In an interview made available on NOLA.COM, Ray C. Nagin, a probable candidate for the mayoralty in New Orleans if elections are held in February, said that he doesn't believe predictions that the demographics of New Orleans will change, excluding African-Americans. He says he feels that anyone who really wants to will "figure out a way to come back."
The body that is seemingly in the best position to influence whether the displaced citizens of New Orleans are able to come back, the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, counts among its most influential members James Reiss. Mr. Reiss was quoted during the early aftermath of Hurricane katrina as saying: "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically," [...] "I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again, or we're out."
Mr. Nagin, acting as Mayor of New Orleans, appointed Mr. Reiss - along with other members of the city's elite like real-estate developer Joseph Canizzaro - to the Bring New Orleans Back Commission. Without accusing Mr. Nagin of disavowing a statement by one of his own appointees, we would like to suggest that in this context, Mr. Nagin's telling displaced residents of New Orleans to simply "Figure out a way to come back" is not enough. To the extent that he and his Commission have power and resources, should they not be doing everything in their power to ensure that New Orleanians who had homes in the city are guaranteed to opportunity to recover their homes? Or, if their homes were flooded and are uninhabitable, to be housed in the city?
There have been many suggestions made as to how this can be done. One has already been suggested by Mr. Nagin: prevent raising of rents. Another is temporarily using empty rental property in viable parts of the city - with proper compensation paid to the owners. Another is putting temporary housing on parking lots and commercial property on high ground, again with due compensation being paid. There are legal tools - including usufruct and restrictive easement - that City and State officials can use to make vital, safe housing space available.
Displaced residents of New Orleans have much to contribute to the city's rebuilding. Influential voices are saying that they have a right to return. Most of them do not have the luxury of being ferried to and from their homes on high ground by helicopter, like Mr. Reiss. Many have no access to autombobiles, any more than they did when Mr. Nagin called for evacuation as Katrina approached. But they nonetheless constitute the population of New Orleans, and have the right to vote that is guaranteed all American citizens. It would seem that Mr. Nagin should be doing more than simply telling them to "figure out a way to come back."