Thursday, June 01, 2006
FEMA rules force Biloxi to exploit rebuilding loopholes
Before this week, I hadn't been to Biloxi, Mississippi, since Katrina hit. Nine months ago, this community looked like it would never be able to recover. But driving around here, the first thing I noticed this place smells different; that "smell of death" that hung in the air for weeks after the storm is gone. Also, the streets are clear. We could actually drive around without detours and rebuilding is in full swing.

We came to Biloxi to meet Bill Stallworth. He is a city councilman who has figured out a way for residents to rebuild their homes without meeting the Federal Emergency Management Agency's new height requirements.

He found a loophole where residents can be grandfathered in even if they don't meet the new standard, which is 22 feet above sea level. This means they can qualify for federal flood insurance even if the home is rebuilt on the ground. Stallworth has already repaired 120 homes with the help of volunteers and he has another 160 partly finished.

Stallworth is an ex-schoolteacher with determination like I've never seen. He is angry at the government for forcing new rules on his community members that they can't afford to follow. Stallworth tells us that 40 percent of residents make less than $15,000.

And it will cost them, FEMA admits, as much as $50,000 in some cases to build their homes higher to meet the new elevation requirements. The new elevation is anywhere between 18 and 25 feet. They simply can't afford that.

One resident, who is 93, even told me she'd never be able to get in and out of a home so high -- too many steps. But FEMA says Stallworth and others are building the homes too low, which is putting residents in jeopardy. Stallworth counters that homes here have survived floods before and they will again, built just the way they are.
Posted By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent: 12:40 PM ET
  33 Comments
These people building their homes using the loopholes will be the first ones to cry for help again the next time a hurricane hits.Let them rebuild but dont give them any kind of insurance to repair should this happen again. Our tax dollars should not pay for any more in this area nor should it pay to fix the levies and pumps. Who in their right mind would want to live in an area that boarders the ocean and is below sea level. Ports or no ports fill it in or let nature retake the area.
Posted By Anonymous Brian S. Freedom Pa : 1:24 PM ET
Hi Randi,
The world needs many more Bill Stallworths..He saw a mountain and dug a tunnel....Good for him..Having rules and plans are needed but once in awhile we have to nix them and just go ahead and get something done..I have a feeling if we had more Mr. Stallworths making decisions DURING Katrina we might have had a different outcome..Sometimes those Great,Big Rule Books should be tossed aside..Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton,Calif. : 1:25 PM ET
I think the evalation is ridiculous. It doesn't solve the problem, it's a work around. FEMA needs to do something and not making us pay for the cost.
Posted By Anonymous Yean, Houston TX : 1:28 PM ET
I can understand the difficulties of making a house higher. Not only the initial cost, but for an elderly person I can realize it has to be much harder. But it still kinda worries me. FEMA sets up these standards to try and save lives. You know you are at a much higher risk if you're trying to aim lower than the standards. I'm not sure what the solution is, but I dont think it's right to keep people as vulnerable as they were before. Thats a step backwards. I thought we were aiming for rebuilding "bigger and better than before".
Posted By Anonymous Andres, Las Cruces NM : 1:41 PM ET
Whether or not you build to the proposed new building level or the old level...will flood insurance cover this? Won't the insurance company just call it "storm surge" which won't be covered?
Posted By Anonymous CynicalGeek, Georgia : 1:44 PM ET
Hi Randi,

I find myself doing a lot of head shaking these days. It seems that this administration is best at telling people what the rules are, but could give two hoots to how and if people affected by these rules can pay for the requirements.

Our so called compassionate administration needs to look that word up in the dictionary. We need to get away from electing the rich into public office. We need to find people from our mists that understand what it's like to live from check to check. We need people who know what the price of a gallon of milk or loaf of bread
is. We need to get back to a government that understands it's role and recognizes that sometimes people need understanding and flexibility instead of rigid rules. We can't fix everything with a law or rule, but we can fix things with understanding and common sense.

