La. Gov. Says Wait for FEMA Standards is Delaying Recovery

January 27, 2006

The wait for federal standards for home building is hampering Louisiana’s hurricane reconstruction efforts, according to Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is developing a new set of recommended standards for rebuilding in hurricane- and flood-prone areas. The guidelines will probably suggest that damaged homes be rebuilt at higher elevations and with further protections against flooding.

The ability of homeowners to keep or afford insurance may be linked to compliance, which also could drive up rebuilding costs. But the first new preliminary set of standards won’t be out until March or April in New Orleans and several other areas, with the final guidelines not expected until August, Blanco’s administration says.

The wait is stymieing people who want to rebuild in accord with the new standards so they can be eligible for assistance and get insurance, Blanco said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“It’s holding up a lot. People are afraid to do the wrong thing, to put money into a home that may or may not be insurable in the long run, and this is causing a tremendous amount of paralysis,” Blanco said.

Further, Donald Powell, President Bush’s chief federal hurricane recovery adviser, has told Blanco the Bush administration would not support a home buyout bill that many in Louisiana see as crucial to post-hurricane rebuilding, the governor said. She worries that could hurt the bill’s chances of passage in Congress.

The bill, sponsored by Louisiana Rep. Richard Baker, a Republican, would create a federal corporation that would borrow money to buy tracts of hurricane-damaged homes, repair them and resell them. Homeowners and lenders would get mortgage relief.

Baker confirmed the bill doesn’t have White House support. Blanco, however, said Powell also suggested the Bush administration wouldn’t actively fight it.

“They didn’t want to set a new precedent, a new kind of program, is my understanding,” Blanco said.

Agencies in Louisiana were crafting housing assistance plans that would tie into the bill, so its failure would have a ripple effect.

Blanco estimated that 800,000 to 900,000 of the 1.3 million people who evacuated before Hurricane Katrina have returned to their home parishes.

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