But almost 18 months after storms destroyed more than 250,000 homes, Habitat for Humanity says it has built just 10 houses for poor hurricane victims here, 36 in New Orleans, and a total of 416 along the entire coast, from Alabama to Texas. More are under construction, for a total of 702.
That slower pace reflects, in part, the more complex houses that Habitat builds in the United States, as well as the mind-numbing issues ”” involving insurance costs and government regulations ”” that seem to have bogged down efforts to rebuild after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
But Habitat International is starting to face criticism that its procedures are slow, rigid and perhaps unsuited to helping disaster victims, however rewarding its efforts are for its volunteers. The organization is working through its independent local affiliates, which function like franchises and which have tended to build a dozen houses a year each.
I am not surprised that the house building process has been slow. Having lived on the Gulf coast for eighteen years I am fully aware how government priorities change after a hurricane redesigns the neighborhood and the insurance companies update their risk profile. The first casualty is always the flood plain map. This directly affects where new homes can be built and who can get insurance.
Last year I helped build the walls for a Katrina house on the mall in Washington, DC. While I was there I asked some of the simple questions that bog down all Habitat building projects.
- Do you have the land and is it out of the revised flood plain?
- Can you get insurance?
- How are you qualifying the families?
- Does this house plan meet the family needs?
The people I talked to acknowledged that these problems and others were going to take some time to solve. The governments and insurance companies have to force the home building onto higher, safer ground. The new house locations are probably far away from work and relatives. This makes transportation a big problem. Since Habitat is building just a few house designs, it is likely that there are a number of families who need bigger houses or houses for special needs. The Habitat folks were hopeful that these problems would diminish over time. They felt that they were getting a lot of cooperation from local businesses and governments but I am sure they hoped to have a lot more houses completed by now.