Gulf Coast's home boom
Six months after Katrina, residents are rebuilding in earnest. Major US companies and architects are jumping in, too.
Landlord Jill Schneider is racing to repair splintered doors and water-damaged ceilings at the Mark VII apartment complex in east New Orleans.Skip to next paragraph
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At City Hall, Charles Fritchie, a retired Tulane professor, is applying for permits to begin rebuilding his California-style bungalow, which had five feet of water in it during the height of hurricane Katrina flooding.
And in New Iberia, about three hours outside New Orleans, architects and urban planners are talking to local officials as part of a three-week swing around the state. They're sharing designs for hurricane-resistant housing and suggesting zoning changes to accommodate the wave of home building.
All this is happening even before the US Congress tackles a major funding bill that could give up to $150,000 each to the owners of more than 167,000 homes that were destroyed. All this is also ahead of the Federal Emergency Management Agency issuing new flood-plain maps, expected at the end of next month.
Most of these home- building efforts are individual, as people either receive insurance checks or dip into savings. But six months after the hurricane, the need is still so great that large developers, such as KB Homes, have announced they will build major new subdivisions.
Later this year, it's expected New Orleans will look as if everyone has a hammer and level attached to his or her belt.
"Literally billions of dollars are going to start to flow over the next year, and a lot will be going to housing," says Mark Drennen, CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., which promotes economic development for the region. "But we still don't have the flood maps from FEMA, and we won't see any significant building until they come down."
The FEMA flood maps will detail where individuals can build without flood insurance and whether new construction will have to be elevated on pilings.
One sign that many residents are waiting for the maps is that local banks report a surge of 25 to 30 percent in deposits, says Mr. Drennen. "There is no explanation other than the fact insurance checks are in and people are either waiting to rebuild or can't find contractors," he says.
On its website, the city of New Orleans cites an American Red Cross estimate that some 200,000 homes in Louisiana were destroyed or damaged. Almost half the 45,000 apartment units in the city were damaged.
"We will never have economic recovery until we see a lot more housing," says Drennen. "I met with the owners of Subway and McDonald's [establishments] this week, and they still haven't reopened because they can't find workers, because the workers can't find a place to live."
Part of the short-term solution is to renovate the damaged apartments as soon as possible, say some housing experts. That's what's happening at the Mark VII complex, owned by Ms. Schneider's company, Toledano Properties.
Immediately after hurricane Katrina, the police arrived to ensure that all residents had evacuated the 1960s-era two-story building. They kicked in doors and smashed windows to gain entry. Next came the looters who took anything of value, trashed everything else, and spray-painted offensive graffiti on the walls.
For three or four months, the area had no electricity, so renovation was impossible. Workers finally started cleaning out the 68 units in November.
By mid-March, 15 units should be ready for occupancy. Although Schneider has a waiting list for the apartments, she is close to signing a deal with FEMA that would make the units "temporary" housing, mostly for first responders. The FEMA pilot program would guarantee the payments on a lease for a full year and may be extended in six-month increments.