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Gulf Coast Watch

Mississippi Sun Herald, Aug. 2, 2007 -- In response to complaints from hurricane victims of toxic formaldehyde levels in FEMA-supplied trailers, the disaster relief agency will temporarily suspend the deployment and sale of travel trailers.

The announcement came less than two weeks after Congress reprimanded FEMA for an attempt by its lawyers to avoid responsibility by discouraging an investigation after the discovery of high formaldehyde levels in trailers. FEMA has said it will work with health and environmental experts, such as CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency, to "identify an acceptable air quality level of formaldehyde."

No deadline has been set for lifting the suspension on deploying travel trailers; FEMA has said it may continue to install mobile homes that, unlike the smaller RV trailers, must meet federal safety standards and are regulated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.


Lily Valley, a "new American village" that will occupy some 67 acres on the north edge of Hattiesburg, Miss., held its "ground-embracing" (as opposed to groundbreaking) ceremony on Aug. 25, 2007.

The community aims to combine a mix of residential, commercial and cultural elements and amenities to achieve "harmony" among the residents, culture, the climate and other natural elements while creating a sustainable and walkable community that allows residents to walk to necessities such as grocery stores, medical care and recreational facilities. Eventually it will be home to 1,500 people. Homes will range from 600 to 2,200 square feet, with energy-saving features, such as solar panels and passive environmental controls standard in each home, and will be elevated to encourage air circulation for natural cooling and natural storm water management. Prices are expected to range between $66,000 for studio lofts to $250,000 for a high-end four-bedroom design plan.

All the buildings are designed with nature and the environment in mind with "green" roofs on large buildings. Houses are designed with solar panels as an alternate source of power and to ventilate themselves, allowing residents to stay comfortable without using air conditioning or fans. They will be built using plastic foam forms filled with concrete, called Insulated Concrete Forms. The exteriors will be covered with stucco and the interiors with plaster. The tower dominating the development's model home will serve as a cellular repeater tower and house generators to light the community's common grounds. Lily Valley will feature residential blocks where four-bedroom homes may be neighbored by 528-square-foot studio lofts called "Lily Pads."

Mississippi Sun Herald, Aug. 29, 2007 -- The City Council reviewed a set of innovative building standards this week for reinventing two sections of town. Lively retail shops, down-home eateries, cozy Southern cottages and safe streets are part of the vision for downtown and Mississippi City, two of the oldest areas in Gulfport.

The Council is considering SmartCode maps for each and enacting new zoning regulations designed to promote that vision. The code stipulates unique requirements and offers incentives to spur the correction of old problems caused by years of bad planning, according to SmartCode experts.

The downtown plan envisions high-density growth along the railroad between 25th and 30th avenues. The plan uses the service drive along U.S. 90 to create a boulevard, with trees on the median between the service drive and U.S. 90 shielding the wide sidewalks from highway traffic. The buffer creates an area for sidewalk retail, including outdoor cafes that will overlook a revitalized Jones Park.

The Mississippi City Community Plan creates a high-rise district at the end of Cowan Road, but protects the old cottage-lined streets and residential areas near the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center.

The maps will likely undergo some minor tweaking but the City Council could vote on them as early as next week. The maps and the legal text of the plans are posted at

Long Beach continues to wait to officially enter into contract with Ayres/Saint/Gross Planning and Architect Firm to complete the city's comprehensive master plan, new subdivision guidelines, address architectural guidelines and new zoning and ordinances. No timelines or start dates have been established yet.

The Planning Commission is working on a "hybrid" zone for the downtown area. This hybrid zone is intended to be a blend of traditional zoning and the SmartCode, with an emphasis on mixed-use buildings. Public hearings will be held, followed by the proposed new zoning going to the Board of Aldermen for final approval and implementation.

The city also is in the process of building a new police station; a second KaBoom playground is coming in October. Long Beach also has been approved through the second round of the Community Block Grant Funds to rebuild its City Hall.

The second Katrina Cottage in Pass Christian has been completed, and the proud owners have been presented with the keys. The cottage, designed by Marianne Cusato Cottages, was presented to a local family in an official ceremony on Aug. 29, 2007. An unofficial dedication was aired on "Good Morning America" the previous day.

Sponsored by Cottage Living magazine and Mercy Housing & Human Development, with material donations by Lowe's, the home was donated to Chris and Tina Swanier and their three children after weeks of sweat equity from numerous volunteers, including the new owners.

"It's a very sweet cottage created through a huge community effort for a hard-working family," says Laura Hall of Hall Alminana Inc., who has remained involved in the community since the Mississippi Renewal Forum in Oct. 2005. "I met them a few weeks ago and they couldn't be more grateful."


On July 30, 2007, the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) Board of Directors approved plans to reallocate $627 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to the Road Home program. Under this proposal, the funds will be used to provide homeowner assistance grants to help resolve the projected shortfall in the program budget. In recent months, as the rate of closings increased, it became clear that the $7.5 billion originally allocated by the federal government for the program was insufficient.

