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GCN Recovery News Report

This report will constantly be updated as information becomes available
Updated 11/23/08 9:56 a.m..

There is growing concern that Katrina survivors in mobile homes and Mississippi Cottages will not have a solution to their permanent housing situation in time for the March '09 deadline for housing assistance to end. The cottage issue has become a sore point for many communities as officials feel the homes are not suitable for long term placement. The problem is partly due to the fact that the cottages do not meet zoning ordinances where most are located, and that they cannot be elevated more than six feet above the ground. Higher elevations are required as a result of changes to flood regulations. In addition, some communities fear that the cottages could become areas of blight in the future, degrading the homes nearby. What is certain is that there is a huge need for homes that many people, including the elderly, and young families and workers need. Both available apartments and small homes are too expensive. Rents and homeowner mortgage payments need to be available in the $550 to $750 range, and many people that live on the Coast do not make enough from the jobs available in the area. In addition, FEMA and federal subsidized homeowner assistance has driven up rates for apartments and homes as these rates are set based upon national averages, which are in excess over this area's work force receive in pay. While there are a huge number of new apartments being constructed in the area, the rental rates still exceed what the market can bare.

GCN has also seen that employers in the area are increasing using out-of-state computerized job application forms that are reviewed by individuals with their companies that don't live in the area. Many of the people looking for work on the Coast are not young teens, or people in the early 20's, but are adults in the 45 to 55 age group that are looking for work. The problem is that they are not hired. It seems many companies want to avoid older workers as insurance costs are often higher and would rather the jobs go empty then hire workers that are available. This resistance to hire older workers is among the problems causing the worker shortages in the area since Katrina. It isn't so much that there are not workers to do the jobs, it is that companies are not hiring the people that actually are living here that can do the work.

Biloxi’s casino resorts saw gross gaming revenue figures sharply higher in October, jumping 23 percent from September and only one percent off the October 2007 figures. The total gross gaming revenue in Biloxi in October: $72.5 million. (More Here)

Time is running out on a program designed to encourage development of rental properties in the GO Zone (Gulf Opportunity Zone) along the Mississippi Gulf coast. Applications for the second round of funding in the Small Rental Assistance Program (SRAP) offered by the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) are due December 15, 2008.Under the program, property owners can get forgivable loans ranging from $20,000 per unit for efficiencies to $30,000 for four-bedroom units to repair or reconstruct rental properties that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina, rehabilitate or convert existing property to rental, or build new rental units in projects of up to four units. (More Here)

The Jackson County Board of Supervisors  have chosen sites for three FEMA-funded shelters in the communities of St. Martin, Vancleave and East Central. The decision follow months of debate over how to spend the federal money. The resolution designated the stand-alone shelters to be placed on Vancleave school property on Ballpark Road, St. Martin East Elementary school property on Walker Road, and Lum Cumbest Park property in Hurley. (More Here)

Gulf Coast Housing Director Gerald Blessey has urged members of the Waveland Board of Aldermen to consider allowing MEMA cottages to stay in place a little bit longer, reports the Sea Coast Echo. When FEMA and MEMA introduced the alternative housing program last year to get thousands of Gulf Coast residents out of the cramped – and in some cases formaldehyde-tainted – FEMA trailers, initially the two agencies told city and county officials the cottages would be moved out by 2009. However, Blessey said, the rebuilding process hasn't forged ahead as quickly as state and federal officials had initially hoped. (More Here)

As of Oct. 22, there were 2,786 FEMA trailers and mobile homes in use in the six southern-most Mississippi Counties. In addition, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) reports that there are 2,810 temporary Mississippi Cottages occupied in the three coastal counties of Harrison, Hancock and Jackson counties. Of that number 1,118 are in Hancock county, 963 in Harrison county and 684 in Jackson County.

Coast political leaders are still seeking ways to replace the thousand of smaller homes lost during hurricane Katrina that have yet to be replaced. While many new apartments are coming online, even more than prior to Katrina, small affordable homes and moderate income rental homes are still in short supply. Many of the areas where such homes existed prior to the hurricane are in low lying areas and cannot be replaced. Connected to the replacement issue are much higher costs for home insurance, as well as the new FEMA-mandated flood elevation requirements. Several communities have yet to finally approve the new elevation requirements, but will have to eventually to continue participation in the national flood insurance program at rates residents can afford.

Another issue is that many of the former home locations are on lots that no longer meet code for setback and fire protection reasons. Eventually, many of these lots will have to be purchased and combined for future development. Raising homes requires ramps for handicapped access, which requires lot sizes with enough space to construct the ramps. Recovery officials recently transferred funds set aside for elevating homes to infrastructure funding, such as water and sewer replacements as the money for raising homes was not being used. Meanwhile, public meetings are being held to find alternatives to the housing situation. Many of the new homes constructed since the hurricane are called "affordable" by contractors, but are still priced beyond what many workers can afford in Mississippi. What are needed are homes in the $80,000 to $120,000 range, but that is not what has been built so far.

Gulfport residents supporting the renovation of the former Harrison County Library in Gulfport have received a major victory October 17 in their efforts to preserve the building. The Board of Trustees of  the Mississippi Department of of Archives and History (MDAH) voted to recommend designating the Katrina-damaged library a Mississippi Landmark. (More Here)

Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway said the City Council's approval of a firm to oversee the city's massive $355 million in infrastructure work was the most recent milestone in the city's ongoing rebuilding. Holloway, speaking Oct. 14 to a Biloxi Chamber of Commerce audience at Biloxi Regional Medical Center, outlined the project -- which includes repaving or rebuilding of more than 100 miles of streets, storm drains and water lines -- and told residents about nearly a dozen construction projects now underway in Biloxi. "Looking long-term," the mayor said, "the most promising aspect of this massive project is that it will provide us brand-new infrastructure that will serve us well for the next 30 or 40 years. "We’ll have brand-new streets, sidewalks, curbs and gutters in key areas of the city. We’ll have set the table for economic development and growth," Holloway said (More Here)

Pass Christian is getting $25 million in Katrina recovery funds to expand the city's harbor, which was destroyed by the 2005 storm and damaged again in Hurricane Gustav this year. The Harbor is a key component of the city's economic base.

