Special Hurricane Report

Louisiana passes new statewide building code; critics say it may burden home repairs

On November 29, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco signed legislation for the state to adopt the International Building Code (IBC), a uniform code issued by the International Code Council that will replace a patchwork of municipal controls. The legislation requires that new construction adheres to the code, and that it be applied to home repairs if costs are more than 50 percent of prestorm valuation. After the bill was signed, the 11 parishes hardest hit by this season's storms had 30 days to start applying the code. Those without enforcement officials had 90 days. The code will take effect statewide on January 1, 2007.

Concerns about cost

While many applaud the adoption of a statewide standard for construction, industry experts say the adoption of the IBC will increase the spread between insurance payouts and repair costs, perhaps making it too expensive for many homeowners to rebuild. In the New Orleans suburb of Kenner alone, the Federal Emergency Management Agency says more than 500 houses meet the 50 percent test. Phil Hoffman, president of Hoffman Custom Built Homes in LaPlace, Louisiana, says due to the cost of bringing those homes up to code, "They might just as well bring in the bulldozers and knock it all down."

Louisiana parishes without

YYePG Proudly PreseXist i Tgi «fdeSwilpsBfe the sharpest cost increase, says Ronnie Kyle, president of Louisiana Homebuilders Association. "Places like Cameron, which had no code, will have a 17 to 20 percent increase," he says. "Most of Orleans [Parish] was under at least a 1995 code, so it's probably looking at an 8 to 12 percent increase."

To make things more difficult for homeowners, Hoffman says, the code is "basically a wind code," addressing roofs, wind anchors, bracing, siding, and glazing, while most of the damage is from storm surge or flood. Insurance companies, says, Hoffman, "will only pay for the [flood] damaged areas of the house."

Benefits of uniformity

However, the insurance industry, building associations, and contractors say code uniformity for new construction is needed to woo insurers and secure federal funding. "Insurance companies have been taking a really hard look at whether they want to do business in Louisiana anymore," says John Marlow, assistant vice president for the Southwest Region of the American Insurance Association, a trade group.

The code's appeal is uniformity and insulation from ever-changing political influences, says Derrell Cohoon, executive director of Louisiana Associated General Contractors. "It will bring investors back and send a message that it's not business as usual in Louisiana."

Although the new standards will surely increase costs, "if you can't buy insurance, it doesn't do you any good to rebuild," says Kyle. "At some point, you've got to say the cost is what the cost is."

Under the law, the governor will name a 19-member code council to review the code every three years. Legislators have already planned the first review for March. Elsewhere in the region, Texas's June adoption of the IBC for municipalities goes into effect January 1. Mississippi building groups are lobbying a statewide adoption of the IBC, but the legislature is not in session until January 3. Angelle Bergeron, with Tom Sawyer

Rebuilding slowed throughout Gulf region

Most aspects of recovery in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast seems to be losing momentum, a development that could meet with tragic consequences. Besides political discord and a lack of funding for preservation, here are more reasons:

New Orleans: Levees People and businesses scattered around the country can't commit to rebuilding in New Orleans because Congress is still unwilling to underwrite a multibillion dollar levee upgrade that would resist a Category Five storm. Large-scale private investment that would lure people back will probably not occur unless Congress writes the check. Nor will the levee investment make sense, it seems, if there is not a coordinated investment in reworking the entire lower Mississippi flood-control system. The levees will remain vulnerable if the river cannot flood lowlands and supply silt to rebuild fast-retreating coastal marshes and barrier beaches. The total price tag may hit $30 billion.

Gulf Coast: Flood resistance On the Gulf, repairs appear to be progressing more quickly, partly because the coast was not inundated as long as New Orleans. But an impasse to coastal rebuilding may arise as local governments resist provisional Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps that vastly expand the territory in which structures may have to be made flood-resistant. In some areas, the maps require that homes be raised above storm surge waves as high as 20 feet. Those requirements raise the cost of rebuilding, and the increased cost is usually not covered by insurance or disaster aid. However, complying with

FEMA requirements qualifies homeowners for federally underwritten flood insurance, which can be essential to secure a mortgage. Katrina's flood-insurance claims may reach $23 billion, perhaps triggering a congressional bailout of the flood-insurance fund.

