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  NEW TOWNS
AUGUST 2007
 

Gulf Coast Watch



Tallahassee resident Bud Chiles and business partner Tony Attalla broke ground on a new green home manufacturing facility in Carrabelle, Fla., June 21. Chiles and Attalla believe they have a product to help mitigate Florida’s affordable housing crisis: an eco-friendly, proprietary steel-framed, factory-built home that is fire, mold, mildew and termite resistant and is designed to withstand hurricane and tornado force winds.

The homes, nicknamed GreenSteel, feature “Katrina cottage” floor plans and designs created by Tolar Denmark Architects of Ocean Springs, Miss. Chiles and Attala are marketing the homes to municipalities, developers and individuals, who will assemble parcels, pour slabs and run utilities to the home sites. The homes will be constructed, including wiring and plumbing, at a new manufacturing plant in Carrabelle, trucked to home sites in two pieces, assembled in about a day, then connected to water, sewer and electrical lines.

Carrabelle is investing local funds, has applied for and received a Community Development Block Grant to help construct the new $6 million factory, and is providing a 99-year lease on the 21-acre site for $10 a year. Following the groundbreaking, the plant was on track to open in September and is expected to bring many job opportunities to the area, as well as create affordable, hurricane durable and green homes. For more information, go to www.greensteelhomes.com.



The Washington Post, July 20, 2007 -- Since early 2006, FEMA has suppressed warnings from its own field workers about health problems experienced by hurricane victims living in government-provided trailers with levels of a toxic chemical 75 times the recommended maximum for U.S. workers, congressional lawmakers have claimed.

A trail of e-mails obtained by investigators shows that the agency’s lawyers rejected a proposal for systematic testing of the levels of potentially cancer-causing formaldehyde gas in the trailers, out of concern that the agency would be legally liable for any hazards or health problems. As many as 120,000 families displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita lived in the suspect trailers, and hundreds have complained of ill effects.

About 66,000 households affected by Katrina remain in the trailers at issue. FEMA has replaced 58 trailers and moved five families into rental units

MISSISSIPPI



WLOX.com, June 11, 2007 -- June 19 was an important date for people hoping to get out of FEMA trailers. That’s when leaders in Pass Christian, Long Beach and Ocean Springs considered how the state’s Alternative Housing Program would fit into their cities. A few weeks later, almost 5,000 cottages began to replace FEMA trailers around South Mississippi. Waveland has already signed off to take part in the program with some restrictions.

Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo sees the Mississippi Alternative Housing Program as a way to get more families living in trailers into more sturdy homes, but with stipulations. “The camp models, the smaller version, will not be allowed to be permanent after the 18 months. But, you know, we have so many people that are still in FEMA trailers, we are anxious to get people into something that’s more stable, especially with hurricane season being here. These Mississippi cottages are certainly more aesthetically pleasing to the community than the FEMA trailers are,” he said.

Mayor Longo says there will be restrictions on where the cottages can go. “We’re not creating any Mississippi cottage parks or doing one for one in the FEMA trailer parks. That can’t happen. They have to go onto people’s property, existing property.” Since the cottages are given out by lottery, Mayor Longo doesn’t know how many residents of Waveland’s 600 FEMA trailers will get one, but he says a cottage definitely is a step up.

Pass Christian, Gulfport, Waveland, Ocean Springs, Harrison County, Jackson County, Gautier, D’Iberville had not yet approved the Alternative Housing Program as of this article. Biloxi, Moss Point, Pascagoula, Waveland, and Hancock County had given approval. WLOX was unable to get information from Bay St. Louis. For more information on the Mississippi Alternative Housing Program, call 866.726.6247 or go to www.mscottage.org.



Mississippi Sun Herald, June 30, 2007 -- The state and federal governments are buying land along the Mississippi Gulf Coast to prevent future development and create a buffer zone against storms. The three-phase plan, first started in Jackson County, is to convert formerly or currently developed private land into state-held beaches, wetlands and parks.

