Friday, September 16, 2005

If you build it, they will come.

Hugh Hewitt has been mocking FEMA's purchase of 300,000 housing units for the evacuees from the Gulf Coast to live in.

I advise a county planning commission, and mobile homes are different animals from manufactured homes and RVs. Before 1976, mobile homes were build of aluminum and pressed wood. They had little structural integrity. But in 1976 the government established new construction standards for "manufactured homes." These are not trailers. They're built more solidly and are more like houses than travel trailers which are a lot like the old mobile homes. Most of the homes going up here are two-part manufactured homes, which are quite nice inside and don't have the cheap feel that say camp trailers have.

My problem with this report is that it uses the terms trailer house, RV/Motor Home/Camp Trailer and manufactured home interchangeably. If they are a bunch of fifth-wheel camp trailers this will be a disaster. If they are really manufactured homes, they aren't badly built, but a single-wide isn't very roomy. For older folks without much, they could be attractive as long as there were doctors and shopping close by.

Hugh sees this as an "instant slum" program. Rick Brady is one of the designers of this "temporary cities" program for FEMA. Hugh talked to him and gave him the business over this proposal. I went to his blog, Stones Cry Out, and found a link to this report:
The solution is mind-boggling in its scope and complexity: Build dozens of temporary cities of up to 25,000 homes from the ground up. The ambitious resettlement plan is unprecedented in U.S. history, experts say, and raises huge logistical questions that, in most cases, have yet to be answered _ or even anticipated.

"The whole process is just staggering," said Rolf Pendall, professor of urban and regional planning at Cornell University. "I'm left speechless by the prospect of getting people resettled and giving them a semblance of their former life."

I don't think it's possible to give them "a semblance of their former life," unless they will continued to get washed out by a hurricane every decade or so. If they really want that, they'd be better off moving to Galvaston that staying in the delta.

I'm not sure whether this will be as horrible as Hugh believes. He favors giving them living expenses for a year and let them make their own arrangements. Those who have something on the ball will be rebuilding and back on their own land within a year. Those who don't will probably end up in trailer parks and slums anyway. But I wouldn't let them build middle class and low income housing in those areas that were flooded when the levees broke. I don't think it can be made safe permanently. That's just not the way New Orleans seems to have ever done things. They just hunker down and hope the hurricane doesn't blow them away.

Hugh thinks it would work better to give them vouchers and let them find their own housing. I like that solution better, but I wonder if dumping all these people into areas like Baton Rouge and Houston will be very successful. I think that if I were planning the future of New Orleans, I'd promote making it like the Las Vegas Strip with casinos, and themed hotels and resorts, but I'd make the employees live outside of the city. The tracts of houses that have been flooded ought to be given back to the swamps, letting Lake Ponchartrain back into that area.


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