Meanwhile, Gulf Coast area cities are still wrestling with what to do with people still living in Mississippi Cottages that were set up to replace some FEMA trailers. MEMA reports that there are 2,810 Mississippi Cottages occupied in the three coastal counties of Harrison, Hancock and Jackson counties. Of that number 1,118 are in Hancock county, 963 in Harrison county and 684 in Jackson County. The problem is that many of the cottages are located in low lying area and cannot be raised high enough to meet new elevation codes. The cottages can only be raised about 6 feet from the ground. Any higher and they become unstable in hurricane-force winds, according to MEMA officials. Emergency management officials say that the residents are to be out of the cottages, and all FEMA trailers by the end of March .

Despite hurricanes Gustav and Ike making landfall along the gulf coast in September, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Mississippi Transitional Recovery Office (MS TRO) remains focused on its mission of helping Mississippi recover from Hurricane Katrina.

“We just want to assure everyone that we are continuing to work every day in helping rebuild the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” said Alec Watson, acting director of the MS TRO. “We still have a job to do here and will not leave until it is finished.”

FEMA works alongside its rebuilding partners at MEMA in the Mississippi recovery effort. (More Here)

The Sun Herald reports that insurance adjusters have decided that 220 families must move out of their Mississippi cottages because Hurricane Gustav has rendered them uninhabitable. "We have posted notices on the units we deemed to be unsafe," MEMA director Mike Womack said Sept. 18th. "We're not going to evict people. We would prefer that they leave the cottages, but if they don't have any place to go, we're not going to evict them until we've got funds where we can put them up in a hotel or a rental unit somewhere." Adjusters inspected the homes and placed notices on the doors that they deemed uninhabitable. Womack said the homes either flooded or were penetrated by rain. The fear is that mold could develop and cause more problems. Most of the homes are in Hancock County, which received flooding from Hurricane Gustav, although some of the homes are in low-lying areas in Hancock and Jackson counties as well.

As of Sept. 10, 2008, there are currently 4,002 inhabited FEMA temporary housing units (mobile homes/travel trailers) in Mississippi: Hancock accounts for 585, Harrison for another 1,297, and Jackson for 638; 83 in George, 530 in Pearl River, 132 in Stone. Better than 80 percent of the FEMA units are located on private property housing households.

Hurricane Gustav has added some difficulties to the Katrina recovery on the Mississippi Gulf Coast when it moved ashore in Louisiana Sept. 1. Gustav brought strong tropical storm winds and a storm surge that ranged from 12 to 16 feet with the highest in Katrina battered Hancock County. Flooding from the surge overran the beach and U.S. 90 in Harrison County, as well as some low-lying area within the city's of Biloxi and Gulfport, but the damages were minor. Except for the piers and harbor area in Gulfport, Pass Christian, Long Beach and Biloxi. All of those cities had initiated repairs to their harbors or had repaired them and now that work will have to be repeated, at millions of dollars each. There are some homeowners that also had homes flooded again, though not as extensively. Gustav is a reminder that building homes and businesses at the older flood levels is not adequate and the new higher levels are the way to go, even if it is more costly to do so.

FEMA encourages families who registered with FEMA after Katrina in 2005, and who have repair issues or sustained serious damage to their FEMA unit from Gustav or otherwise, to call the Mississippi Maintenance Call Center at 866-877-6075. FEMA officials report a total of 95 uninhabitable units due to Gustav impact: a third of the households affected have been relocated to hotels, another third to rental units, and the remainder declined FEMA assistance and have moved on to friends or relatives or back into their own repaired homes.

On September 9, the Sea Coast Echo reports that decades of memories were torn down when the remainder of the Fire Dog Saloon in Bay St. Louis was leveled by a demolition crew from B and C Land Services. The Fire Dog, formerly the First Precinct, was one of the most popular nightclubs in Bay St. Louis over the past 20 years. Its prime location at 120 Beach Blvd., and modern format drew in thousands of locals and tourist alike with great food and some of the best local entertainment. The property owners are considering rebuilding at the site. (More Here)

Highway 90, which is undergoing a complete rebuild from Katrina,  fortunately survived Gustav. The Mississippi Department of Transportation and the road's contractors, managed to remove most of the sand from the surge and found that the roadwork was still in place and got the important beach highway open just a few days from the storm, the great relief of Coast residents and the area's casinos.

But there are Coast residents that need help as a result of Gustav, but still mostly from Katrina. Katrina recovery remains the area's primary objective and there are thousands of residents still in FEMA trailers and yet to get homes rebuilt. There is also confusion over what is happening with the money to help people that is administered by a dwindling number of agencies as volunteer groups are slowly closing doors. There is concern among case managers working with Katrina survivors, and now some  Gustav survivors that need help that there is no longer money to help coordinate the rebuilding of homes to get people out of trailers. One case manager recently told GCN that they have case managers stalled with nothing they can do as they are told no money is available and the organizations that handle cases are unsure of their funding and future.

