The following is an installment in our blog series, “From our Fellows.” Each post is written by a different Fund 17 fellow and serves as a brief inside glimpse into the impact of our business development relationships between fellows and local entrepreneurs. Bry, Fund 17 Fellow, is working with Entrepreneur Kayla Flot to launch and grow her makeup artistry business. This blog post is about Bry’s take-aways from the second Fellowship Site Visit + Lecture event.
New Orleans is a city known for its rich culture and is highly regarded for its diversity by people across the globe. It’s what attracts many travelers and students (including myself) and contributes to why many choose to call New Orleans home. After living in New Orleans for two years, I’ve had the opportunity to immerse myself in the city’s unique and diverse cultural environment. However, it hasn’t been all roses and sunshine; I’ve seen firsthand the complexities and disparities that envelop the lives of many New Orleanians. Since I began my work at Fund 17, I’ve become much more aware of the deeply ingrained inequalities that exist within this city. The quality of opportunities and life experiences afforded to New Orleanians is often dependent on factors such as race, class, and gender. Opportunity inequities in this city deeply affect all facets of life, even basic necessities like housing.
In our second Fellowship site visit, we gathered at Broadmoor Improvement Association (BIA) and met with Andreanecia Morris – Executive Director of HousingNOLA and President of Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance– to learn more about the housing inequalities that exist within New Orleans. HousingNOLA is an organization dedicated to solving the affordable housing crisis in New Orleans – a crisis that disproportionately affects the city’s African American inhabitants. BIA is a neighborhood improvement association that provides holistic services to neighbors in Broadmoor and played a big role in empowering residents to return home post-Katrina.
While race-based housing inequalities have always been a reality across the country, this issue became exacerbated in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. Many people lost their homes to the devastating storm and were displaced from the city. While many wanted to return to their homes, this dream was out of reach for many low-income families due to their insufficient insurance payments. Rather than divide the insurance money in such a way that those who needed the most aid would receive it, all homeowners whose houses were damaged in the storm received a mere $50,000– an amount so low that for low-wage earning individuals, rebuilding their homes was not a possibility. Many of these people instead sold their houses to the Louisiana state government for $40,000 and relocated. Additionally, New Orleans has become a more desirable place to live since the city has rebuilt itself in the wake of Katrina, which in turn has caused property values to increase steadily. While this may be a positive change for some, it causes further displacement to those who have lived in this city for a long time because they can no longer afford their properties.
When housing is not affordable, people are forced to rent properties, which is a much more unstable way to live. In Orleans Parish, which is inhabited by mostly African-Americans, a majority of the homes are renter occupied. While the median household income in Orleans Parish is the lowest of all eight parishes, its homes have the highest median value. This contradiction is part of the reason why nearly one-quarter of those living in Orleans Parish are living in poverty, and why many homeowners and renters alike are severely cost burdened.
“What struck me most was the realization that although New Orleans is and has always been a predominately African-American city, the systems in place still do not work in the majority’s favor.”
The government and other organizations have placed such a great emphasis on bringing new people into the city that they consistently neglect those who have been here the longest in the process – leaving them quite vulnerable. Learning about these disparities is crucial to the work we do at Fund 17. Sessions like these prepare us to have fruitful and meaningful relationships with our entrepreneurs – who often come from different backgrounds than our own. In addition, it is always important to be knowledgeable about the context in which one is working. Since a majority of the fellows, myself included, are not from New Orleans, these site visits are all the more essential. While I will never be able to truly understand the experience of facing inequality because of my skin color, I hope to contribute to the process of eliminating these differences by acknowledging their existence; without recognition there can be no change.
-Bry Rechen, Fund 17 Fellow and Tulane Economics student