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Isaac Threatens as Mississippi Gulf Coast is Still Rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina

By Rhonda Miller | Published 26 Aug 2012 12:45pm | comments
Carolyn Whitehead's home is being rebuilt by International Relief and Development Gulf Coast. She's lived on the same Gulfport street for 33 years. Whitehead is still paying the mortgage on her old home that was ruined in Katrina and demolished.

As Tropical Storm Isaac threatens the Mississippi Gulf Coast, many residents are still trying to recover from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina seven years ago this week. Katrina wiped out 65,000 homes on the Mississippi coast.  Many beautiful new houses are rising as a testament to building back stronger and better. But as MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports, some families are still waiting for a place to call home.

On this Gulfport street where she’s lived for 33 years, Carolyn Whitehead watches her new home rising,

"I’m really excited, and God, I can’t wait. Seeing, you know, that I am going to be living in a new house from where Katrina has left me."

Katrina slammed trees onto her old house. That left a leaky roof and mold.

"It was kind of bad. It was bad. But we cleaned it out and tried to make a little repairs to stay." “So you moved back in?” “We moved back in. We had no other choice.”

Whitehead, her daughter and her grandchildren are living in a tiny house across the street while the new one is being built by International Relief and Development Gulf Coast. It’s funded by a federal and state grant program called Coming Home Collaborative.

Thousands of other home repair projects are still lined up in South Mississippi seven years after Katrina did her damage.

Attorney Reilly Morse of the Mississippi Center for Justice in Biloxi is working with another project called the Neighborhood Home Program. It covers nine counties and goes as far north as Hattiesburg and Laurel.

"This program intended to reach a collection of people who had fallen through the cracks from the previous programs. And I think the state was surprised by how many people had fallen through the cracks. So when the program was announced about 17,000 people applied and they had to spend a lot of time sorting through to see how many of them actually had demonstrable Katrina-related damage."

Thirty-seven hundred people qualified to have repairs done through the Mississippi Development Authority.  About 600 of those repairs are finished.

Morse gives the state credit for doing a pretty good job of getting relief quickly to insured homeowners.

"But overall. the priorities of the state’s programs tended to spend less, later and more slowly on lower income communities than on wealthier counterparts. So how I feel about it is, I’m frustrated that it is seven years and we’re still talking about these housing repair programs being underway. I think everybody, including the state, wishes we could accelerate this process."

Slabs and vacant lots continue to haunt many neighborhoods of all economic levels on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. David Nichols is director of economic and urban development for the city of Gulfport.

"Beachfront is still struggling, residential especially.  A lot of people have moved on, moved away."

Nichols says many homeowners along the coast who rebuilt had flood insurance, but many who didn’t are stuck.

"There’s an awful lot of folks out there with mortgages and they would love to unload their beachfront property.  Matter of fact, we have recently heard of, lack of a better word, some real fire sales on some beachfront properties. Hopefully, if they price of the lot down low enough, they’ll be able to afford to put a structure on it."

Even when homeowners rebuild, Mercy Housing and Human Development Executive Director Sarah Landry says sometimes they end up leaving anyway, because the neighborhood is half-empty.  

"Probably, arguably, every single community from state border to state border has been changed in some significant way in the housing situation that won’t ever go back to where it was."

In North Gulfport, Sylvia Allen is determined to go back to the family house her grandmother lived in since 1953. Allen is another Gulf Coast resident having her home rebuilt by International Relief and Development.  Katrina left her grandmother’s house with a hole in the roof and filled with mold. So Allen and her mother are in an apartment nearby.

"No, I don’t have an alternative. I gotta keep on because I’m that close to getting to the end of that tunnel. I’m never gonna give up. I’m gonna get this house. I'm definitiely gonna get this house." "And then you’re mother’s going to be here?" " Yeah, me and my mother."

Seven years after Katrina, after mountains of paperwork and patience, Allen’s new home is expected to ready by the end of year.  

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Carolyn Whitehead's home is being rebuilt by International Relief and Development Gulf Coast. She's lived on the same Gulfport street for 33 years. Whitehead is still paying the mortgage on her old home that was ruined in Katrina and demolished.


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