Slow-Walking Disaster Response Four Years Later

05/25/2011 01:25 pm ET

New Orleans has an affordable-rental-housing crisis, in the wake of the failure of the federal levees in 2005. Best estimates are that some 80,000 rental units were whacked by the floodwaters. A multi-billion-dollar federal program, creaking slowly into high gear, gave so-called Road Home money to homeowners to rebuild flooded properties (some of the folks being evicted by FEMA from their trailers are elderly people living in trailers on their lawns as they painstakingly restore their homes).

But rental housing -- where working folks in New Orleans lived? A few hundred million were sent to the state for a program which is even now just getting past the starting line. Now, Monday's Times-Picayune reports another example of the frustrating, Kafka-esque series of absurdities that confront working people trying to come home. HUD, which runs the local housing agency, has been paying money to maintain empty units, while ignoring the people on its waiting lists, and refusing even to update those lists. The reason, supposedly: the agency sees its mission as housing its pre-Katrina residents. That's ironic when you recall that HUD last year spearheaded the destruction of most of the "Big Four" public housing projects, taking thousands of largely habitable units offline, units that had stood empty since the flood.

In the larger picture, the 800 vacant units are a drop in the bucket. But, as a reflection of HUD's approach (and the federal government's approach generally) to a housing crisis created by the failure of the Corps of Engineers to engineer and build a dependable "hurricane protection system", it's typical.