“It will be attractive and it’s also a form of remediation to protect areas from future storms,” said Bill Walker, the director of Mississippi’s Department of Marine Resources. “They can voluntarily take the buyout and go live somewhere away from the damage of those future storms.”

Walker said the plan is to spread westward along the coast. He said the property will be cleaned of slabs and restored or converted to public use. The land will become part of the DMR’s Coastal Preserves Program, which presently has title to around 30,000 acres designated as crucial coastal wetland habitat.





WLBT.com, June 21, 2007 -- Katherine St. Amant, 59, has become the first hurricane victim to receive a new “Katrina Cottage.” Governor Haley Barbour has given her the keys to the one-bedroom home in Biloxi. St. Amant was chosen from a random selection of people living in FEMA-provided disaster housing. The second cottage will be installed just yards away from the first. Governor Barbour said they hope to have 4,000 installed by the end of the summer. The Mississippi Alternative Housing Program is a two-year pilot program funded through a $280 million federal grant and administered by FEMA.




Mississippi Sun Herald, July 18, 2007 -- The City Council agreed on July 17 to negotiate deals with three development heavyweights on steering the vast reconstruction of Gulfport. The council voted unanimously to accept a recommendation from a special selection committee on the city’s development future.

The confirmation vote means the council can now begin talks with New Orleans developer Pres Kabacoff, known for converting old warehouses and factories into dapper communities, on a contract to overhaul the 92-acre Veterans Affairs property on U.S. 90.

Negotiations also will begin with Kentucky-based Corporex, which has completed dozens of Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton hotels, on a major development downtown.

And the council will start working a deal with Memphis New Urbanism mogul Henry Turley on becoming the city’s design consultant to guide citywide rebuilding in an effort to revitalize neighborhoods and develop walkable communities.

The council’s vote was met with applause from locals who gathered at City Hall on what Mayor Brent Warr called “a historic day for Gulfport.”


The city has signed a contract to hire Baltimore-based Ayers/Saint/Gross to create a comprehensive city plan, architectural guidelines, new zoning and ordinances, and subdivision guidelines. They should be on the ground initiating their work in the near future.

A work group has been established with the Long Beach University of Southern Mississippi (USM) campus and downtown Long Beach. The hope is to develop a pedestrian and bike corridor between the USM campus and downtown Long Beach. This would serve to enhance the economic success of downtown Long Beach, provide wanted and needed services to students and faculty of Long Beach’s USM campus, and beautify the designated residential areas. Funding for the creation of walkways, lighting and landscaping is currently the biggest stumbling block, but many grant opportunities are being investigated.

Businesses such as Waffle House are slowly returning to Long Beach. The city awaits the anticipated returns of others, such as McDonald’s and Burger King. The city is collaborating with company representatives to investigate how the new restaurant buildings can be constructed, landscaped and oriented in such a way that they will beautify the area and add to the small town charm of Long Beach, as well as provide a much wanted and needed service to the community.

Long Beach remains hopeful; however, declining property tax revenues and insurance difficulties endured by both current and potential residential and business property owners remain significant barriers to the financial viability and rebirth of the community. City leaders and residents continue to work hard and make a positive impact where and when possible.




The Mississippi Press , June 12, 2007 -- The Jackson County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Monday to approve the county’s participation in the Mississippi Alternative Housing Pilot Program. The program will provide Katrina Cottages to people living in temporary housing provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The small, modular cottages meet all building and electrical codes and, with a designed lifespan of 15 to 30 years, they also are more durable than the travel trailers issued by FEMA.

In the process of approving the program, supervisors suggested the county needs to look at minimum square footage for houses built either in the county or within certain zoned areas of the county. Currently, the county does not have minimum requirements for housing. County Planning Director Michele Coats said the only requirements for a residence is that it have a kitchen and bathroom.

“We can’t get people to move out of trailers,” said Supervisor Frank Leach, who said the state and county will be hard pressed in March 2009 to end the MEMA program. “The majority of people in those structures just don’t have it to rebuild.”

