Disaster and the Housing State

“Engels in the Crescent City: Revisiting the Housing Question in Post-Katrina New Orleans” with Emily Rosenman. 2016. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies. In special issue Revisiting Engels’ Housing Question, T. Slater, H. Larsen, A. Hansen, and G. Macleod (eds).

Before Hurricane Katrina, renters comprised the majority of New Orleans’ population. The disaster destroyed a disproportionate amount of rental housing, particularly in the affordable sector. Yet the vast majority of reconstruction funding and volunteer labor has gone to homeowners and initiatives to increase homeownership in the city. We explore the legitimation of this bias toward propertied interests through the lens of Engels’ (1872) critical assessment of Proudhonist and bourgeois socialist ‘solutions’ to the housing question of 19th century Britain. We consider three aspects of Engels’ critique that have been crucial to the post-storm policy regime in New Orleans: homeownership framed as a solution to social problems, the shifting of the housing question into legal and moral spheres, and housing ‘solutions’ enacted by the state that ultimately benefit the propertied and moneyed classes. In examining the contemporary housing question of post-Katrina New Orleans, we extend Engels’ evaluation of the legal and moral spheres that come to veil and reproduce urban economic and racial inequalities, while distinguishing the expanded role of the contemporary state in supporting the tenets of an ‘ownership society.’ Our argument explores how neoliberalism disguises state actions that protect and expand property ownership in contemporary capitalism


“The Housing Question of Disaster Reconstruction:  Rebuilding New Orleans on the Tenants of Ownership Society” In E. Murphy and N. Hourani (eds.), The Housing Question: Tensions, Continuities, and Contingencies in the Modern City. Ashgate Press. 2013.

New Orleans’ recovery paradigm has been framed by policy makers and community activists as a bottom-up, citizen-led, and market driven reconstruction. Resonating with this portrayal has been the flurry of criticism by scholars over the neoliberalization of New Orleans (Smith, 2005; Davis, 2006; Peck, 2006; Kelman, 2007) and an impressive output on new theories of disaster capitalism (Klein, 2007; Gunewardena and Schuller, ed. 2008), that have highlighted waves of privatization, tax reductions, welfare cuts, and the withdrawal of the state. However, interrogating the complex, overlapping, and multi-year story of America’s largest post-disaster housing program in its history reveals that New Orleans’ reconstruction is not simply or even primarily a product of new market-based approaches and “roll-back” of the state, but instead being driven by a “roll-out” of state programs privileging the city’s propertied class. Examining post-disaster housing policy at multiple levels of government reveals that the state’s consistent bias towards subsidizing and privileging homeowners has significantly contributed to the uneven geographic development of New Orleans. I argue that this pol icy bias, which conflates victims-rights with property rights, has allowed claims of citizenship to both veil and justify a process to redistribute power from the larger group of renters that faced disproportionate losses to the smaller group of less affected homeowners within the city.


“Toward a Political Ecology of Disaster: The Urbanization of Neoliberalism in New Orleans” (R&R Environment and Planning D: Society and Space).

As we approach the 10 year anniversary of America’s most costly “natural” disaster, it is apparent that the physical reconstruction, social reproduction, and environmental management of New Orleans are both driving and being driven by a tight coalescence of localized neoliberalization processes. While commentators and scholars have framed the flooding as a “social” and “technical” disaster, this paper draws attention to the fragmented state-space that underlies both of these critiques in working towards a multi-scalar critique of disaster. Attempting to overcome the nature/social binaries of thinking through disasters, this paper argues that the social and environmental catastrophe is an extension of a much longer and multifaceted neoliberal policies stemming back to the early 1970s. In combining these approaches, we see that New Orleans’ social and ecological vulnerabilities before and after the disaster have less to do with the city itself, or any particular agency, political party, or level of government, but rather the inter-urban and inter-governmental restructuring of late capitalism.


Unified New Orleans Plan

My research and writing was included in the education plans for the Broadmoor neighborhood during my time working at the Broadmoor Improvement Agency and the housing plans in the lower 9th ward  during my time working at ACORN New Orleans Chapter in the Lower 9th Ward.