Five Jackson County homes were flooded by Gustav, four of them were Mississippi Cottages. Harrison County has reported four homes destroyed seven homes with major damage and 345 homes with minor damage. The county has also reported nine mobile homes destroyed and 328 mobile homes with minor damage. Eleven businesses in Harrison have reported minor damage. Twenty-two public buildings have major damage in Harrison County

Still, Gustav was no Katrina and while there are damages, the Coast remains focused on recovery as the area moves into the fourth year since Katrina.

Governor Haley Barbour issued the state's Year 3 Katrina recovery report on the anniversary of Katrina. The report comes as hurricane Gustav threatens the area. The governor's report is available online Here.

Even as the third anniversary passes for Hurricane Katrina, it remains evident that the entire Coast is still recovering from the devastating storm. And while progress is being made on many fronts, serious issues remain that have slowed the recovery. Many people have yet to rebuild homes along the shoreline and low-lying areas and this has kept the population counts at below Katrina levels, though it is not as bad as it was initially after the hurricane. There is also construction everywhere as cities and counties are making some progress finally with infrastructure repairs on damaged water and sewer pipes and harbors. But much of the work has been very slow to occur. FEMA's recovery program is largely a reimbursement program, which means local communities must first spend money they have on hand for repair work, then they get it back. The problem is that communities often don't have the money to spend. What is evident is that it will take many more more years for the Coast to even appear that it has recovered. As GCN has been reporting since the storm, the recovery is most evident in the cities beginning with Biloxi and then east into Ocean Springs and Pascagoula. Gulfport, Long Beach, Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis, Waveland and Pearlington, still have vast areas and numerous public buildings that have yet to be rebuilt. Home slabs are everywhere and remain stark reminders of the storm. Many Coast residents that live inland rarely visit the Biloxi Peninsula or Coastline areas as travel is difficult with the road repairs underway, and it also remains depressing for many people. The long recovery has also taking its toll on businesses along the beachfront, even though some have returned, the traffic counts are not enough. Fortunately, the Coast's casinos in Biloxi, Waveland and Bay St. Louis are doing well, even with the downturn in the national economy. The casinos are reporting revenues near or higher than before Katrina, but the casinos are only part of the Coast's economy and its  tourism industry has not recovered from where it was.

Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway commented on the city's ongoing recovery from Katrina. The mayor painted a realistic assessment of where the city is at this point noting that, "We’ve issued in the neighborhood of 24,000 permits of one type or another since Hurricane Katrina, valued at more than a billion dollars, but of those 24.000 permits, only 420 have been for new homes. We lost 6,000 homes and businesses to Katrina, so that should give you an indication of how far we have to go."

This is not to say that a lot has not been done. It is a representation of how much is left. But what is left is good.

FEMA has release their report, "by the numbers," for their Katrina recovery effort. The report shows progress, but notes the issues that remain. What is clearly evident is that there remains a sizeable number of people in temporary housing, though the numbers are far less and at the lowest number since shortly after the hurricane. (Click Here for More)

Gulfport has finally started repairs of its Katrina-damaged City Hall (photo left). Earlier in August, during heaving rains that have been pounding the Coast, rainwater drained from the leaky roof into the City Council Chambers and into the offices of former City Attorney Harry Hewes, reportedly soaking some files and computers.The leaking 105 year old building has been drawing the ire of many Gulfport residents over the city's slow progress in getting "the people's house" back in shape. (More Here)

Gulfport's Mayor Brent Warr says work has begun that will eventually restore the city's huge small craft harbor. Late in July a barge arrived with a drudge to begin removing tons of subsurface debris needed before any real work to restore the hundreds of lost berths taken by Katrina nearly 3 years ago. It will still be many months, perhaps a year, before the harbor can be put back in use. Meanwhile, the city is losing tens of thousands of dollars in harbor fees, and boaters in the city have no where to put their boats. (More Here)

Getting Katrina survivors out of trailers and motel rooms continues to be a problem as there are not enough affordable homes and apartment for many of the most affected survivors of the hurricane. FEMA has extended the relocation assistance program created to aid families displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Eligible expenses will be covered through March 1, 2009, which coincides with the end of the FEMA’s temporary housing program. Relocation Assistance offers families the opportunity to move their personal property out of their FEMA travel trailer or mobile home and into a rental property anywhere in the continental United States. (More Here)

Mental health workers say they are still seeing a growing number of Coast area residents struggling with stresses associated with Hurricane Katrina, and that many of their patients have tried to cope with drugs and alcohol. According to a WLOX report, Randy Kirksey, who has been a therapist at Memorial Behavioral Health for 17 years says nearly three years after the hurricane, storm related stresses and anxiety continue to mount, often becoming unbearable for many.

"Although they have started rebuilding their homes or trying to rebuild their homes, or they may be still looking for a place to live, cause we still have a lot of families displaced, the stress level is high," says Kirksey.

"People in the community are still going through the trauma of Katrina and dealing with those issues that are related to it," he said.

The following is from Kathleen Johnson at Katrina Relief in Waveland. Kathleen is a Katrina volunteer and publishes a blog on the Internet of her agency's activities and her observations of the recovery. This is from her July 21st report, which followed a Congressional Delegation visit that included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

So whats going on this week you ask? Well, the recovery effort is pretty well left us twiddling our thumbs. The Case Managers have a mile of cases - there are no funds right now. The Case Managers have been reduced to doing intakes to make piles of files on their desks.

Lets see - Red Cross is ended. We can not seem to get a straight answer on Salvation Army grants - that story changes daily with today's rendition stating that it might be till the middle of August until the round table will open up. That's right - there are no Round Tables being scheduled at the Hancock Long Term Recovery right now - there are no funds to distribute. The much touted HUD funds turned out to be 35 houses handed out with the hint there might be more - but even that story is changing with every twist and turn with one person at the top hinting that "we got it all wrong". Although the information was handed out at a normal Wednesday coordination meeting and all reporting back reported the "same" story. Gulf Coast Recovery is out of funds and relying on the HUD funds that "might" be released in September and its only initially for 35 homes.

