Temporary Housing a Stumbling Block in Recovery
At recent congressional field hearings in Mississippi and Louisiana on Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts, builders testified that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) must readjust its response strategy and place temporary housing where it is needed the most.
In written testimony to the House Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity, which conducted an official hearing in Gulfport, Miss. on Jan. 14, Bobby Rayburn, a builder from Jackson, Miss. and 2004 NAHB president, said that creating trailer “cities” as temporary housing for hurricane victims is short-sighted and has negative repercussions for residents and the surrounding communities.
“Instead of concentrating displaced hurricane victims in trailer cities, FEMA should, where possible, step up delivery of trailers to sites where home owners are repairing and rebuilding their homes,” Rayburn said.
Rayburn also called for better coordination between the state and federal government and local builders, particularly in helping to increase the pool of skilled workers to respond to the massive rebuilding needs.
With the Small Business Administration facing an overwhelming challenge in dealing with the crisis, Rayburn suggested using private-sector entities, such as contractors, to assist the agency in expediting the approval and delivery of loans to builders and other small businesses in the region.
With demand for building materials expected to spike in coming months from rebuilding activities associated with Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, Rayburn urged lawmakers to encourage the removal of lumber tariffs from Canada, cement duties from Mexico and a plywood tariff from Brazil to ensure the adequate flow of materials into the area.
“These tariffs and duties only serve to increase the cost of housing at a time when housing affordability will be critical to the recovery of Mississippi,” said Rayburn.
NAHB applauded the House for passing legislation to streamline federal housing programs through waivers and other tools, but urged lawmakers to correct a technical anomaly in the Rural Development Section 502 Direct Loan Program that actually penalizes home buyers who live in areas of the state where home prices exceed the program’s loan limit and who want to use HOME program dollars to cover downpayment and closing costs.
The House panel held a similar hearing in New Orleans on Jan. 13, where custom home builder Randy Noel has worked for the past 21 years. Noel, who also serves as the state representative for NAHB, said that a critical shortage of labor, caused in large part by inadequate temporary housing, has been a persistent problem during the recovery.
“One key reason for this housing shortage is the slow pace of delivery of trailers by FEMA,” said Noel. “FEMA’s requirements for assessments and permitting for repair work on damaged homes are also problematic. There are simply too few inspectors for the estimated 200,000 homes needing inspection and this is holding up the repair process by a minimum of three months.”
Lawmakers were told that the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) law requirements for repairing and rebuilding homes has sown confusion among home owners, particularly a provision stipulating that a home that has sustained damage equal to 50% of its pre-hurricane value must be rebuilt to the BFE.
“This regulation causes a lot of confusion for home owners because of the subjective nature of that determination,” said Noel. “As a result, homes that have not actually sustained 50% in damages are being required to be rebuilt at an enormous cost to home owners.”
Noel said the establishment of a statewide building code is aiding the rebuilding process and offered the following recommendations to address urgent housing needs in New Orleans:
- Rather than creating trailer cities, place trailers on sites where home owners are repairing and rebuilding their homes; or install proper infrastructure in trailer communities so that permanent homes can eventually be placed on the lots.
- Clarify the new BFE standard and building code for homes that must be repaired or rebuilt and apply the “50% rule” more objectively and precisely.
- Use an inclusive process involving all stakeholders in New Orleans for planning and rebuilding decisions.
- Establish a process to facilitate the sale of the homes of those residents who have decided not to return to New Orleans, so that redevelopment can occur and the local tax base can be replenished.
- Ensure the adequate flow of critical building materials to the area, particularly framing lumber, OSB, plywood, sheet rock and cement.
For more information, e-mail Greg Brown at NAHB, or call him at 800-368-5242 x8421.