Entries for the 'Questions' Category

Mockingbird, by Bob Hines, United States Fish and Wildlife Service

“The process on how damage percentages is determined is the estimate of the cost of repair compared to the replacement cost of the home, if you had to build it from scratch,” [Robert Evans, Allied American‘s chief operating officer] said. – The Mississippi Press, 8/14/2006

With all the recent fuss over “rebuilding” vs “compensation” regarding Road Home payments and CDBG regulations, I was surprised to hear yesterday that Phase II of Mississippi’s Homeowner Assistance Program (HAP) is basing its grant calculations on cost to rebuild.

I wrote about the “worst of both worlds” scenario Louisiana’s Road Home Program was facing the other day at Think New Orleans: in a nutshell, the LRA was allegedly told when designing the RHP that they had to cap awards at the pre-Katrina appraised value of the home even if the estimated cost to repair/rebuild was greater, because basing awards on rebuilding costs would make it, aptly enough, a “rebuilding program” and thereby trigger torrents of onerous requirements and regulations. And just lately, HUD “discovered” that the method of Road Home payments constituted a “rebuilding program” as well – maximum burden for the minimum award.

Mississippi’s HAP is using a phased approach: Phase I was for homeowners with homeowners insurance (although not necessarily flood insurance) living outside the pre-Katrina FEMA designated flood zone. Like the Road Home, it also had an ultimate $150,000 cap, and beneath that cap, the upper limit was based on the value of the home – in this case, the insured value of the home, plus 35%. Meaning that, should the damage estimate, determined by the method described above, exceed the insured value of the home (or the appraised value, for that matter), a higher award could be calculated. What exactly is being “compensated” here, that’s not compensable in Louisiana?

  • HAP Phase I FAQs
  • HUD-approved MDA Partial Action Plan (including HAP Phase I). Interestingly, this action plan doesn’t mention the additional 35% specified in the offical FAQs. I haven’t been able to find when and how that became part of the program.
  • Phase II is directed at homeowners with a household income beneath 120% AMI with Hurricane Katrina storm surge damage. The HUD-approved action plan makes no mention of insured or appraised value. This award is capped at $100,000, but up to that amount, the award is based exclusively on the official damage assessment – insured homeowners receiving 100% of the estimate, uninsured receiving 70%. And yet, “In consultation with HUD, and due to the nature and design of the Homeowner Assistance Grant Program, the State has determined through its environmental review that project level actions are categorically excluded and not subject to related laws for Phase II.” No NEPA.

  • HAP Phase II FAQs
  • HUD-approved Phase II Action Plan
  • I don’t begrudge Mississippians any additional money they may be awarded via their damage assessments; I also wouldn’t be surprised if the assessments were erratic or out of sync with today’s real costs of rebuilding, as the rest of the Mississippi Press article cited above suggests. But I’d really like to understand why Louisiana can’t have similar latitude for the Road Home. Granted, there are a number of other differences between the programs, some of which may influence which requirements might apply, but on their faces, both states’ programs have very explicit rebuilding components, sometimes favoring rebuilding over relocating, and as far as I can tell, the only difference between “rebuilding” (i.e. triggers-multitudes-of-onerous-regulations) and “compensation” (i.e. you-might-get-some-money-in-this-lifetime) is smoke and mirrors.

    Was the LRA Housing Committee really too thick to rephrase their “compensation” package to permit greater consideration of rebuilding costs? Is there some secret catch to Mississippi’s plan that would make its rebuilding-cost “compensatory” provisions unfavorable to Louisianans somehow? Or does the fact that the nebulous nature of CDBGs requires negotiating with HUD, currently headed by Alphonso “heck of a crony” Jackson, mean that our marginally-Blue State will be held to a different standard no matter what we do? Or is it some combintion of all three?

    Or am I completely missing the point?