The program is designed to see if small, modular houses can be made available in a similar time frame and cost to travel trailers. The program, which is run by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, is a pilot program for the nation.

The cottages come in three sizes. The park model, which is the smallest model, has 350 square feet. A two-bedroom cottage is 728 square feet and a three-bedroom cottage is 784 square feet. All three versions are designed to withstand winds up to 150 mph.

Not every resident remaining in a FEMA trailer will receive an opportunity to accept a cottage, MEMA program officials said. Residents will be chosen randomly to participate in the program.


In March 2007, Harrison County adopted the Community Plans for the communities of Saucier, Pineville and Henderson Point. The County also adopted the Town Center Plan for Saucier. The Community Plan for Pineville won an award from the Small Town and Rural Planning Division of the American Planning Association. The Town Center Plan for Saucier won a CNU Charter Award. Harrison County continues its partnership with Ohio State University and over the summer is beginning the process of planning for the communities north of Interstate 10. The County is currently working on revising their zoning ordinance and preparing the SmartCode for adoption.

LOUISIANA


InsuranceJournal.com, July 17, 2007 -- Nearly 18,000 occupants of FEMA travel trailers and mobile homes in Louisiana have shown interest in purchasing their units, the agency has reported.

In an effort to help displaced residents of hurricanes Katrina and Rita with their continued housing needs, FEMA began offering the units for sale to occupants in April 2007. Since then, FEMA mailed out more than 50,000 letters to temporary housing occupants announcing the program.

FEMA caseworkers are now in the process of contacting interested applicants on a case-by-case basis, explaining the eligibility requirements and the steps applicants must take in order to purchase their unit.



The New York Times, July 12, 2007 -- For thousands of evacuees, going home to New Orleans has become a vague and receding dream. Living in bleak circumstances, they cannot afford to go back, or have nothing to go back to. Over the two years since Hurricane Katrina hit, the shock of evacuation has hardened into the grim limbo of exile.

As of late May, there were still more than 30,000 families displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita spread across the country in apartments paid for by FEMA, and another 13,000 families, down from a peak of nearly 18,000, marooned in trailer or mobile home parks, where hunger is so prevalent that lines form when the truck from the food bank appears.

Thousands of families have moved off disaster aid. It is not clear how many evacuees have permanently settled into their new communities, but postal delivery data suggest that more than 56,000 people have returned to New Orleans in the last year.

Those still in trailers and FEMA apartments are the least equipped to start over. In Houston, according to a city-sponsored survey in February, a third of the people in those apartments were elderly or disabled, a third were employed in mostly low-wage jobs, and a third were still looking for work.

Hardly any of the 77,000 rental units destroyed in New Orleans have been rebuilt, in fact, and the local and federal governments have done almost nothing to make it possible for low-income renters to return. With rents double or triple what they were before the storm, most former renters could barely afford a studio apartment if they did return.

Despite their longing, some evacuees are afraid to return; they must choose between formaldehyde-laced trailers and a city they view as contaminated, poorly protected from floods and more violent than ever before.

For those who do not plan to go back, or just want to sustain themselves until they can, government solutions like the trailer parks have turned out to be obstacles, especially for many evacuees who have no car and have lost their jobs because they cannot get a ride to work.



The New York Times, July 16, 2007 -- Biloxi, the Mississippi seaside gambling resort, has 40 percent fewer hotel rooms and only two-thirds as many slot machines as it did before Hurricane Katrina. A major bridge that connects the casinos to Alabama, the Florida Panhandle and other points east remains closed, and Mayor A. J. Holloway estimates that as many as 15 percent of the city’s pre-Katrina residents still have not returned.

Yet business in the gambling halls of Biloxi has reached all-time highs in recent months, so much so that Larry Gregory, the executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, has half-jokingly barred his staff from uttering the phrase “record-setting” because “it was becoming too redundant.”

A similar story has been unfolding in New Orleans, where tourism is still in the doldrums and only 60 percent of the pre-Katrina population has returned nearly two years after the hurricane and flooding devastated the area.

