Miss. Coast Still in Recovery Eight Years After KatrinaBy Evelina Burnett | Published 29 Aug 2013 06:10am |
Today is the eighth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The monster storm caused $90 billion of damage throughout Mississippi. Some 52,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged on the Gulf Coast on that single day in 2005. Eight years later, signs of recovery in Mississippi are apparent from repaired and rebuilt schools to museums and homes.
Cheryl Wintzel describes some of the services offered to the homeless here at Back Bay Mission in Biloxi.
Wintzel and her fiancé are homeless now, living in their car and visit the mission four times a week for showers, food, and to look for work on the computers here. This wasn’t how she lived before Hurricane Katrina upended the economy on the Gulf Coast in August 2005. Unemployment leaped to 22 percent the month after the storm. It’s now about 8 percent, and Wintzel is still struggling to find steady work.
"It's just like I can't get a toe-hold, all that's kind of at a standstill, it's gone downhill financially and here I am," says Wintzel.
Jill Cartledge is a caseworker at Back Bay Mission. She says disruptions in jobs on top of unexpected rebuilding and moving costs after Katrina has led to a cycle of debt for many families on the Gulf Coast.
"Some of my families have just never gotten out from under since Katrina, and then there was the BP oil spill and many stuggled from that. So there have just be so many things that have happened to the people on the Gulf Coast, some are Gulf Coast only oriented and others are national like our economy," says Cartledge.
More than $2 billion dollars has been spent to restore and rebuild housing in Mississippi since Katrina. Most local community leaders agree there is now plenty of housing on the coast, with vacancy rates in the double-digits. But, they say, much of this housing isn’t affordable to the people who need it. Waiting lists for subsidized housing number in the thousands. But Cheryl Wintzel says it's still a tough situation.
"Unless you can get in Section 8, if you can get in Biloxi housing based on your income, whatever it is, if you have to go out and pay full price on rent or a house payment, if you don't have the money, the income coming in to pay it, you're not going to be able to stay in it, you're going to be right back out there, back and forth, homeless and in and unfortunately that is what has happened to me and my fiance," continues Wintzel.
According to an analysis by the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio, almost half of renters and a third of home owners on the coast are cost burdened – that is, they’re paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing. Planner Kelsey Johnson says the question isn’t whether there’s as much housing now but whether the housing there is fits the coast’s current needs.
"If you probably look at the numbers, it's probably pretty close, our housing has come back and we definitely have enough, I would say enough housing stock the question is, 'Is it in the right place?' and 'Are people able to access that housing?'," says Johnson.
Johnson says a number of factors have affected affordability: it costs more to build elevated homes, and homeowners insurance is expensive. But while wind premiums seem to have stabilized, Gulf Coast communities are now facing the specter of skyrocketing flood insurance costs.
Diane Sager and her mother Bo are speaking to federal and state leaders, including the head of the national flood insurance program, while standing under their Henderson Point home. The house perches more than 18 feet above sea level. The Sagers built the home in 2008 at an elevation that they say was higher than even required at the time.
But new flood maps implemented the following year lifted the elevation requirement even higher. They’ve been grandfathered in for flood insurance, but a new law says they will now lose that grandfathering status the next time the area is mapped.
"I'm going from $500 to almost $7000 in flood insurance that's totally out the wall it's unbelievable, either grandfather us in because I did everything right so as a citizen I'm being punished for having done everything right, doesn't make sense," says Sager.
Diane’s parents, Bo and Jim, both in their 80s, are on fixed incomes. Bo tells the gathered officials that she’s had flood insurance since the 1970s and can’t imagine losing it.
"We need some kind of resolution so that we can rest better, at the age we've reached and we don't rest because we don't know what's going to happen with this hurricane season," says Bo. "I never worried about hurricanes before, I'm used to hurricanes and I know how to avoid them and what to do but what happens now if we lose this with no insurance, I don't know what we'll do."
Pass Christian Mayor Chipper McDermott says the soaring flood insurance rates, which are already hitting second homes, could devastate beach communities like his, ruining property values.
"Wind coverage was bad, we knew that and all the people that are in the insurance business all said 'If you can just go 8, 10, 12 years, it will settle down,' so we live with that whether it does or not, you throw this flood in there, you just killed it, it's over with," says McDermott.
There are a number of efforts in Congress now to delay implementation of parts of the bill for one year, and Mississippi 4th District Congressman Steven Palazzo says he thinks there’s an appetite among lawmakers for finding a long-term solution as well.
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