Entire region: Housing FEMA's trailer program, to provide temporary housing in the region, has been slow to get under way, especially in New Orleans. With much of the city lacking basic utilities, FEMA has been unable to deliver trailers to peoples' properties because they need hookups. It has tended instead to create "FEMAvilles"—large encampments of trailers on open sites, often in remote locations, that the agency's contractors can more quickly supply with sewer, water, and electricity. Opposition has slowed the building of these enclaves because neighbors view them as instant slums, concentrating the unemployed and disconnecting people from schools, jobs, families, and social institutions. Meanwhile, FEMA's program of housing people in hotels while they relocate or rebuild was supposed to end November 30. After thousands failed to find temporary housing, the deadline was extended to December 15, and even January 7 for some. A federal judge told FEMA to continue the hotel program until at least February 7 for 42,000 more evacuee families. Almost 85,000 applications for aid were pending at press time.

The Enterprise Foundation, which devotes its efforts to affordable housing, says the federal government should commit $33 billion to fill the gap between total permanent housing losses (on the order of almost $87 billion) and the amount that insurance and other sources will pay out. Meanwhile, until now homeowner loans have been virtually nonexistent. James S. Russell, AIA

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Progress moves slowly at Ground Zero as political power struggle heats up

Work on Santiago Calatrava's transit station has just gotten under way, while the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, which oversees funding on the memorial and cultural buildings, on December 5 announced that it had issued a request for proposals for a memorial construction manager. The toxic Deutschebank Building to the south is slowly being dismantled to make way for park and office space. On November 29, Goldman Sachs broke ground on its Pei Cobb Freed Partners-designed headquarters, just northwest of Ground Zero, and on December 15, developer Larry Silverstein announced that Norman Foster would build the third office tower at Ground Zero, on the eastern edge of the site, at 200 Greenwich Street. Completion is scheduled for 2011. That same day, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) approved allocating $200 million in funding to the

The Port Authority's commercial space at Ground Zero would sit at the base of towers 1, 2, and 3.

This fall, progress on a few construction projects at Ground Zero continued to crawl, while the real action seemed to be in the offices of local politicians. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg appears to be getting ready for a fight with New York Governor George Pataki over the fate of proposed office space here. Meanwhile, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the property, continues to assert itself.

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But most dramatic is the developing struggle between Bloomberg and Pataki. During his first term, Bloomberg mostly deferred to Pataki regarding development at the World Trade Center site. He changed that stance in late October, just before his reelection, when he told the New York Daily News editorial board that he would prefer to see more residential development on the site. The site is now slated to include about 10 million square feet of office space. Bloomberg also told the board that the city would be better served by removal of Silverstein, who owns the right to build the Pataki-backed Freedom Tower. In mid-November, Bloomberg named six new members to the LMDC board of directors. Four of them are senior advisers to the mayor. Pataki subsequently appointed three of his backers to the board. The LMDC is a joint state/city corporation that oversees rebuilding in Lower Manhattan. Its board has 16 members, eight appointed by the mayor, and eight by the governor.

Pataki has since backed away from his long-held position that all of the space lost when the World Trade Center towers collapsed should be rebuilt, telling the Post, "I don't know that 10 million is the magic number. I'm not going to project where things might be with office space demand, in five, 10 years from now."

As the mayor and governor posi tioned themselves for a face-off, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PA) has been flexing its own muscles. In mid-November, the PA said it will reduce the size of the chiller plant it is constructing to service the site. This means that Silverstein will have to construct his own chillers to service the Freedom Tower and other office buildings at the site, increasing the cost for his project reportedly by as much as $100 million. A few days later, the PA released plans to develop up to 550,000 square feet of retail at the Trade Center along Church Street, at the bases of towers 2, 3, and 4, which have yet to be designed. The development would replace the World Trade Center's original retail mall, which, PA chairman Anthony Coscia pointed out in a statement, "was one of the most successful in the country." At the same time, the PA offered to assume control of construction of the World Trade Center Memorial, and to cover any cost overruns. The offer would streamline building on the complex PA-owned site. But some point out that the WTC Memorial Foundation's fund-raising efforts would be hurt if the public perceives that the memorial's costs could be absorbed by the PA. Others say it would be unwise for the foundation to give up control over the construction, even as cost estimates have gone as high as $800 million. S.L., with Charles Linn, FAIA

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