts agree that Louisiana’s Black population is large and dispersed enough for the state to have at least two majority-minority districts, which would better reflect the racial composition of the state.

Entergy looks to pass the repair bill to customers
Hurricane Ida caused massive damage to southeast Louisiana’s electrical grid, leading to costly repairs. Now, as Blake Paterson of the Advocate reports, Entergy is expected to ask regulators for approval of an additional surcharge to ratepayers to cover the bill, a move that is already facing criticism from lawmakers: 

Rep. Bryan Fontenot, R-Thibodeaux, suggested Entergy Louisiana direct a portion of its $700 million in annual profits to cover the damages. “Even though you carry this astronomical profit every year, you’re going to go back to ask the customers to pay you for all the damage?” Fontenot said. 

As J.C. Canicosa from the Illuminator notes, this would mean passing about $2.1 billion in damages from major storms from 2020 and 2021 on to ratepayers. According to Entergy’s website, the company collects approximately $10 billion in annual revenues.

Number of the Day
22,000 – Number of initial unemployment insurance claims filed after Hurricane Ida. Louisiana’s unemployment rate had fallen to 6.2% in August from 6.6% in July; LWC administrators expect the unemployment rate to rise as a result of the storm (Source: The Lafayette Daily Advertiser)