One of my Vista Park neighbors in this lightly repopulated part of the city is KC. He lives with his wife in a FEMA Travel Trailer, too. Their property is on Pratt Drive, and their backyard borders on the levee and floodwall of the infamous London Avenue Canal a few hundred feet from where the canal breached. Like us, they had their house (what remained of it, anyway) demolished and are making plans to rebuild an elevated, wind-resistant home.
KC and his wife recently took it upon themselves to conduct a drive-by survey of our neighborhood. They reported the following "sort-of-accurate count" to our Vista Park email group:
Total lots counted....396
Notice the largest category is "Gutted." These are folks who have removed the flood-ravaged contents, floors and walls from their homes in anticipation of repairing them. And yet, more than a year later, their homes stand waiting, open and empty. Work has not even begun on nearly half the homes here. Only 13% of homeowners have found the resources to embark on actual repair and rebuilding of their homes.
I am encouraged that more than 1/5 of homeowners have totally demolished their houses, joining with KC and me in the belief that slab-on-grade houses do not belong in this part of the city.
Right now KC and his wife's plans to rebuild are complicated by the usual problems faced by those trying to rebuild plus one extra obstacle: there's a road in his backyard. In the desperate days following the collapse of the London Avenue Canal floodwall, construction crews needed access to the damaged parts of the canal. So the Corps of Engineers built a road of rock and sand right through the backyards of about a dozen homes.
They did this with emergency expropriation authority granted by the City of New Orleans. Now that the emergency seems to be over, the road continues to be used by on-going construction crews working to complete repairs to the ill-fated floodwall. Unfortunately for KC and everyone else on Pratt Drive, no one knows how much longer that will be.
At first it seemed obvious that the Corps and the Orleans Levee Board would need to expand the canal right-of-way to effect necessary repairs and improvements. But since Congress has appropriated money for the Interim Closure Structure and for the design and construction of a permanent pump station at the mouth of the canal, it is not at all clear what will become of this outfall canal.
To add insult to injury, you would think these property owners would at least be paid a fair rental rate for the involuntary surrender and use of their personal property, which continues now after more than a year. But they have been paid zero.
In addition to his trailer, KC also has a big blue RV parked nearby--you know, one of those motorized bus-like behemoths that cost as much as a small house. But KC did not buy it for recreational use. He calls it his "escape pod." KC plans to keep it in the ready next to his new house and he encourages everyone who plans to remain in the flood plains of New Orleans to get one, too.
Not a bad idea, I say. I wonder if it could also be used to escape bureaucratic entanglements and populist politicians. If so, I would go out and get one tomorrow!