Special Hurricane Report

Despite obstacles, some Gulf residents have begun to rebuild

Many Katrina-evacuated homeowners who thought they'd lost everything are finding their homes are salvageable.

Last Thanksgiving, for example, volunteers from New Orleans-based Preservation Resource Center (PRC) cleaned out a badly damaged 1884 shotgun house in the Holy Cross neighborhood of New Orleans. The removals revealed streaked orange and blue board-and-batten walls and sturdy wood floors, which had come out unscathed. The work was sponsored by the PRC and supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, to show that some of the city's oldest houses are rehabilitation candidates. According to PRC spokeswoman Sue Sperry, the organization, with paid and volunteer labor, should be able to get 82-year-old Mildred Bennett back into her home for $40,000. Progress now only awaits the restoration of electricity and reliable supplies of water to the neighborhood.

For the many homes that have not suffered significant structural damage, a cottage industry of contractors and volunteers has grown around "gutting out" houses: ripping out water-soaked linoleum, carpet, floors, and cabinets; tearing down Sheetrock; and often throwing out doors and windows to dry out moldy studs. These houses are ready for rebuilding, but homeowners often must battle with insurers about wind damage (generally covered) versus flood damage (either not covered or only partly covered). Others have to fight "red tagging," which denotes that damage is greater than 50 percent, and means they cannot rebuild except above FEMA-mapped flood levels. Those maps are expected by March.

Another cottage industry has built up around getting damage estimates reduced to below the 50 percent threshold. The red-tagging, says PRC's Sperry, was often cursory, done in drive-by visual

Mildred Bennett's shotgun home in the Holy Cross neighborhood of New Orleans was badly damaged inside, but it is still salvageable.

inspections by nonprofessionals— barbers, mailmen—pressed into service when few professionals were in town. PRC, in fact, has resurveyed houses in historic districts, which cover most of the city. A bulging wall or a tree through a roof was often enough to get a house red-tagged, she says. But such damage is often repaired for less than apparently intact homes that had actually been flooded. "Only a structural engineer and an architect can assess some of these problems," she says.

For many homeowners, insurance isn't enough. Only volunteer labor can bridge the cost gap. Sheri-Lea Bloodworth, through architect-run aid group Architecture for Humanity, helps coordinate 30-some volunteer groups out of a church in Biloxi, Mississippi. Teams head out daily to help residents clean, gut, and treat their homes for mold (often using a mixture of trisodium phosphate and household bleach applied with garden sprayers). Plumbers and electricians, usually paid, follow on, and then volunteers return to redo finishes. Labor, volunteer and otherwise, remains scarce, although those willing to sleep in tents or drive long distances to help are earning undying gratitude. James S. Russell

Hurricane recovery briefing

AIA members lobby for Katrina rebuilding plan

The several hundred architects attending the AIA Grassroots Leadership and Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., in February took their plans for Katrina rebuilding directly to Congress. AIA chapter leaders visited the offices of U.S. senators and representatives, urging them to support H.R. 4100, also known as the Baker Bill, proposed by Louisiana Congressman Richard Baker (R-LA). The bill would establish a private corporation to oversee development in areas of Louisiana devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The Louisiana Recovery Corporation would, among other things, purchase large swaths of land for planned development, instead of allowing scattered, unplanned development. Among several other pleas to congress, the group lobbied in support of its new sustainable design initiative [RECORD NEWS, February 2006, page 33], which calls for reducing building's fossil fuel consumption by 50 percent in the next five years, and pushed for access to small business health insurance plans for AIA members. Sam Lubell

Mississippi school design institute From February 12 to 14, the American Architectural Foundation (AAF) hosted the Mississippi Regional School Institute in Biloxi, Mississippi, part of its Great Schools By Design initiative to improve educational architecture. Discussions took place among 20 of the 22 superintendents from the region and architects and design experts from around the country. Topics included new school locations, construction funding, schools as community centers, community participation in rebuilding, and managing new students. The group says it will hold a spring meeting to examine particular case studies from the area, possibly in places like Pass Christian, Long Beach, and Moss Point. S.L.

Libeskind working in the Gulf

Shortly after developing buildings for a Atawatuna, a town in posttsunami Sri Lanka, architect Daniel

Libeskind is now working on a community center in Gulfport, Mississippi, which was all but destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The project, being developed pro bono for the Boys and Girls Club, is being funded by Rockworks, a charity made up largely of music stars.

The 30,000-square-foot center, in the Forest Heights section of Gulfport, will house after-school programs, summer programs, and financial-planning programs for those left jobless after the storm. The design details will be unveiled in the next month or so, says Nina Libeskind, the architect's wife and business manager. She says the firm is now considering further projects in the Gulf area, but has not made any decisions yet. S.L.

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