All of this information leaking out in bits and pieces and not one complete press release from any one of the organizations in "charge". Why is that? (More Here)

Since Hurricane Katrina made landfall three years ago, there have been 300 federal indictments for related fraud in the state - and the number is expected to grow, according to the Clarion Ledger. "We have 1,350 investigations still going," said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Dowdy, who heads the criminal division for the Southern District. "I do anticipate we will have a substantial amount of restitution." In most of the cases, people made false statements to obtain Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster assistance funds or other disaster assistance.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has formally approved the State of Mississippi’s “Ground Zero” action plan, which directs about $200 million of federally awarded Hurricane Katrina recovery funding exclusively to Hancock County. The funding is sourced from a $5.4 billion Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) recovery package that Congress appropriated for Mississippi’s hurricane recovery needs. All CDBG funding is administered through HUD.  (More Here)

The Sea Coast Echo reports that Waveland city officials had planned months ago to move the temporary city hall to a new office complex on Hwy. 90, but FEMA representatives say the site still isn't ready. City clerk Robin Gavagnie said Tuesday she was told by FEMA officials that the project was way behind. "We are working with FEMA and other agencies to move forward with Waveland's city hall and FEMA standards need to be met before the city can progress," Mayor Tommy Longo said.Also on Tuesday, Alderman Brian Schmitt proposed an ordinance to place a temporary moratorium on issuing development permits and building permits for some multi-family housing projects within the city of Waveland. (More Here)

Since hurricane Katrina Bay St. Louis Mayor Eddie Farve (Photo right)  has  worn Bermuda shorts as a reminder to the world of the devastation his city received from the hurricane. But Farve's shorts are wearing thin on many of the city's residents. They feel that it is time for his honor to "Put Those Pants On," and quit subjecting the world to his bony knees. To that end, a website has been created on My Space to encourage other residents to get Farve into some decent clothes. The website is at: http://www.myspace.com/putthepantson

The Clarion Ledger reports that in the years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, state officials have given the school districts there a recovery cushion - unchanged amounts of state funding, even though they saw an enrollment drop from storm migration. But that changes for the 2008-09 school year, when the coastal school districts will receive state funding proportionate to the number of students enrolled. That means decreases in Mississippi Adequate Education Program money by as little as $61,058 in the Picayune School District and as much as $3.7 million in the Biloxi Public School District. Enrollments at the schools remain below levels prior to Katrina, but that is expected to change. Biloxi schools receive money from the city's casinos and those monies are helping to somewhat offset the loss. (More Here)

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Steve Preston, June 25, accepted a $350 million plan by the State of Mississippi to produce thousands of affordable housing units for working families who continue to experience a chronic housing shortage in the State. Mississippi’s Long Term Workforce Housing Plan will provide grants and loans to local communities, nonprofit organizations and private developers to produce approximately 12,000 affordable homes in Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, and Pearl River counties. (More Here)

The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) has begun sending checks to 360 Gulf Coast homeowners who’ve qualified for federal grants under the agency’s “Sold Home Program,” designed to assist some homeowners who sold their Hurricane Katrina damaged residences before they could apply for assistance through the broader Homeowner Assistance Program (HAP).  “The Sold Home Program is a way to provide grants to those who’d sold their damaged property after the storm and who could not obtain agreement from the new homeowner enabling them to receive the conventional HAP grant, which, of course, is calculated based on damage to the applicants primary residence on August 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina made landfall.” said Lee Youngblood, Communications Director for MDA’s Disaster Recovery Division. (More Here)

The Gulfport City Council, following an administration request, has extended the moratorium on issuing building permits for an area of the city that has seen very little recovery. The area is mostly south of the CSX railroad tracks and west of the Island View Casino in Ward 2. Several residents complained about the moratorium that the city issued earlier this year during a recent council meeting. The city seeks to establish building code guidelines for the area currently zoned R2 and include implementation of a variation of  the city's Smart Code system. The problem is that the administration has yet to fully define the code for that area and needs more time. Property owners in the area want to start building and can not do so until the city establishes the rules. That will be at least another 45 days, as a result of the council's vote June 17. Gulfport, the state's second largest city, is seen as falling farther and farther behind in recovering from Katrina. (More Here)

Debris that was once Harrison County's boardwalk is on its way to a scrap yard. Contractors  have finally begun dismantling broken sections of the wood and steel walkway.  FEMA is picking up the $10 million tab to haul off and then rebuild the eight miles of wooden boardwalk that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Meanwhile, plans to rebuild the comfort stations along the beach have been in the works for well over a year. But the project has been delayed by elevation issues, insurance questions and most recently a lack of funding. Only a few wooden pieces remain of the six beach comfort stations. The county plans to rebuild the stations. Current plans call for the restroom buildings to cost $1.2 million each. But there's a reason for the seemingly high price tag. They are being built of concrete with a design suitable to withstand future hurricanes.

