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Housing Key To New Orleans' Comeback

New Orleans is making a comeback from the damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina, but its progress could be impeded by a lack of affordable housing and other challenges, a demographer said in a report presented Friday.

Average rents have risen about 40 percent, and the average selling price of homes in areas not affected by flooding has risen about 25 percent since the storm, wrote Greg Rigamer, chief executive officer of GCR & Associates Inc.

Rigamer reported that the city is making a comeback and addressing "fundamental" recovery issues, including infrastructure. Sales tax collections in several neighboring parishes are above pre-Katrina levels; in the city, they're at about 75 percent, the report said.

But challenges remain, from poor water pressure and leaky water pipes in many areas to limited housing and a hospital shortage, the report said.

"Nothing can be done without leadership," Rigamer said in an interview. His report was requested by city officials.

Investments in infrastructure should encourage community investment — and, in turn, tourists and former residents will be more at ease with coming to the city, he said.

Key to economic growth in the long-run: recovery programs and tax incentives in the billions of dollars, he said.

Mayor Ray Nagin and other local officials focused on many of the positives of the past year, from green space to the number of potholes being filled on city streets.

"Our glass is half full," city Councilman Oliver Thomas said.