Saturday, January 07, 2006

Katrina: Four months later

The Rude Pundit took a trip to NOLA this week. His pics and stories are insightful and sad.

Little has changed in the Lower Ninth Ward; 6000 people are still missing.

Bodies, as detailed in the NY Times, were still being discovered by family members as late as Christmas week. Because, you know, it's hard work to screw-up even worse with the recovery and reconstruction -- but the Bush administration and NOLA officials refuse to stop trying.

Speaking of screwing-up, there's ongoing, furious debate over plans for reconstruction. Ninth Ward citizens stood down a bulldozer recently, refusing to lose what's left of their homes to overzealous developers. Lest it seem like a sentimental, illogical act, click to the article linked at the underlined text:

"But after he spoke, Chief Deputy City Attorney Evelyn Pugh reminded the council that city law allows structures deemed in imminent danger of collapse to be torn down without consent, or even notification, of the owner. A Nagin spokeswoman later also said the city does not need an owner's permission to demolish some homes.

After Meffert announced the planned demolitions in late December, The Times-Picayune requested copies of the lists of all buildings marked with red tags and all those slated for immediate razing.

But no list was released until Thursday, when the city gave the newspaper the addresses of 1,957 properties in what officials called the Red Danger List. Officials said the group was essentially a winnowed-down version of the initial 2,500 endangered properties Meffert cited earlier."

Shady, to say the least. Housing demolition isn't undertaken overnight. Our first home was a house slated for the wrecking ball, and we bought it literally the day before tear-down.

It sat for three years before that time, empty - unless one counts vandals, druggies and squirrels nesting in the second floor. Would've sat longer, had it not been in a nicer urban area with very concerned, and vocal, neighbors.

Speed and efficiency are not the buzzwords of wrecking crews; the Times-Picayune and homeowners' skepticism is warranted.

Understandably, there's equal trepidation over a proposed government payout plan for NOLA homeowners; it includes repayment at 60 percent of home equity. The plan - lengthy and convoluted as most, perhaps more than most, fails to qualify a number of parameters -- most disturbing is the question of equity at what rate: current values, which are nil, pre-Katrina values, or market value after future development.

That matters tremendously.

After developers begin working, property values will skyrocket. If they can get their hands on the land at its current, depressed valuation, you'd better believe that's their goal. And call me cynical, but after following the Bush administration's M.O. when it comes to rewarding bid'ness at any and all expense to mere mortals, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that's likely the plan.

When money's involved, conscience always takes a backseat. Except when it gets completely run over.

So what can any concerned Americans, viewing this from afar, do to help? ACORN , a community action group working for low and moderate income individuals and families, has joined the fight. Visit their linked site and you can help, either through donation or volunteer work.

These people who have suffered so very much horror and indignity in 2005 don't deserve to lose still more this year. We may not be able to do much from here, but we can still do something.
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