This resolution details plans to reallocate funds for rebuilding projects, including $300 million of construction costs for the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans, and $187 million for the costs of repairs to state buildings.

The action plan amendment also proposes reducing a number of CDBG programs' uncommitted funds to reallocate an additional $50 million to the Road Home program.

The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 9, 2007 -- Nearly two years after Katrina, city officials are toughening enforcement of an ordinance giving them the power to bulldoze homes and businesses that remain smashed, moldy or abandoned. Last month, the city published more than 1,700 notices filling 25 newspaper pages in the Times-Picayune. The tiny print announced that the properties had been classified as a "serious, imminent and continuing threat to the public health, safety and welfare" and would be demolished after 30 business days.

City officials, trying to step up the struggling city's comeback, have said they plan to flatten 10,000 hurricane-ravaged properties this year. But the bulging list of doomed buildings includes some that weren't damaged much by Katrina or that have already been significantly repaired -- with building permits to prove it. Often these property owners don't even know they're on the demolition list, because warning letters that are supposed to be mailed to them never arrive. City officials also are required to post a sign at every property on the list, but some owners say that hasn't happened.

The result is a bewildered scramble to save historic narrow shotgun houses, Creole cottages and a hodgepodge of other buildings officially deemed unsalvageable. Owners race to City Hall, send pleas to preservationists and erect "DO NOT DEMOLISH!" signs that they hope will look convincing to bulldozer crews. For many, the effort comes on top of months spent wrestling with soaring insurance costs, searching for a building contractor and the frustrating slog of post-Katrina life in the still-devastated city.

It isn't unusual for cities to knock down neglected properties as a last resort, and New Orleans has long gone after some of its most dilapidated housing. But the current get-tough approach, enacted by the City Council in February, has streamlined the process.

Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 19, 2007 -- Time is not healing all wounds in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. On the contrary, time has been a salt in the psychological wounds of hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents. Even two years after the storm, mental health problems in the region are growing among the nearly 70,000 families still living in temporary housing provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The slow recovery, researchers and clinicians are finding, has bred levels of mental distress unseen in the aftermath of other disasters.

"Most of the time, distress emerges early and dissipates over the first year post-disaster," says psychologist Fran Norris of the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at Dartmouth Medical School. Not so with Hurricane Katrina. One year after the storm a Harvard Medical School committee funded by the National Institute of Mental Health reported doubled rates of depression and anxiety in the region.

A team led by David Abramson of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) at Columbia University, in collaboration with the Children's Health Fund, surveyed residents of FEMA-provided trailers and hotels in Louisiana and reported widespread clinically diagnosed psychiatric problems. Clinical care providers corroborate the studies' findings.

Katrina was particularly cruel in that it hit people with very few resources very hard. For many it took away not only their home and friends but also their social identity, job and any sense of self-sufficiency. Abramson and NCDP director Irwin Redlener note that of those they surveyed who had annual salaries of $10,000 or less before the storm, 53 percent were still out of work a year after it. Rents have doubled, though, and the FEMA trailer parks where many now indefinitely reside have proved to be pressure cookers for despair.

The Times-Picayune, Aug. 22, 2007 -- Eight months after FEMA announced plans to distribute $388 million for alternative housing along the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast, Louisiana's $74.5 million share stands untapped because of bureaucratic haggling and, more recently, a dispute between the state housing board and a group of private contractors slated to build the structures.

Those circumstances leave the state several months away from handing any storm victims the keys to their Katrina Cottages. The latest rub, said an organizer of the private consortium, is what cut the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency will take as the state's coordinating entity for the program.

Ben Dupuy, a partner in the Cypress Group, the lead of four firms in Cypress Cottage Partners, has said that housing agency executives have proposed an administrative fee of as much as 10 percent, an amount that would come in addition to whatever management fee the private partnership collects as part of its contract.

Louisiana officials are aiming to build 450 to 600 structures that are designed to withstand hurricane-force winds but not necessarily serve as permanent housing. The higher the housing agency's cut, Dupuy said, the fewer units available to the thousands of Louisiana residents still living in trailers or out of state, waiting for an option to return.

Dupuy says he wants a $66 million construction budget, which he said would include a program management fee of about 7.5 percent, though he said that is not necessarily all profit. That amount assumes that the remainder of the state's $74.5-million grant would be divided this way: $3 million to LHFA; $2 million for the Louisiana Family Recovery Corps, for its role in helping identify potential recipients; and $3.5 million for research, development, environmental fees and reimbursement costs to Cypress for what the partners have already put into the program.

Brief updates on Mississippi Gulf Coast communities' progress toward renewal can be e-mailed to Jason Miller at


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

Center for Planning Excellence (La.)

The Clarion-Ledger (Miss.)

Congress for the New Urbanism

Governor’s Office of Recovery and Renewal (Miss.)

Katrina Cottage Housing

Learning Cottages

Louisiana Speaks

Mississippi Governors Commission

Mississippi Renewal Forum

New Towns

New Urban Guild

New Urban News (“Everything New Orleans”)

South Mississippi Sun Herald

Times Picayune (New Orleans)

Unified New Orleans Plan

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