I'm dreaming
Posted By Anonymous Lee Fairfield Iowa : 1:56 PM ET
"FEMA says Stallworth and others are building the homes too low"
At least he IS building homes. He IS doing somthing about the situation, otherwise these people would be home-less. If they did have $50,000 to meet the height requirement...don't you think they would instaed take their money move out of that area? Stallworth is making the best out of a difficult situation.
Posted By Anonymous Kristy Durkin Scottsdale, Arizona : 3:01 PM ET
These new FEMA rules are just another way for the government to make a dollar out of $.15 cents. Its ridiculous, and greedy. I say kudos to Stallworth for taking a stand and helping the residents of Biloxi.
Posted By Anonymous Camille, Huntington, NY : 3:10 PM ET
Well how about that? Loopholes for regular folk, not just insurance companies and the wealthy. You go Mr. Stallworth!
Posted By Anonymous Paige B., Austin, TX : 3:12 PM ET
Isn't that wonderful. The new standards are there for a reason. If these people build below what is required by the code, when the next flood happens, they should pay for everything that is damaged on their own. I don't want a penny from my tax dollars going towards something that is being built below standards and code. Ultimately, it is a waste of money. When it floods again, they will have no one to complain to.
Posted By Anonymous Milena, Ft. Lauderdale, FL : 3:31 PM ET
When will the government pay attention to the people of Mississippi. If they were white and rich they would have been taken care of immediately. I find it disgusting that we give so much in aid to other countries and won't take care of the people in our country.
Posted By Anonymous Diane, Burlingame, CA : 4:02 PM ET
Sure, you would have to move a few miles inland in order to meet the 22 foot requirement. But, then, you wouldn't have the ocean view. So, what to do...

