Golf Coast Blues: FEMA’s Botched Plans for Emergency Housing after Katrina
By James Dickinson

Confronting Strategies in Urban Reinvention - The Urban Reinventors, Issue Nr. 1, June 2007

In the year since hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf coast, untold billions have been spent bringing emergency relief to displaced residents, clearing away debris, and rebuilding levees and canals. Yet today 400,000 from Louisiana still remain displaced, 200,000 from New Orleans alone. Tens of thousands of homes in the city remain flood-damaged and abandoned. Many did not have flood insurance.

Homeowners battle with insurance companies. State officials are still reluctant to commit a significant portion of federal housing money to low- and moderate-income families. For most of the year Congress fiddled as residents in the region struggled with an unparalleled housing crisis.

Leading relief efforts has been the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a once well-managed and independent agency that was reorganized as part of the Department of Homeland Security. With professionals and experts pushed aside, it has become a favored grazing ground for Bush administration cronies and political hacks. As of mid-June 2006, FEMA alone has spent $19 billion on emergency relief to victims, of which Congressional auditors now claim at least $2 billion (nearly 11 percent) represents wasteful, unjustified, or fraudulent spending. But this is only part of the story. Most of the money spent has been on massively expensive and gravely flawed plans to shelter evacuees in mobile homes and travel trailers (…)

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James Dickinson (Ph.D., University of Toronto) teaches Cities and Suburbs, Social and Cultural Change, Social Inequality and The Senior Seminar, as well as interdisciplinary courses on art and culture in the Baccalaureate Honors Program.  He has been curator of several exhibitions for the University Gallery.  His current research interests include change and the contemporary city, issues in contemporary art, and the sociology of architecture.  He has recently written and published on social theory, the history of welfare policy, the built environment of American cities, contemporary landscape and public art, and architecture and building types.  He currently lives in Philadelphia.His essay “Still Swept Away: New Orleans Four Months After Katrina” appeared in the March/April 2006 issue of Designer/builder Magazine.

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