The Katrina Docket Interview Project

Over two and one half years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, New Orleans continues to emerge from a state of humanitarian relief as a locus of social justice work. Yet, as the process of rebuilding continues, justice-oriented attorneys and activists remain concerned about how such developments will change New Orleans in the long term. Particularly, they are concerned that the decimation of lower-income populations will result in the permanent displacement of New Orleans' historical populations and that the social institutions that do remain are insufficient to meet the needs of those victimized by loss and destruction. One recent project dedicated toward advancing justice-oriented initiatives is the Katrina Docket Interview Project.

The Katrina Docket Interview Project is run by New Orleans attorneys Mary Howell and Morgan Williams. The goal of this project is to draft a report on the state of justice-oriented litigation that has been brought in the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina. This report is intended to serve as a reference tool for attorneys and other professionals interested in the many social and legal issues that arose as a consequence of the disaster. Just to name a few, these areas include criminal justice (including police misconduct and the use of excessive force), housing, education, insurance issues, health care, environmental issues, voting rights, worker justice, immigration rights, litigation arising from the levee failure, and contract fraud. The breadth of the issues covered in the report indicate not only that there really is no aspect of life in the Gulf Coast that was not substantially impacted by the disaster, but also that the effects of Katrina are ongoing, meaning that two and one half years after Katrina, they still affect the lives of local residents who lived there at the time of the storm, of those who managed to continue living there despite the massive loss and destruction, and of those who have been displaced by the destruction.

During our week in New Orleans, we we were headquartered at Tulane Law School and worked in conjunction with St. John's and University of Seattle Law Schools conducting outreach and interviewing attorneys. For the purpose of compiling and synthesizing the information that we received from these interviews, we set up a data base so that future groups will be able to continue the important work of this project. Now that these organizational aspects are in place, the project is on its way toward its goal of keeping both the legal community and the public at large informed of legal developments in the Gulf Coast and of justice-related problems that continue to afflict victims of Katrina over two years after the disaster. As it stands, much work is left to be done.

See for yourself

Though nothing compares to seeing New Orleans for yourself, this map tries to show what parts of the city really look like. Click on the link and you can view many parts of the city.

Keep in mind it's still under construction. Also, if you have any pictures you'd like to add (and you know exactly where they were taken), please send them to

Housing on the Mississippi Gulf Coast: A Civil Rights Issue

The slick, freshly-painted expanse of the IslandView casino hotel looms over its surrounding neighborhood in Gulfport, Mississippi. Only a few yards away, beyond the vast parking lot, dilapidated houses still mark their territory, bearing the now familiar signals of Katrina’s destruction: spray-painted messages of condemnation, blown-off roofs, heaps of rubble.

The coexistence of these disparate circumstances reflects an ongoing conflict on the Mississippi Gulf Coast between the interests of economic development and community preservation, the encroachment of large commercial developers upon regions and communities traditionally and historically occupied by local residents. In other words: corporate enterprise at the expense of the disenfranchised. Taken a step further, these problems can also be framed in the terms of race. Why? Because the poor local residents who have been displaced as a result of the Katrina disaster also happen to be largely African-American, who, despite generations of adversity, have nevertheless thrived as a community and as a culture in that region. It is true that this community and culture has been in jeopardy for some time now with the development of large scale commercial enterprise on the Gulf Coast. It is true that the Katrina tragedy compounded the hardship. But it is also true that the Katrina tragedy has finally shone light on this matter as a civil rights issue.

With the large scale destruction of personal property and real estate on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, there has been a great risk of large corporate enterprises and developers buying out property owned by small local landowners. And with this large scale commercial development, local activists fear the loss of communities that have created the culture, ambiance and lifestyle of the region, as the historical aspects of community development are replaced with larger scale development targeted at more affluent demographic constituencies.

The Mississippi Center for Justice has led the way in pursuing an equitable rebuilding process – one that recognizes the importance of both community preservation and economic redevelopment. The MCJ recognizes that the most critical threshold issue in the rebuilding process is the one of attaining affordable housing for low income people, because the current housing shortage and the price gouging of remaining rental properties have forced the eviction of many local residents, which allows for the dissolution of the communities which in turn will pave the way for further corporate buyouts.

Other than providing representation in eviction cases and negotiating settlements on behalf of evicted tenants, MCJ seeks to educate evicted renters of their eligibility for federal grants, as many residents are unaware of their entitlement to federal monies. They have even promoted a plan to provide landlords with an incentive to keep rents down by allocating portions of the state’s relief grants to them.

In conjunction with the MCJ and the Turkey Creek Community Initiative, the North Gulfport Community Land Trust has developed its own method to preserve the community while developing the local economy: it strives to reverse the effects of economic distress through the creation of permanently affordable housing and community reinvestment. By transplanting donated houses of historical and cultural significance to the culture and community, the Land Trust sells these houses at no profit as an endeavor to increase home ownership within the North Gulfport community.

A Drive through Pass Christian

Pass Christian is the town just east of Gulfport. The devastation here, even 16 months after Katerina, is unspeakable. Photographs of this area cannot capture the panorama of destruction and desolation here. Many houses were simply blown off of their foundations. In some cases, the only indication of former habitation are front stair fixtures sprayed with paint indicating an address.

An abandoned and condemned low-income housing community.

A rainbow...

Courtney, Alicia, and Annette in North Gulfport compiling data from land surveys and the tax assessor's office.

We compiled this data on a database that will assist in both the economic redevelopment and the preservation of the character of this historically African-American community. Instead of demolishing older, local houses that sustained minimal or no damage from Katrina, some local land owners have donated these houses to the Land Trust in order that they be transplanted to vacant lots. These houses are then being refurbished and sold at cost, in order to promote ownership amongst those who might not otherwise be able to afford to buy their own property. The North Gulfport Community Land Trust is one of several initiatives in the movement to provide affordable housing to low-income residents of Gulfport displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Jason MacKenzie, executive director of the North Gulfport Community Land Trust, oversees the moving of a house from Pass Road in Handsboro to Martin Luther King Drive in North Gulfport.

pictures from the lower 9th ward

destruction of the lower ninth

Here are some pictures from the area we have for the FEMA Trailer Park Survey and Mapping Project for spring break 2007. The picture's here are north of N. Claiborne Ave, and while you're crossing the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, going east, the few blocks close to the water are just gone. Barely any houses stand, and even as you move inside, there aren't many standing. This area is a ghost town. Only a few people live here, and there doesn't appear to be much rebuilding. Most of the activity was focused on cleanup.

Our group is looking at "objective indicators..." things like schools, hospitals, blocked roads. But there's far far too much of that for 3 people to document in a week. So we're trying to make an interactive map so people can see exactly what neighborhoods look like at street level. Here are a couple snapshots...

(the chair and nurses office sign are from hardin elementary. the gun was on a lawn in the 9th ward. the home movie reel was on another front lawn near the 9th ward. the "wet umbrellas" sign is from clairborne elementary and very clearly below the high water mark...)

Forty-three Brooklyn Law School students will spend their spring break volunteering in and around the Gulf Coast as part of the Student Hurricane Network. These are their stories.

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