I can see paying once for rebuilding. But only once. People need to adjust to the environment, unless they can figure out how to change the environment.
Posted By Anonymous Paul, Vernal, UT : 4:14 PM ET
Shame on Stallworth. Shame on Biloxi and whatever Building Safety/Zoning Department they claim to have. The reason that FEMA requires the additional height is to prevent future losses of LIFE and property.
Posted By Anonymous Tom Ruane, Stillwater, OK : 4:24 PM ET
Not to be a jerk but... How many times are we going to rebuild these homes? What makes him so sure the height requirement is useless? As nice northeastern citizen I am getting tired of paying for mistakes. THSI IS A MISTAKE. I admit at elast he is doing something but if those homes are destroyed again this year we just have to keep paying for them. Sorry people use your heads. Just because he is helping grandma get ehr lving room back doesn't mean he is doing the right thing.
Posted By Anonymous Joel, Franklin, MA : 4:24 PM ET
Let me start by saying...I live in Biloxi. I know Bill Stallworth fairly well. He was a frequent customer to the music instrument store I use to work at. He is an intelligent man and extremely nice. I'm proud of what he has done to help the residents. The government set new standards to help protect residents from future disaesters. 22ft high...What is to say this is high enough? The next terrible storm could topple Katrina's awesome power without a doubt I'm sure. There have been numbers of storms over the years. There will always be casulties and destroyed properties. It's part of the risk of living here. You guys wouldn't believe some of the stories I hear of how FEMA rejects aid to families who truly need it over the dumbest rules. It's a crying shame. You know how insurance companies get away with denying claims over mistakes as simple as misspelling your name even though it was spelled correctly on the previous page. FEMA uses the same standards and policies. There are people here still living in tents...9 months!!...they still have not received any aid from FEMA...just empty promises. If you don't live here...you just don't know.
Posted By Anonymous D. Ford, Biloxi, MS : 5:24 PM ET
No one, least of all an elected official, should encourage breaking a building code. That's not "sticking it to the government"; that's jepoardizing a family's safety. If you can't afford to upgrade your home, move further inland. That's common sense, no?
Posted By Anonymous Tina - chgo, IL : 5:37 PM ET
I have been down to these neighborhoods as part of the rebuilding efforts. The first time 10 days after and about a month ago. Please understand that virtually none of the folks in east biloxi have ANY flood or hurricaine insurance nor are the likely to with their resources. This areas is utterly and totally poor. The folks that have flood insurance will likely be able to build up to level. The group I work with has cleared over 20 houses and have 10 families back in their houses. We have used exactly 0 federal dollars. So in the long run we save federal money by getting these people back in their houses and out of trailers. There are the practicalities of building elevated houses to consider as well. In most cases there is no way short of an elevator to get people in and out of these houses if we elevate them and many of them are too close together to build the kind of stairway or ramp you would need. In the end nobody down in biloxi should rely on their own house as shelter from a hurricaine. So lets get these people back in clean, decent, and affordable housing.
Posted By Anonymous Art, Herndon VA : 6:10 PM ET
I use to live in Gulfport, I have many friends living there not to mention my daughter and my former inlaws. I was in gulfport 3 days after Katrina to get my 9 months pregnant daughter out to live with me. I was back in Gulfport 3 months ago to visit my daughter and grand daughter as well as friends and family. Many of my friends and family had elevated houses and very, very few of them had a house left. Seems the force of the water was enough to simply shear the pilings. The FEMA rules appear to be a kneejerk solution and not very well thought out, typical for a government agency.
Posted By Anonymous Ed, Sidney, Ohio : 7:10 PM ET
This story explains why we should cancel the federal flood insurance program. Stop the taxpayer bailout of foolish people living in harms way.
Posted By Anonymous Hank Walker, College Station TX : 7:20 PM ET
What's next from the grateful residents of Biloxi. Will they find a loophole forcing the taxpayers to pay their mortgages and flood insurance?.
Posted By Anonymous Mike Jones. Marietta, Ga. : 10:05 PM ET
Maybe those who are condeming Stallworth need to go to the Gulf Coast and volunteer a part of themselves to help rebuild. In meeting the residents of these communities, having the faces and stories etched in ones mind may make people change their thoughts on cutting through RED TAPE.
CNN keep the stories alive as there are so many surviviors who have not been helped, there are homes that have not ben opened since Katrina hit. Not because these people do not want help but there is not the manpower or dollars.
Posted By Anonymous K Brightwell, Ontario ,Canada : 10:31 PM ET
It is such a shame that those who do not live in the Gulf Coast can foolishly believe that their government knows what it is doing. I live here, by birth, not by choice. Life did not deal my family a hand that allowed us to work and live anywhere else. Sure, we all owned our homes and we all had homeowner's insurance. We all did NOT live below sea level and we did NOT all have flood insurance. FEMA told us we did not need it. Yet, when our government-built levees failed, we were penalized.
It's such a shame that the rest of our nation seems to think we are idiots for living in Louisiana and Mississippi. I say KUDOS to Mr. Stallworth for his determination to help rebuild his community, despite being thought of as an idiot by the rest of his nation. I guess I'm an idiot, too.
Posted By Anonymous Brandalyn Breaux, St. Bernard, LA. : 10:47 PM ET
Rebuilding in proven flood zones and blaming the government for no protection -- that's a lifestyle choice, isn't it? Both the building and the blaming. The government demonstrated it's (dis)ability with startling clarity in the aftermath of Katrina. Forget about policy and go with willingness to accept responsibililty for personal choice.
Posted By Anonymous Christine, Howey in the Hills, FL : 1:03 AM ET
FEMA's elevation rule is ridiculous. Am I the only one who saw two and three story homes flooded up to the attic? Even if elevated, these homes would have sustained major structural damage. Coastal cities in Florida do have an elevation rule for new construction only, but to raise each and every home is simply impossible.
Posted By Anonymous Karen, Atlanta, GA : 10:32 AM ET
Shame on those of you throwing your hands up at Stallworth's action to rebuild this historic city. If FEMA or any other government agency wants the new codes enforced, they need to back it up with money--something they have not done. The fact that this town, with the help of people like Stallworth are re-building is in itself AMAZING after what they have been through. After nine months, have we forgotten? Whether or not homes are built to code? Does that mean if they are built to FEMA's satisfaction that they are going to step-in in the future (and maybe the insurance companies) to help? Probably not. Let's try and be supportive of whatever steps they are taking to rebuild their lives instead of haggling of money.
Posted By Anonymous Tamera, Dallas, TX : 10:49 AM ET
Apparently it is politically correct to bash storm victims and their communities and to spout incorrect facts about Biloxi. Do some research about this area before commenting. If you lived in an area for 30 years and experienced no flooding until a once in a lifetime event occured - could you justify paying $50,000 more to elivate your home? This new regulation is just an over reaction to a one time event. This was a storm surge not a flood that did the damage - something that you can't plan for. It was a 30' surge this time - could be 45' next time or it may never reach that level again - no one knows. I don't know anyone that the govt. has swooped down and saved the day by paying for their house, that idea is a misconception. They did a bad job of even getting temporary housing. My own fathers home was flooded (not in a flood zone) and the only help he has gotten is from churches and other volunteers. Other than that it has just been hard work and determination to rebuild his home. Only after he replaced all the interior walls, flooring, and got it liveable did FEMA arrive with a trailor that he no longer needed.
Posted By Anonymous Matt, Hernando MS : 11:39 AM ET
Taxpayers have been paying to rebuild hurricane damage in the gulf states for decades. Katrina is just the latest and most visible example. Being the cynic that I am, I fully expect Congress to bail out the insurance companies and influential businesses, and leave the individual family adrift. My wife and I have twice gone to Mississippi as volunteers to help families rebuild homes. Judging by what I saw from Waveland to Biloxi, volunteers and charitable organizations are doing most of the work of helping families rebuild. The government, where it is doing anything at all, seems to be focusing on hauling garbage to the dumps, rebuilding bridges, highways and rail lines.
Posted By Anonymous Bob DeViney, Vancouver, WA : 11:44 AM ET
For everyone bashing Stallworth's efforts - why do we suddenly have so much faith in FEMA? Have they not proved themselves almost worthless over the last year?
FEMA set up this height regulation and never looked back. 50,000? Not our problem, they say!
At least Stallworth is out there being proactive, which is a lot more than I could EVER say about FEMA.
Posted By Anonymous Christen, Charleston, SC : 11:49 AM ET
Let them rebuild at a lower elevation if they wish to live in the same area as they did before. But under no circumstance should any of my tax dollars go to assist them in the event that flooding occurs again. Build your house on pylons if you have to, but at least make some effort...
Posted By Anonymous Steven, Glendora, Ca : 12:12 PM ET
When will the government pay attention to the people of Mississippi. If they were white and rich they would have been taken care of immediately.