Indeed, the casinos there seem to be faring even better than their Gulf Coast cousins.

Harrah’s New Orleans, the largest casino in the city, is on pace for its best year ever: gambling revenue is up 13.6 percent through the first five months of 2007 compared with the same period in 2005, pre-Katrina.

The casinos in this region are generating more revenue -- from significantly fewer players -- in large part because of the extra money that many area residents have in their pockets and fewer alternatives on where to spend it, casino executives and others in the region say.



New York Times, June 21, 2007 -- After nearly two years of work, the Army Corps of Engineers revealed yesterday which New Orleans neighborhoods and blocks were the most vulnerable to flooding, and which were the best protected. The report shows that despite considerable improvement, large swaths of the city are still likely to be flooded in a major storm.

If a big hurricane were to hit today -- producing flooding with a 1-in-100 chance of occurring in any year -- parts of the Gentilly and Lakeview neighborhoods, in the northern half of the city, would probably still take on at least eight feet of water. Hundreds of flooded homes in those neighborhoods are being rebuilt by owners struggling to return.

But the report shows that the vulnerable areas within those neighborhoods are much smaller than they were before Hurricane Katrina -- considered a 1-in-400 storm -- thanks to the corps’ substantial improvements to the 350-mile levee system, the floodwalls, pumps and gates.

As part of the report, the corps established a Web site, http://nolarisk.usace.army.mil, that allows New Orleans residents to study the city on a block-by-block basis and learn what kind of damage they might expect with more than 150 kinds of storms. If it works as promised, the system will allow residents to determine the relative risk of living in the various neighborhoods of New Orleans -- and whether nearly two years and $7 billion have made them safer.



The Times-Picayune, July 17, 2007 -- Six weeks shy of Hurricane Katrina’s two-year anniversary, New Orleans was still waiting on hundreds of millions in anticipated rebuilding dollars and completion of a blueprint to spend that money, but recovery director Ed Blakely insisted that the city’s rebirth is “on target.”

As evidence of the city’s progress since the storm, he cited new sporting events that are coming to the city, canceled conventions that have rebooked, and new street lights and signs.

While Blakely said he is eager to get started on the 17 areas he has targeted for recovery, he said “there isn’t any frustration at this point” regarding the lack of cash because the city is not yet ready to disburse it. “We have to put the plans in place before we can spend the money,” he said.

Blakely said part of the necessary coordination involves forging agreements with residents in target zones regarding which projects should be launched first. Another round of neighborhood meetings will be scheduled soon, and he said he’s hopeful that money from a $117 million state appropriation and the first installment from a $260 million voter-approved bond issue will begin to flow by fall.


SIDEBAR



Bookmark these Web sites to stay on top of rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast.

Center for Planning Excellence (La.)
www.c-pex.org

The Clarion-Ledger (Miss.)
www.clarionledger.com

Congress for the New Urbanism
www.cnu.org

Governor’s Office of Recovery and Renewal (Miss.)
www.governorbarbour.com/Recovery/

gulflive.com
www.gulflive.com

Katrina Cottage Housing
www.katrinacottagehousing.org

Learning Cottages
www.learningcottages.com

LouisianaRebuilds.info
www.louisianarebuilds.info

Louisiana Speaks
www.louisianaspeaks.org

Mississippi Alternative Housing Program
www.mscottage.org

Mississippi Governors Commission
www.governorscommission.com

Mississippi Renewal Forum
www.mississippirenewal.com

New Towns
www.tndtownpaper.com

New Urban Guild
www.katrinacottages.com

New Urban News
www.newurbannews.com

NOLA.com (“Everything New Orleans”)
www.nola.com

South Mississippi Sun Herald
www.Sun Herald.com

Times Picayune (New Orleans)
www.timespicayune.com

Unified New Orleans Plan
www.unop.org

Editor’s note: Suggestions for additions to this list may be sent to Jason Miller, New Towns editor, at jason@tndtownpaper.com.