Magazine article Mortgage Banking

The House That Katrina Built: Senators Mary Landrieu and Chris Dodd Have Introduced Major New Legislation to Restore All Kinds of Housing in New Orleans. the House Has Already Approved a Bill, and If the Senate Acts in the Fall, Hope Could Be Headed for New Orleans

Magazine article Mortgage Banking

The House That Katrina Built: Senators Mary Landrieu and Chris Dodd Have Introduced Major New Legislation to Restore All Kinds of Housing in New Orleans. the House Has Already Approved a Bill, and If the Senate Acts in the Fall, Hope Could Be Headed for New Orleans

Article excerpt

Anyone working on a news desk the night of Sunday, Aug. 28, 2005, will not soon forget the dire National Weather Service warnings of the Category 4 hurricane heading to the Gulf Coast: "Hurricane Katrina ... a most powerful hurricane with unprecedented strength ... rivaling the intensity of Hurricane Camille in 1969. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks ... perhaps longer ... power outages will last for weeks, as most power poles will be down and transformers destroyed ... persons ... pets and livestock exposed to the winds will face certain death if struck.... Water shortages will make human suffering unimaginable by modern standards." [??] And so the nation, indeed the world, watched in horror as nature devoured the Gulf Coast, chewing it up and spitting it out--lives, homes and communities devastated. The human suffering was indeed unimaginable. What remains inconceivable two years later is that parts of the region have not been uninhabitable "for weeks," but rather for years. [??] "CATASTROPHIC," screamed the online headline of Louisiana's Times-Picayune newspaper on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005. For Louisiana's poor families and prominent families alike, it was just that.

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Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) and her well-known family took a major hit. "We lost our family home--a lake-house camp that me and my eight siblings owned for 40 years, completely destroyed by wind and water," the now utterly collected Democrat recalls. "But there were many families that were worse [off]." This daughter of Louisiana speaks with a style of expression common to well-mannered women of the South, recounting even the most dreadful personal misfortune with cool, almost out-of-body affect.

On this steamy summer day, fully two years after Hurricane Katrina, Landrieu is poised to lead the battle for a comprehensive federal attack on what's left to tackle. While she may be sitting in one of the most orderly and tastefully decorated offices in the U.S. Senate, Landrieu clearly recalls Katrina's chaos. "I had three siblings out of eight that had homes in the city that were completely destroyed under 14 feet of water in Lakeview. My parents--our home that we grew up in--had seven and a half feet of water. It was 50 percent destroyed. The ground floor was 100 percent destroyed. And I've had multiple cousins whose homes were damaged. The other siblings all had some damage [to their homes]."

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Landrieu's father, Moon Landrieu, was mayor of New Orleans for eight years. His cause during the 1970s was desegregation. One of his proudest achievements: construction of the Superdome, shelter to hurricane evacuees and itself a casualty of Katrina. He went on to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under President Jimmy Carter. His daughter, the senator, says she takes her interest in housing and her inspiration from her father.

When Mayor Landrieu was president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in the 1970s, it was his view that Washington had an obligation to bail out New York City. Today, in his daughter's view, through no fault of its own, it's the Gulf Coast's turn.

With Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut), Landrieu has introduced the Gulf Coast Recovery Act of 2007. She acknowledged the heavy push by members of the House of Representatives, some of whom--like Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California)--were irate that the Senate had taken so long to come up with a bill to address the housing emergency that still afflicts the Gulf Coast, especially for minorities.

"That criticism is somewhat justified by Congresswoman Waters," Landrieu conceded, "because the Senate is somewhat slower than the House of Representatives. But it is not an indication of a lack of will or a lack of support in the Senate, or a lack of bipartisanship for some of these necessary changes. …

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