If they were rich, they could take care of themselves. Living below sealevel is a mistake that should not be repeated.
Posted By Anonymous Seth, Minneapolis, MN : 1:06 PM ET
After reading some of these comments from people in the northeast or midwest I just have to ask myself why we should be building anywhere in this country. With all the tornados that destroy homes in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Arkansas and other midwestern states maybe people should not be living there. With the noreasters and snow that cover the northeast states maybe we should not be living there. Just think about all the road work costs that could be saved by not salting and plowing their roads or the oil that could be saved from not heating their homes. Maybe the people in the west should not be allowed to live in places where there is no water, where wild fires burn for months, where rock and mud slides devour roads and houses or where an earthquake can destroy the entire west coast. And I'm really surprised by Milena in Ft. Lauderdale. More hurricanes hit Florida than any other state in the union. I guess it was alright to rebuild in Florida after Hurricane Andrew or after 4 hurricanes hit in 2004, but not Louisiana or Mississippi after Katrina. There are inherent risks no matter where people live and build. I was born in Chicago, but lived for 9 years in New Olreans before settling in Florida. Yes I could pick up and move elsewhere because I had the support of my employer and had not lost everything I owned, but for many of the people in Louisiana and Mississippi they do not have a choice or a chance. Their families have lived and worked in these areas for generations and that little piece of land with nothing on it but a foundation is all they have left. They should do what? Just turn tail and run and let some land speculators buy up their land for pennies on the dollar and put up expensive condos so the people in the midwest and northeast have some beachfront property to vacation and retire to?
Posted By Anonymous Paul, Jacksonville FL : 1:46 PM ET
"Stallworth counters that homes here have survived floods before and they will again, built just the way they are"

Obviously not if you are having to rebuild them...
Posted By Anonymous N, Denver : 1:46 PM ET
Like many who�ve responded to this particular post, I applaud Mr. Stallworth�s efforts and I am grateful for his generosity. Unlike the rest of the respondents, I�ve actually seen the area that is discussed in this post. I live in D�Iberville, a small town that is surrounded by Biloxi on three sides. I have relatives who live in the area that Mr. Stallworth has so generously been helping to recover.

The area that Mr. Stallworth has been assisting is, predominantly, home to older, less-wealthy, long-term residents of the Coast. These are, quite often, individuals who have lived their entire lives in the homes that Mr. Stallworth is working to repair. Their homes are often the only thing of value that these individuals own. Their alternatives to skirting the new FEMA elevation requirements are minimal at best � the property they own doesn�t have a view of the beach or of the bay, so it�s not of interest to most private property buyers and it�s not close enough to the water to qualify for purchase by a casino. Without the money to raise the home to the new elevation and no real opportunity to sell the property to fund their own relocation, these people find themselves in the hardest of situations. Thank God for people like Mr. Stallworth who see the need and act to fill it.

For those unfamiliar with the Coast, please, keep in mind that not all of our residents are the wealthiest people who can afford to pick up and move, to raise their homes, or rebuild (though we do count these people as our neighbors, friends and family), nor are they the poorest people who will receive governmental aid no matter where they live (though these are also our neighbors, friends and family). Our residents are the average American - working to pay the bills, feed and clothe the family, and hoping to have enough left over to enjoy a bit of life; they are the working poor, struggling to make ends meet; and they are the elderly struggling with the cost of prescriptions on a fixed income.

The Coast is just like your town. The difference is that we have hurricanes while you have tornadoes or earthquakes or mudslides or blizzards. As you sit in judgement of the people trying to rebuild their lives in the wake of this tragedy, remember you may be faced one day with the same sort of dilemma � comply with new building codes that you can�t afford or find a way around them and hope for the best. I hope that day doesn�t come for you. It�s a hard decision to make.
Posted By Anonymous A D Ebert, D'Iberville, MS : 3:27 PM ET
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