One of the real problems that has persisted since Katrina is replacing the thousands of old wood frame homes and older apartments that were the primary housing for poorer and working-class residents on the Coast. From Pascagoula to Waveland, thousands of these truly affordable homes were lost and have yet to be replaced. The issues regarding the replacement of these homes have been many. Most were small homes that had been in families for generations and rented at low costs to individuals. In many cases, the homes were in older neighborhoods on small lots that no longer meet building codes but were grandfathered in until they were destroyed by Katrina. Additionally, construction and new elevation requirements are too costly and if built to past requirements, they are too vulnerable to future hurricanes, making insurance unavailable or far too expensive. What the whole issue points out is that there are large numbers of the population that don't make enough money, nor can they, to afford such homes, and builders cannot construct them. That leaves the government as the last hope. Efforts to locate new homes and build  in more suitable areas with government Katrina relief funds have been stymied as well. Many local political leaders and housing officials are concerned that if the government builds these homes, these neighborhoods would become blighted, crime-ridden areas creating even more costly problems that extend well into the future. For the past decade, the assisted housing areas, the former "projects" have been torn down throughout cities in the area, even around the country. The record of such communities is truly a concern and is among the reasons why new versions have not been constructed. Some people see government-built housing that would re-create such neighborhoods as a problem that is not a good solution to the current affordable housing situation. What is left is the hope that the area's economy can grow to help more people afford the homes and apartments that can be built in the area. True Katrina recovery for the area needs a combined effort by government and business to rapidly strengthen the area's overall economy. There are also the problems associated with insurance that has slowed rebuilding of existing structures. Most of the FEMA trailers still in use are on private property in front of homes that their owners have yet to find a way to rebuild.

Hundreds of Coast residents and visitors turned out for the opening June 3, of the restored 1852 National Historic Landmark, Beauvoir on U.S. 90 in Biloxi. Contractors and volunteers have worked since the August 29, 2005 hurricane to restore the home, which amazingly survived the devastating hurricane. The opening drew well over a thousand visitors and guests to the property. Before the storm, Beauvoir received more visitors than any other heritage house in Mississippi. The $3.9 million restoration returned the home to its appearance during the when U.S. statesman and Confederate President Jefferson Davis retired. (More Here)

Nearly three years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, a portion of the federal temporary housing mission has come to an end. Thirty-four of the forty-two temporary housing sites built by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at the height of disaster recovery operations were closed as of May 16, 2008. FEMA continues to relocate families to safer and more secure housing. The deadline for federal housing assistance remains until March 1, 2009, said Sid Melton, director of FEMA’s Mississippi Transitional Recovery Office. (More Here)

The Mississippi Gulf Coast was devastated by Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29, 2005. Now, nearly three years later, state officials said that it will take just as long to dispense the billions of dollars in Katrina aid promised by the federal government. The state is still in the process of distributing $5.48 billion in recovery aid from the federal government. Administrative costs will take up $200 million. Approximately $3.5 billion has been assigned or spent so far.  That leaves about $1.7 billion to still be spent on storm recovery, almost three years after Katrina.

The Washington Post reports that safety lapses raised risks In trailers for Katrina victims. The Post says that formaldehyde has been found in High Levels; 17,000 people say the homes caused illnesses. (More Here)

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) has announced that their program to provide Mississippi Cottages has ended. This announcement comes as many residents in FEMA trailers and apartments were counting on the cottages to be their next home. According to MEMA, there remain approximately 400 families that have qualified to receive a cottage and have obtained the required permits from local governments. These citizens will be awarded a unit based upon the order that permit was acquired.  This, unfortunately, will mean some qualified families with permits may not receive a cottage due to shrinking inventory. (Much More Here)

Gulfport is the state's second largest city, population 72,464 (2005 estimate). Biloxi trails at 50,209 (2005 estimate), but the two cities, which both saw major destruction from hurricane Katrina in 2005, are a study in contrast when it comes to rebuilding and their receipt of Federal Emergency Management Agency re-imbursement funds. GCN contacted FEMA regarding the total amount of re-imbursement funds the two Coast cities are to receive. FEMA has obligated over $190 million for repairs in Gulfport. This includes many project such as City Hall, Jones Park and Gulfport Harbor. Biloxi will receive some $490 million in FEMA re-imbursement money, nearly a half billion dollars for repairs and rebuilding city services and infrastructure. This money includes such projects as the Biloxi Point Cadet and Biloxi Harbor, and a substantial amount of infrastructure repairs for water and sewer systems throughout the city. (More Here)

Red Cross officials in New Orleans say the agency is nearing the end of its storm-relief funds. It has given nearly $200 million to help the longterm recovery of victims of the 2005 hurricanes. ( More Here)

Hancock County officials say that the county's finances are slowly recovering from the losses of Hurricane Katrina. WLOX TV reports that county officials seriously feared bankruptcy shortly after the hurricane, but progress in the area and careful management has tipped the county in favor of solvency. (More Here)

Ever since hurricane Katrina, restaurants along the beach highway have been few. The busy road was filled with all types of places to eat before the hurricane and now some are coming back with more on the way. The latest to rebuild is McDonald's in Biloxi's downtown area. The new restaurant near the Hard Rock and Beau Rivage casinos opened last week and as you would expect, it is a bit higher off the ground. (More Here)

USA Today reports that Hurricane Katrina appears to have triggered a sharp rise in serious school discipline problems throughout Mississippi, new research finds — for students who were displaced by the 2005 storm and those who weren't. The results come from an analysis of state data released this week by researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi. The data suggest that the hurricane disrupted the lives of students in ways that educators may not have initially recognized. (More Here)

Concrete will soon replace the Katrina-destroyed beach boardwalk along U.S. 90 in Harrison County. The Harrison County Board of Supervisors awarded the Pedestrian Pathway repair project to Coleman Hammons Construction Company. The company is a major player of construction projects in Mississippi. The company, based in Brandon, Mississippi, will replace the old timber boardwalk with a new concrete walkway. The total cost of the project is more than $10 million. Work to remove the old timber boardwalk has gotten underway. The new concrete boardwalk is to be completed late in 2009.

