New Orleans Evacuees Feeling Left Out of Rebuilding

12-5-05 - Civil rights groups representing Katrina refugees complained Monday that New Orleans residents and the black community are being left out of the city's rebuilding process, excluding them from jobs and building contracts.

Malcolm Suber, a Katrina refugee from New Orleans now living in Houston and a member of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund, said rebuilding committees have "no respect for the black population of New Orleans."

"We are coming back home," Suber said. "This is our city and we are going to have a say so in its future."

During a news conference outside a Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster recovery center, Suber, flanked by other New Orleans residents, was particularly critical of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

"His priority is not with working people but with business people," Suber said. "What the mayor fails to understand is that New Orleans is not about business and buildings. It's about people and culture."

Suber was expected to be one of at least 200 New Orleans residents traveling from Southeast Texas on chartered buses Saturday for a rally at their hometown's city hall to voice their concerns. Evacuees in other states were also set to make the trip in a project sponsored by the Nation of Islam, the National Black United Front and the New Black Panther Party.

Officials with Nagin's office did not immediately return calls seeking comment Monday. But on the city's Web site, Nagin's office said it is working to promote economic development while preserving the city's heritage and promoting "at a grander scale the culture that has been in place for generations."

In recent visits to Houston and other cities where New Orleans residents are now living, Nagin has asked his constituents to come back and help rebuild the city, promising high paying jobs and help with temporary housing.

Suma Diarra, 76, who ran a home schooling and dance program in New Orleans, said Monday she wants to go back but feels the black community has been disrespected by not being included in the rebuilding process.

"I want to see New Orleans like it was before, with the culture," she said.

Residents at the news conference also expressed frustration with getting help from FEMA.

FEMA spokeswoman Carol Hector-Harris said the agency was working hard to get evacuees out of hotels and into long-term housing and to provide them with what other help they need.

She said FEMA is providing funding for rebuilding and that it is up to local leaders to decide who gets those contracts. But she said her agency encourages the hiring of minority firms.

"The impression is the federal government will make people whole. That is not the case," she said. "What FEMA does is we provide you a helping hand to get you back on your feet. But we are not going to make you whole."


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