Report: New Orleans-Metairie metro among most segregated


According to a report from 24/7 Wall Street, the New Orleans-Metairie metro area is the 15th most segregated metro area in the country.

Allison Plyer, Chief Demographer with The Data Center here in New Orleans, says there really wasn't much racial segregation in this area prior to the 20th century.

"We used to live very much cheek by jowl. And then, policies like racial zoning were established throughout the south and discriminatory, federally-backed appraisal maps surfaced in the 1930s, as did urban renewal projects."

Projects like Armstrong Park and the Claiborne Avenue elevated highway in the 50s and 60s displaced large numbers of black families. Hurricane Katrina also contributed to segregation in the metro area, as rebuilding funds were continuously allocated to higher-value predominantly white neighborhoods over predominantly black neighborhoods. 

But, Plyer says a mindset developed in the 30s that continues today.

"Still thinking of neighborhoods that have a lot of African-Americans or other minorities as less desirable, having less value in the homes, keeps people segregated and not living so close together."

Today, over 39 percent of black residents in New Orleans live in predominantly black neighborhoods, more than double the 17 percent national rate. And, the poverty rates here show even more disparity. The black poverty rate is about 29 percent. The white poverty rate is about 9.5 percent. But, Plyer says money is just one factor contributing to the area's segregation.

"It's not just about wealth. Research shows there's a lot of implicit or unconscious bias in the way people think about where they want to buy homes...and in the way the real estate industry operates."

"Even when a person who has the means, say an African-American has the means to move into a wealthier neighborhood, there are times when white folks in that neighborhood become uncomfortable and end up leaving."  

Plyer admits that much segregation is by choice.

"The Vietnamese communities live in particular pocket sites in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish. The Hispanic Spanish community before Katrina did have some concentrated areas but was pretty well diffused throughout the region. And now that we've had an influx of lower skilled workers to help with the rebuilding, they're settling more in Jefferson Parish."

What can be done to ease the situation?

"The policies that states have can make a big difference in terms of inclusive zoning or other housing trust funds that can help African-Americans and other minorities actually realize the American dream of being a home owner and living in a nice neighborhood."