New Orleans – Six months after Hurricane Katrina wreaked destruction on the Big Easy, efforts to rebuild and repopulate the city remain stalled, according to Amy Liu, deputy director for the Brookings Institution.

Brookings’ Katrina Index, which monitors the progress of rebuilding efforts in New Orleans and most of Louisiana, found that the city’s Garden District has returned to normal, but that the rest of the city is in “a holding pattern.”

To make matters worse, housing community groups have been waiting for $12 million in Community Development Block Grant funding. But the city continues to sit on the money because the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has yet to recommend a plan for distributing it, said Angela Blackwell, founder and executive director of PolicyLink, a national community-building advocacy group.

One key to revitalizing the city is to get more developers involved who know how to use low-income housing tax credits, said Liu. The Gulf Opportunities (GO) Zone Act of 2005 has provided additional tax credit and bond authority to help with emergency relief here and in other areas affected by the Gulf hurricanes.

“[Tax credit] developers need to be aggressive and use the credits to reach the lowest income population, which earns 30% of the area median income,” said Blackwell. “You have to give them the additional financial incentives to do that and get the housing spread out [by doing mixed-income projects] so as to not concentrate the poverty.”

Here are some of Brookings’ findings in the Katrina Index:

  • The Army Corps of Engineers has not demolished a single home that needs to be razed in the hurricane-ravaged area;
  • Only 16,000 building permits have been issued in the city, even though FEMA has estimated that more than 50,000 area homes had “major or severe” damage caused by Katrina;
  • Median home prices in the New Orleans metro area have increased in the last three quarters of 2005, rising to $181,000 from $140,300 in 2004, a sign of increased demand and limited housing supply; and
  • FEMA has allocated more than $5.3 billion for trailers and mobile homes, but just 83,000 of the nearly 800,000 households still displaced by Katrina are currently being housed in these.

However, Brookings also noted some positive developments:

  • In January, student enrollment at major universities was higher than expected. Nearly 90% of students returned to Tulane University for the winter semester, for example;
  • Although more than 300,000 residents still have not returned to New Orleans, approximately 19,000 residents came back to the city and 33,000 residents returned to the region in the three months ending Feb. 28; and
  • The number of riders using public transportation has increased every week since the beginning of the year.

For more information, visit the Katrina Index at