PBS film documements role of race, class and politics in rebuilding hurricane damaged homes

Watch the trailer for the PBS Frontline film, “The Old Man and the Storm.”

Several of President Bush’s top aides publicly proclaimed last week that failures to adequately respond to the rescue and rebuilding challenges posed by Hurricane Katrina did more than anything else to sink the Bush Presidency. Today Texas is struggling to put together an effective housing rebuilding program for Hurricane Ike survivors. An ill-conceived draft rebuilding plan has put us on track toward a disaster like that which characterized the Hurricane Katrina rebuilding program.

On Tuesday, January 6 at 8 p.m. (Central Time) the PBS program Frontline will air an important film about one man’s struggle to rebuild his home in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The film is titled, The Old Man and the Storm.

The film portrays “the continued inadequacies of government’s response in the aftermath of Katrina, and how race, class, and politics have affected the attempts to rebuild this American city.”

From the Frontline press release…

FRONTLINE correspondent and filmmaker June Cross journeys with the Gettridge family of New Orleans for 18 months as they endure devastation, political turmoil and a painstakingly slow bureaucratic process to rebuild their homes and their lives. …

Mr. Gettridge navigates the bureaucracy and waits for federal rebuilding money promised through the state-run Road Home homeowner assistance program.

By the winter of 2007, 18 months after the flood, Herbert Gettridge and more than 100,000 other Louisiana homeowners had applied for money from the Road Home program, but fewer than 500 had received a check. Application rules seemed to change monthly as federal agencies argued over regulations. At one point, the whole program seemed in jeopardy after Housing and Urban Development (HUD) told the state that each application required an environmental impact review.

Additionally, the Road Home program, relying on FEMA’s statistics, underestimated the amount of help needed. This led to a $2.9 billion shortfall. Donald Powell, the former federal coordinator of Gulf Coast Rebuilding, tells FRONTLINE, “That shortfall … was based upon expanding the program unilaterally by the state to include wind versus just those homes that were destroyed by the water.” Louisiana Recovery Authority’s Sean Reilly replies: “It came as a bit of a surprise. The Road Home had been in design and implementation for … almost 15 months, and all of the language in the HUD application said that damage from whatever source, whatever cause was going to be covered.”

Meanwhile, ICF Consulting, the company then-Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco had chosen to run the program, revealed in public filings that more than $2 million in bonuses had been awarded to its leadership team. ICF declined to be interviewed, but in an e-mail to FRONTLINE, the company defended its overall performance and justified those bonuses by saying that its executives get paid less than the average industry standard.

Sound familiar? We are facing some of the same problems in Texas.

Watch this film and let’s resolve to learn the lessons from the Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts so we can do a better job to help people in Texas communities devastaed by Hurricanes Dolly and Ike rebuild their homes.