Governor Haley Barbour the Amir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, and Jonathan Reckford, chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity, were in west Gulfport April 30, to inspect and tour a small Habitat for Humanity housing complex.Following Hurricane Katrina, the Amir and the People of Qatar donated $100 million to establish the Qatar Katrina Fund, of which nearly $30 million was contributed to Mississippi coastal organizations, including Habitat of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. (More Here)

Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway recently told a WLOX news reporter that he was growing concerned about the slow pace of business recovery along the beach in his city. While most people consider Biloxi to recovering well, the rebuilding of the beach businesses is noted to be poor throughout Harrison County. Part of the reason is the high costs of insurance since Katrina, the other issues reflect the pace of rebuilding U.S. 90, which should be completed by the end of the year. Then there are issues related to rebuilding some water and sewer services. That work is also progressing, though it is far from complete in Gulfport and in portions of Biloxi.

Biloxi officials have initiated a review of the true number of condominium projects that appear to dead in the water. This is after finding that some ten major condo developers have allowed building permits to expire. Officials and developers are citing a slowdown in the overall economy and the difficulty in getting money as a result of the banking industry’s sub-prime mortgage problems and overall banking problems. But the national slowdown that is affecting the city hasn’t slowed down progress at a number Biloxi condo sites that have come out of the ground. Prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and even after, the city seemed poised for a huge building boom. And that is still the case, but not as great as the permit filings now indicate.  (More Here)

Several Coast cities have become alarmed that pending new flood elevation maps from FEMA will require all new homes in many areas to be constructed high in the air on stilts, homes significantly higher than in the past. Where homes were once allowed at 8 feet above ground level, homes in some areas identified in the maps would have to be raised nearly 26 feet to qualify the community for future flood insurance from the federal government. Coast cities worry that people won't return to build such homes, and the sky-high homes would change the character of their communities to towns on stilts. (More Here)

Two years after $640 million in Hurricane Katrina recovery money was earmarked for new water and sewer infrastructure, not one sewer line has been installed and only two projects are under construction. Gov. Haley Barbour recently told local utility authorities the work should be progressing faster. Harrison County has $243 million worth of work earmarked in the program, which uses federal Community Development Block Grants, but to date no construction has begun. The utility authority over Harrison County, which is made up of elected officials, asked the nine local firms handling the job to move up their target completion date.

"I feel like we are sitting on our thumbs," said Long Beach Mayor Billy Skellie, a member of the utility authority.

Almost 3,000 Mississippi Coast homeowners whose primary residences suffered damage from Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge will soon begin receiving grants to elevate their homes above new federal flood requirements. The Mississippi Development Authority began sending the first batch of checks the first week of April.

The agency is telephoning other homeowners to schedule closing on their applications. The program, an extension of the Homeowner Assistance Program, (HAP) ceased taking applications Saturday, March 15, in accordance with the deadline for receiving all Homeowner Assistance Applications. The Elevation Grant Program is a construction initiative where the federal government  requires that each site complies with all applicable environmental and building code mandates. (More Here)

The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) promised they would have all of the lanes open April 7th and their word was true. Coast residents now have what is truly a picturesque bridge across Biloxi's Bay Bay between Biloxi and Ocean Springs.

 

The new bridge was initially scheduled to open in mid April but contractors, with weeks of good weather behind them, got the bridge fully opened earlier. (More Here)

One of the major problems since Katrina has been the lack of housing for area residents and those still in FEMA trailers. But since the storm, thousands of apartment units have been under construction and many are close to completion. Here is a list of apartment units under construction in cities in Harrison County..

  • D'Iberville 1398
  • Pass Christian 104
  • Gulfport 1046
  • Biloxi 1152

In 2007, Biloxi was about 400 apartments short of the number of unsubsidized apartments it had before Katrina. Biloxi officials say they expect that with the new construction, the city will soon have more apartments than it did prior to Katrina.

Meanwhile, high insurance costs are driving many residents away from the Coast. According to a recent survey in Ocean Springs, insurance rate increases of nearly 300 percent are staggering residents and businesses. (More Here)

Governor Haley Barbour reports that 2,000 Mississippi families have moved out of their FEMA provided travel trailers and mobile homes and into Mississippi Cottages.

“By moving these families into Mississippi Cottages, we’re successfully providing many coastal residents with a more comfortable and certainly safer housing alternative while they work to rebuild their lives after Hurricane Katrina,” Governor Barbour said.  “This is a milestone for the state’s ongoing recovery efforts.”

The 2,000th unit was placed in Gulfport, making this the 667th family in Harrison County to receive a cottage.   Hancock County has 848 families living in Mississippi Cottages, Jackson County has 480 families living in Mississippi Cottages and Pearl River County, which was recently added to the program, has five families living in units. Meanwhile, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency is notifying applicants for Mississippi Cottages that the program is ending and no additional cottages will be supplied. (More Here)

The Coast's population is slowly recovering from the losses due to Katrina, according to government reports. According to the government, more than 32,000 people left the three Coast counties after the storm, but between July 2006 and July 2007, about 6,000 returned. Hancock County grew by 2 percent, the most significant percentage increase among the three coastal counties. According to the Sun Herald the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce commissioned an independent population survey about seven months after Katrina, which suggested more than 26 percent of the county's pre-storm residents had not returned. At the time, almost 3,000 Waveland residents were gone, Bay St. Louis lacked about 1,500 people, and countywide, more than 13,000 had not returned. The county's total population after the storm was about 34,000. Today, the U.S. Census Bureau says 39,687 people live in Hancock County.

Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway says he thinks it will take another eight years for Biloxi to fully recover from Hurricane Katrina. The mayor made his comments at a recent ward meeting in north Biloxi. "It took over a year to clean up the mess," Holloway said, and it will take three to five more years to replace the infrastructure in the parts of the city affected by the storm surge. "It's going to be a gridlock in a lot of areas," he cautioned. The work will tie up streets and he said there will be "a lot more inconvenience we're going to have to go through."

Officials with the Mississippi Department of Transportation report that work on U.S. 90 is proceeding ahead of schedule. MDOT officials say the contractors on the project are required to finish the work by the end of the year. The work includes new curbs, drainage and road rebuilding from the new Biloxi Bay Bridge to the new Bay St. Louis bridge. Motorists driving along the beach highway will find the going slow and very bumpy. Contractors are working on the entire roadway and are working on 2-mile sections, which allows some traffic movement, but with much of the road down to only one lane, east and west, there are backups. (More Here)

In a development directly connected to the post-Katrina recovery, a federal grand jury has begun an investigation into a Katrina Homeowner Grant of Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr.

There are continuous news reports and FEMA press releases that describe the billions of dollars of federal aide for projects to rebuild the Coast. While some of this money is reaching local communities, the vast amount is still held up with federal and state administrators. When people read these stories in newspapers around the country, even here on the Coast, it is easy to assume that work for many repairs are underway, that is not necessarily the case. The money doesn't get released when FEMA approves work. That is only part of the process, which takes months of work by city and county officials who must submit project work orders to the state and FEMA to get approval. This process is so intricate that many times local officials have to resubmit paperwork, delaying work even farther. People also have to understand that the FEMA programs are mostly re-imbursement programs. The cities must spend their money, if the they have it, first, then they get the FEMA money.

There are growing reports that private contributions for Katrina recovery are not reaching the ground as well. Some volunteer organizations have been cut-out of funding as there has been is an effort by private-sector individuals to create new non-profit 501-3c organizations to control where the relief money is going. This consolidation under new non-profit private corporations is not very visible to the news media and is being conducted in the background in the Mississippi Coast area. Partly as a result of these new "consolidated" groups, money provided by people contributing to the recovery is not going to where it is intended. There has been from the days after Katrina a huge need for a state-organized Katrina Recovery Fund administrative organization. So far, only private organizations have being set up and those are not very visible in their activities. The money trail has become nearly impossible to follow. In a recent case, where Katrina donated funds were to be used to purchase a building, more than three new 501-3c's were formed to administer the transactions, several to be operated only temporarily. Real leadership on this issue has yet to occur at the state level and there is no centralized oversight over these donated monies  in place, nearly three years after Katrina slammed into the Coast. There are concerns that some donated monies are being bled off to administrators, lawyers and accountants instead of reaching groups that are actually doing the field work helping people recover from the hurricane.

Meanwhile,

Since Hurricane Katrina, medical care for residents has been poor with doctors and hospitals short staffed or often overwhelmed with patients. The situation for mental care has been far worse. The Coast has high numbers of elderly and elderly visitors. Families with Alzheimer sufferers and those who have other mental illnesses have had few resources to draw upon. GCN is very much aware of nearly a complete collapse of the Coast's mental care services since the hurricane and the system is still functioning without the resources needed. Mental health providers continue to report problems in lack of staffing, facilities, and funding for handling this continued crisis on the Coast. Families are also still dealing with confusing and conflicting information, and inadequate facilities for the caring of mentally and physically disabled family members. Five nursing homes were destroyed on the Coast by Katrina and none have been replaced as the Coast nears the three year mark since Katrina. Long term care for Alzheimer's sufferers is acutely short and what facilities that are available are far from the Coast. One Biloxi hospital shut down just earlier in January citing a "lack of patients." What is lacking is not patients, but money as high health insurance costs have resulted in many residents not having the money for health care, or insurance. It is not uncommon for people who have insurance to wait for weeks for an appointment, forcing residents with illnesses to seek costly emergency room services at the hospitals that remain.

Biloxi’s casino industry reported its largest ever annual gross gaming revenue in 2007, more than a billion dollars, according to figures compiled by the city. The city’s eight casinos reported total gross gaming revenue of $1.007 billion for 2007, a year in which nine months saw revenue of more than $80 million, including an all-time monthly high of $97 million in July. (More Here)

2008 began with thousands of Coast homeowners still in FEMA trailers and the Mississippi Coast facing a housing crisis, especially for elderly and low to modest income residents. The situation on housing is interfering with the influx of workers for the typical jobs long associated with the Coast. Among the key challenges to housing is the high cost of insurance that has skyrocketed since Katrina, which has slowed the sales of homes and the reconstruction of the Coast in the hardest hit communities. There is progress however as the billions of dollars of federal reconstruction aid is beginning to be seen, but it will be years before many areas of the Coast will seem "normal."

What is evident is that residents struggle to get used to communities that have yet to make their way back. Biloxi and the Coast communities east into Jackson County are making the best progress. Still, there are vast areas where little remains except open fields where neighborhoods once stood. Much of the beachfront from Gulfport to Pass Christian along U.S. 90 remains empty. Piles of debris are far less than in the immediate months after Katrina, but they remain to add a unkempt look to many of the Coast's communities. The stark, empty slabs of homes and businesses remain bleak reminders of the past. This constant reminder wears heavily on residents who know their lives have truly not returned to normal. Many residents that live just inland try not to visit the immediate coastline as it still bares the scars of Katrina.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation opened all four lanes of the new Bay St. Louis bridge Jan 8. The bridge was completed under a $266.8 million design-build contract with Granite Archer Western (GAW).  The bridge opened two lanes of traffic on May 17, 2007, approximately ten months after the original bridge was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Biloxi, which is clearly leading the recovery among the Coast's most damaged cities has now issued more than a billion dollars in permits for commercial and residential construction since Hurricane Katrina. Since Sept 1, 2005, the city has issued a total of $1.086 billion in permits overall. Of that number, 50 percent -- $542 million -- was for non-casino and non-condo construction. In terms of residential construction, $452 million in permits has been issued for residential work, with $51.5 million for new single-family homes, accounting for 341 new homes permitted since Katrina. While the number of new home permits is impressive, the city lost nearly 6,500 homes during Katrina, many in the city's Point Cadet area in east Biloxi. Most of the those homes have not been rebuilt, nor are they likely to be rebuilt as the lot sizes, insurance costs and new elevation requirements have made reconstruction prohibitively expensive.

