Two reports show very different views on Katrina recovery progress

By WLOX Staff

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Two very different reports were released Friday on the state of Katrina recovery in Mississippi.

Released Friday, "Katrina: Four Years After" is the annual progress report from Governor Haley Barbour. It highlights accomplishments and assessments in four major areas: Housing, Public Infrastructure, Economic Development, and Mitigation.  

"We have seen phenomenal progress on the Gulf Coast as families, businesses and communities continue to rebuild," Governor Barbour said. "This year, we secured funding to restore the state's barrier islands and create a statewide communications system for use in emergencies. These were the missing pieces of the recovery puzzle. With these two goals met, everyone can focus on moving forward to bring back the Gulf Coast better than ever."

The governor's progress report says the public and private efforts to rebuild housing stock are meeting most of the need. The greatest need for housing, though, remains in Hancock County.

The report estimates the population in Hancock County is about 88 percent of its pre-Katrina level, but only about 73 percent of the housing stock has returned.

The numbers in Harrison and Jackson Counties are much closer to pre-Katrina levels, 90 percent or higher.

Many factors have fundamentally changed the South Mississippi housing market. The governor's report points to higher prices for home mortgages and rental costs, as well as higher insurance and new elevation requirements.

The report also reviewed public infrastructure rebuilding as well as the economic recovery of the Gulf Coast.

The Steps Coalition's report, "Has Mississippi Fallen Further Behind? Trends and Challenges in Mississippi's Disaster Recovery" stands in sharp contrast to the governor's. It found that the state of Mississippi falls sharply below its own projections for providing affordable, subsidized housing, especially when it comes to small rental, workforce housing and public housing.

The 18 page report says Mississippi stands to lose a unique opportunity to recover from our state's greatest housing disaster.

"The state itself, in a remarkable change of direction, has acknowledged that there are substantial remaining unmet needs that could only be served by getting some additional housing money devoted to the problem," said Reilly Morse with the Mississippi Center for Justice.

"The most heart wrenching stories are of senior citizens who recovery and response is not working for," said Oleta Fitzgerald with the Children's Defense Fund. "You get whatever you get from insurance, whatever you get from 'Road Home' or whatever the program is, and it does not cover rebuilding a house."

Among other things, the report recommends HUD should require Mississippi to restore disaster CDBG funds back to housing programs until a complete housing recovery is achieved.

While more work still needs to be done, billions of federal dollars have already been spent on rebuilding efforts in South Mississippi.

FEMA has sent $9.5 billion dollars to this area. Of that, $3 billion has been spent on infrastructure repair, replacement, debris removal and emergency protective measures. Another 2.6 billion was given to nearly 20,000 National Flood Insurance policy holders, and $1.3 billion went to Mississippi households to pay rent, pay for repairs or other assistance.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.