[StBernard] Levees outline areas of recovery

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Wed Jun 20 22:53:50 EDT 2007

Levees outline areas of recovery
Study finds places coming back slowly Wednesday, June 20, 2007By David
Road Home applicants who lived within the supposed safety of the federal
levee system haven't returned to their homes in as many numbers as those who
lived in other hurricane-affected areas of Louisiana, according to an
analysis of Postal Service data by the Department of Housing and Urban

The chart, circulating on Capitol Hill and presented recently to Louisiana's
congressional delegation, says the average Road Home applicant living in a
levee-protected zone is finding more than half, 53 percent, of his
neighbor's houses vacant.

By contrast, the Housing and Urban Development review found the vacancy rate
is only 15 percent in other flooded areas, those with no levee protection.
And the chart says the average vacancy rate is just 4 percent in
hurricane-affected areas that didn't flood.

"People who lived outside levee areas seemed to have the means to rebuild,"
said HUD spokeswoman D.J. Nordquist. "They're back at home and their lives
have continued."

That isn't generally true inside the levee protection systems of Orleans,
Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes, nor in areas of Plaquemines Parish close
to the Mississippi River.

The study comes to no clear conclusion about the reasons behind the trend,
Nordquist said. It doesn't appear to have anything to do with the relative
flow of Road Home grants in different geographical areas.

Road Home data compiled weekly by the program's lead contractor, ICF
International, shows the money is flowing to different parishes and zip
codes with about the same frequency as residents are applying for the
grants. The parishes with the most applicants -- Orleans, Jefferson and St.
Bernard -- also have received the most grant checks.

But Walter Leger, head of the Louisiana Recovery Authority's housing
committee, said the reason should be obvious to anyone -- like him -- who
lost their home in a levee-protected zone: The floodwaters remained for
weeks behind the levees, while floodwaters quickly receded elsewhere.
Meanwhile, New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish residents were not allowed
quickly enough to return and mitigate damages, allowing mold to grow and
exacerbating the problems.

The study "bears out what we know in this area," said the former Arabi
resident whose home was inundated with 14 feet of water. "When the water
came in, it stayed. The same levees that were supposed to protect us acted
as a wall to keep it in. . . . Anybody familiar with what went on in
people's homes would understand that."

HUD based its analysis on the Postal Service's records of active mail
addresses. Beth Butler, chief Louisiana organizer of the low-income housing
advocacy group ACORN, said she wouldn't trust the Postal Service's data
because its mail delivery remains limited. But HUD said whether the mail is
delivered on time has no bearing on the data, which simply show which homes
have active mail addresses.

Nordquist said a HUD analyst stumbled on the clear distinction between
vacancy rates in levee-protected areas versus non-levee-protected areas
while checking to see if there was a correlation between the size of a Road
Home grant and the vacancy rate in a given area. They found no clear
connection, she said.

. . . . . . .

David Hammer can be reached at dhammer at timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3322.

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