Engels in the Crescent City: Revisiting the Housing Question in post-Katrina New Orleans
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 Europe. 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
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