The long-awaited FEMA elevation and flood maps were finally released to the public Nov. 16. These official maps reflect the areas most sensitive to future storms and flooding on the Coast and have been needed to help cities, residents and the insurance industry know where to best adjust how and where  people will build and what it will cost. Residents know the areas all too well as many of the areas remain empty of homes and businesses. For the most part, large sections of the Coast in communities from Jackson County to Hancock County have significant lands that are subject to big hurricanes. The FEMA maps are the most detailed ever for the region and they will help communities develop building codes and built height requirements for the future.  Cities are being required to make the tougher standards or face the loss of future FEMA support. (More Here)

As everyone living on the Coast already  knows, the cost of living here has sharply risen since Katrina. Housing is the main reason it has become much more expensive to live in South Mississippi, experts say. Insurance costs have escalated, making it more difficult to buy a home, and rent also has gone up because of the scarcity of apartments and houses.

A study by the RAND Gulf States Policy Institute added figures to the obvious regarding the slow progress in restoring housing on the Coast. The study found that about 60 percent of the region's housing, including 5,700 rental units, was damaged by the storm, the report said. Also, 60 percent of the region's rental stock was located in the hard-hit coastal areas of Pascagoula, Gulfport and Biloxi, re-searchers concluded. Ninety-five percent of the region's multi-family properties were located either on the Coast or adjacent to the region. Researchers said that the Aug. 29, 2005, storm compounded the pre-Katrina shortage of affordable housing and the lack of affordable multifamily housing is stalling the recovery. A big concern is the lack of housing for workers helping to rebuild the area, and for Coast residents who need affordable rental homes and  apartments, which have yet to be built. The Rand study noted that it may be four to five years before such homes and apartments can be constructed.

A review by GCN of a recent Gulf Coast apartment guide found that most apartments on the Coast are now renting for between $800 and $1,200 a month, which is too expensive for many people, including workers in the service-industry who earn just over minimum wage.  The housing problem is most acute for residents in Hancock County.

Hurricane Katrina did more than destroy homes in communities across the Coast. It also destroyed the underground stuff that makes a home possible, such as water and sewer lines. Work to replace water and sewer lines are underway in Pass Christian, Long Beach, Bay St. Louis and Waveland. In Waveland, the damages were extreme and is among the main reasons that rebuilding has gone so slow. The federal government has stepped up to plate to provide disaster funding to the tune of nearly $60 million dollars to rebuild Waveland's water and sewer lines, as well as natural gas lines that were torn up by Katrina. But the work, which began in late summer 2007, is also creating havoc. Construction crews are tearing up what is left of the roads in many of the most devastated areas leaving, for months to come, dirt roads that when it rains, creates muddy, nearly impossible to travel, streets for residents that still live in the area, or are seeking to rebuild.

Also, since the previous, badly-damaged, system has been shut down, residents in the area have been provided with plastic tanks to collect dirty water, and sewage from their homes. These tanks are in the front yards on the surface and are somewhat translucent. You can see what is inside them. The tanks are placed in the front of the homes, connected to the sewer pipes from the homes. They also don't hold much and the contents have to be pumped out of the tanks sometimes several times a week. A household with kids will quickly fill the tanks. That means pump trucks are now as common as garbage trucks also some streets, but the work pumping the tanks does not move as swiftly. The tanks are translucent to allow residents and pump crews to quickly see the level. (More Here)

Everywhere there is still sharp evidence that the recovery isn't so much a recovery, but a process that has only begun. Where people were saying earlier it might take five years for the area to look normal, the talk is now ten to fifteen years. That isn't recovery, it is a shame.

A big issue that remains for 2008 is where is the money. GCN has been reporting for months that billions of dollars allocated by the federal government to help cities and people recover has not been hitting the ground fast enough. There are many reasons for this and none of them good. The problems with the money stem from everything from a slow bureaucracy, to concerns over fraud. Federal officials are also worried that some of the money is also finding its way improperly to the hands of individuals and some companies through good ol' boy networks well established in south Mississippi and in Louisiana. This cronyism is part of the culture that has been difficult to weed out over the years. Mississippi has poor laws and inadequate regulations to ferret out corruption and observers have worried that the relief effort is a windfall for some people. That is not to say the federal help and the donated money is being wasted. The scale of the disaster is such that it takes great effort to identify and work through the problems. For example, many people cannot rebuild their homes because much of the coastline lost water and sewer systems that have to be rebuilt. Such infrastructure needs are difficult to implement, costly to design and repair, and always take longer than anticipated.


GulfCoastNews.com received a prestigious award during the Online News Association annual meeting held in Washington, Oct. 6-8, 2006. During award ceremonies Oct. 8, GCN received the ONA Excellence in Service Journalism Award for small websites for its GCN Survivor Connector Database.

"This is truly a deep honor," said Keith Burton, GCN's owner and editor. "The GCN database was created to help people that were relocated from evacuations during Hurricane Katrina, but I never realized at the time how it would help so many people." (More Here)


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