    From the NOCF’s FAQ page:

    The Membership on the Community Support Organization is comprised of the following:

    • One person appointed by the Mayor of New Orleans
    • One person appointed by the New Orleans City Council
    • One person appointed by the City Planning Commission
    • One person appointed by the Greater New Orleans Foundation
    • Five people selected from nominations submitted by individual neighborhood organizations

    1, 1, 1, 1, and 5 makes 9, right?

    From The New Orleans Community Support Foundation Nomination Form for Neighborhood Representatives for the Community Support Organization:

    The structure of the Community Support Organization Support Foundation will be comprised of one representative each from the Mayor’s Office, the New Orleans City Council, the City Planning Commission, the Greater New Orleans Foundation and two representatives of city-wide non-governmental organizations that are working to support the neighborhood planning process and five people selected from nominations submitted by neighborhood organizations.

    1, 1, 1, 1, 2, and 5 makes 11, doesn’t it? Or is the lack of a comma supposed to indicate that the GNOF and two reps of city-wide NGOs get one representative in common? Why aren’t these NGOs named, whether they get a whole rep apiece, or just a third? Maybe they don’t matter – everywhere else I’ve seen references to the CSO board make-up it’s been 9 members.

    Still elsewhere, the Times Pic announces:

    The Community Support Organization (CSO), a nine-member advisory committee, will oversee and monitor the planning efforts. The nine members of the Community Support Organization, still to be named, will include one representative appointed by Mayor Nagin, one by the City Council, one by the City Planning Commission, one by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, and five citizens selected from the five council districts. (emphasis mine)

    Like wise, a press release from the Mayor’s Office.

    But what really concerns me isn’t so much the rampant ambiguity of number or identity, it’s the question of who approves the mysterious 9.

    From the UNOP’s FAQs:

    23) Will the mayor and city council members have to agree with the people selected to serve on the Community Support Organization?
    Appointments to Community Support Organization will be vetted by both the Mayor and City Council, but appointments will be made by the New Orleans Community Support Foundation board.

    And from the nomination form again: “Please return this form by fax at 504-569-1820, by email to
    neworleansrfq@concordia.com or mail to NOCSF, 201 St. Charles Ave, Suite
    4314, New Orleans, LA 70170.” (Who’s guarding the hen-house exactly?)

    So the private non-profit, GNOF, and the NOCSF which it composed will get final approval of 6 of the 9 seats (or 8 of 11) of the group that is going to monitor, advise, evaluate, coordinate, support, oversee, select, recommend, implement, etc., etc. everything to do with the UNOP? We two members selected by actual elected officials and one selected by a city department, and all the rest owe their position to a private group?

    The GNOF may be saints (although I fear they’re not), and the City Council may not be either (what city’s are). But we elect our Council members to represent us – i.e. to make exactly these sorts of decisions. The Council is obligated at the very least to operate in the public view, private groups do so at their convenience. It makes me wary to say the least that several of the lists of the CSO’s composition make reference to the five Council Districts, as if to imply that the Council has something to do with the selection of more than one representative. This process is not democratic in any way, shape or form, and democracy is way messier than Steve Bingler thinks–what alarms me is everything that looks a little too tidy about this process.

    Oh, and one more thing. If you look once more at the UNOP’s FAQs, there are several things that the CSO is already supposed to have done, such as approve the list of planners we were presented with after the RFQs were in, and “then work with neighborhood leaders to determine which of the pre-qualified Neighborhood Planning Teams would work best with each neighborhood’s constituents.” Yet the CSO’s composition is always described in the future tense…

    I’ve lived in New Orleans long enough now that “Will Work for Food” has become all too true. Not that attempting to understanding the byzantine rebuilding process isn’t a worthy end in itself, but now that there are brownies on the line… (no offence to Byzantium – we should be so lucky)

    Having a go at Maitri’s City Rebuilding Essay Contest, I’m having trouble figuring out exactly who CityWorks is/are. I’ve never attended one of their meetings, and the content on their website is a little too generalized for me to get a grasp on them. Can anyone give me a little background or point me to a better source?

    Alas, the brownies may never be mine, but there’s nothing like invoking chocolate and my latent competitive streak to force me into a Learning Experience…