Locally the Carter-Habitat work project continues to dominate the local headlines. There were two stories in today’s Sun Herald that read better from the back to the front of today’s paper. So first is the perspectives of some Habitat volunteers and then those of former President Carter.
Perhaps the most common misconception about the Mississippi Gulf Coast is that rebuilding is over.
Like Nowdy said, 2 years and 256 days seems like a long time.
Almost three years of bouncing around? Isn’t Mississippi fixed already?
Adele Lyons of Biloxi puts it better than anyone I’ve heard in my nine months on the Coast. At a recent conference in Washington, she heard the dreaded, “Oh, you’re not finished yet?”
“Look how long it takes to build a new store. A year? And that’s with a perfect planning process. Three years would not be unheard of for a big development,” she said. Obviously, our conditions are far from perfect.
Lyons works for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has donated more than $1 million for the weeklong housing blitz.
A few houses down from Lyons’ site, Cindy Herzog and Janice Bormuth of Whirlpool are prepping a frame for siding. Herzog is from Michigan, Bormuth is from Ohio. Neither have been to the Coast before. Neither knew what to expect three years after the storm.
Herzog said, “It’s worse than I expected.”
Bormuth was stunned by all the empty lots. “Somebody’s house was there. It’s heartbreaking.”
When they go home, said Bormuth, people might ask if Mississippi is fixed. And we depend on people like her to spread a simple message that we have come far, but we still need help. Pay attention to us. Please.
I asked Bormuth, now that you’re here, does three years seem like enough?
“Are you out of your mind?” she said. “Not even close.”
2 years and 256 days is long enough to plan on traveling to Pennsylvania to say thanks but that is still on tap for this Summer. The issues of rebuilding and renewal will take much more time unfortunately but after a day former President Carter caught on to the fact that insurance remains the 900 pound Gorilla that hampers our recovery.
Former President Carter said Monday that the federal government could alleviate some of the Coast’s affordable-housing burden by studying homeowner’s insurance issues along the Coast, and subsidizing the doubled and tripled rates for those who were affected by Katrina.
It would be a first step toward successful homeownership that not only transforms a first-time homeowner, but the community in which that family lives, he said.
“It’s like a reverse cancer,” Carter said in an interview with the Sun Herald. “It spreads from one block to another, and eventually, everybody is trying to put their homes in better condition. When we go back six or seven years later, that community has been, in appearance at least, gentrified. That doesn’t mean that rents have gone up, but everybody is beginning to say that if Habitat folks who are poorer than I am can have that house looking like a mansion, I’m going to make my house look like a mansion too.”
The Carters are building homes across the Gulf Coast this week as part of their Habitat for Humanity Work Project. By week’s end, 60 families in Mississippi will have new or rehabilitated houses, and 48 frames will be set aside for new homes to be built by year’s end.
Each homeowner must put in hundreds of hours of labor, called “sweat equity,” to own a home. In return, each family gets a 20-year, interest-free mortgage.
For children, the first steps in their new homes are “so exciting,” said Rosalynn Carter. Perhaps it is getting to choose their paint colors. Sometimes, it’s the joy of having their own rooms for the first time. She also appealed for more volunteers to help build later Habitat homes.
When asked where he plans to take the Carter Work Project, Carter discussed Myanmar, which was hit by a cyclone last week. Efforts to aid victims have been hampered by an uncooperative government. Carter, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in bringing democracy to emerging nations, said his efforts will focus on the surrounding countries, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. But he will negotiate with the Myanmar government if needed.
Back on the Coast, Carter has voiced some frustration at the pace of rebuilding, chiding government at all levels for slow responses. Yet, he said, the positive attitude of the people he meets is heartening. The Carters said they are “grateful to be here.”
Of course we’re grateful to host the Carters for a week. They are quite simply quality people.