Is the sympathetic thing always a sensible thing?

Sheelzebub, in a new post today on Pandagon, has a great deal of sympathy for the people displaced by Hurricane Katrina who were not homeowners, and thus had no homeowners’ insurance to make up for their destroyed residences:

    Katrina survivors–taking action (aka the Leigh post)

    Published by Sheelzebub July 13th, 2007

    In the comments to this post, Leigh pointed out that we need to support legislation in the works that will help the abandoned Katrina survivors:

    I urge folks, if you do contact your senators, to tell them YOU SUPPORT H.R. 1227 and S. 1668, the Gulf Coast Hurricane Housing Recovery Acts. The House bill is (unsurprisingly) the more progressive of the two (explicitly requiring the government to honor the “right to return” of public housing residents), but the Senate bill is pretty close, and has some additional funds for affordable housing.

    Supporting these two bills is critical; the Senate’s has just been introduced, and is already under GOP fire for expanding entitlement programs (it would transfer FEMA-assisted households into Section 8 programs).

    She also left a comment about the philanthropic organizations that are helping survivors. Check out her comment and give these organizations your support, if you can.

    Leigh has a post up on this issue, which I urge everyone to read.

    Then, go to this website contact your senators and representatives, and tell them that you want to see the passage of H.R. 1227 (for the House) and S. 1668 (Senate). Also make it very clear that you want the right to return for all evacuees (especially in the case of S. 1668, which doesn’t have as strong a commitment to that).

The “right of return for public housing residents?” Does that mean that the government would be required to build replacement public housing, in virtually the same locations, as their old units, and then subsidize their housing expenses?

When I lived in Hampton, Virginia, the building code required that the minimum first floor level was 9 feet above sea level; you could not get a building permit for any residential structure lower than that. (You could have a floor for an unattached or ground level garage below nine feet.) One family contacted me about building an addition to their house: even though the house had a first floor at 8’5″ above sea level (built in the 1960s, before the building code change), that could not be grandfathered, and the addition would have to be at least 9′. (The addition never got built; it would have been a monstrosity on a ranch home, with a seven inch riser and a headroom cove cut out of the kitchen ceiling.)

This made a lot of sense, because it winds up being the government which bears some responsibility for flood damages; flood insurance is a federal program. I was required to have federal flood insurance on my home when I bought it, because it was within 1,000 feet of tidal water. (My first floor was about 12′ above sea level. One of Mrs Pico’s friends had the only house in all of Grandview, the neighborhood in which we lived, which had a basement, and the only thing Brenda had in her basement was a pump.)

So, I’ve got to ask: does it make any sense to use taxpayer money to build residential structures in parts of New Orleans that are below sea level? Parts of some wards are almost twenty feet below sea-level; if you built on stilts (the way some coastal homes are), you’d have to have a first floor around thirty feet above ground level.

Now, as far as I am concerned, if some fool wants to build a house below sea level, it’s fine with me if he does — if he uses his own money. His money, his risk. But I wouldn’t spend government money on it, nor would I have such a residence eligible for federal flood coverage.

We spent billions and billions on the levee system for New Orleans — some of which was diverted for other uses — over several administrations, both Republican and Democrat, and the levee system was still not sufficient to protect the city from Katrina, which, by the time we finally got accurate measurements, was only at the high end of category three.

If after all of those billions of dollars, the levees were insufficient to protect New Orleans from a Category 3 hurricane, how much more will have to be spent to protect the city from a Category 5?

Leigh’s original post mentions a lot of things that are being done wrong, primarily along the lines of local communities trying to redisplace the already displaced Katrina evacuees in FEMA trailers. Some communities simply don’t want the evacuees living there.

But having sympathy for the victims of a natural disaster, and saying that they ought not to be discriminated against, is not the same thing as saying that we ought to be spending taxpayer dollars to build residential units ten or twenty feet below sea level, in an area so vulnerable to hurricanes. That’s just foolishness.

We’ll wind up spending public money on the displaced, to put them in some sort of residences other than FEMA trailers; that’s a given. But that does not mean that it makes any sense at all to build new housing in a hole in the ground; whatever public obligation we assume for such people does not require that they be returned to the same place.

24 Comments

  1. Hi,

    Thanks for the link.

    Actually all the public housing that is under debate about whether to demolish it or re-open it – Lafitte, St. Bernard, C.W. Peete and B.W. Cooper – is in strong, viable shape w/minimal flood damage. (Most are located towards the center of the city in areas where the waters did not rise as high. Others, such as Desire, were decimated but are being rebuilt anyway. That’s a different debate than what’s at play in the legislation I’m referencing)

    Architectural and engineering experts have examined the property and determined it is safe and suitable for habitation, with minimum clean up and restoration (contrary to what HUD would like you to believe); it would be far far cheaper to re-open the public housing that is still standing and is still sturdy than it would be to demolish it and build what will also most likely be less sturdy buildings (if the demolition of St. Thomas and River Garden replacement in New Orleans is any indication). It would also be far cheaper to re-house people back in public housing vs. the exorbitant expenditures we paid for flimsy FEMA trailers. Did you know those things averaged about $75k a pop? It would have been much more efficient and inexpensive to use HUD vouchers to re-house people after the storm, but that would have defied the Bush Admin’s (incl. the GOP Cong. at the time) opposition to using HUD in any useful, safety-net-oriented way. And now we’re all paying for it.

    The Greater New Orleans Data Center has extensive maps with flooding depths, etc. (www.gnocdc.org). You can also find this info at http://www.nola.com, I believe.

    The city also has a population of 260,000 and growing and rental units are desperately needed. This is not a discussion of building new housing in vulnerable areas, but finding vulnerable people places to live in a city that is still very much alive and slowly recovering and not going anywhere, no matter how much natural and man-made disaster sweeps its shores.

  2. Cindy Sheehan wants Bush impeached. One of her five “articles” of impeachment is the response to Katrina. I never knew the Constitution required a President to act in a natural disaster.

  3. No, really. You don’t have to keep proving you don’t give a shit. Maybe that should be your tagline, to keep you from having to reiterate. Just a though, Mr. Pico.

  4. How is asking if this is a government function “not giving a shit”? It says nothing about private charity or personal contributions. But please, Mr. JackGoff, continue displaying your narrow-minded approach to solving problems.

  5. But please, Mr. JackGoff, continue displaying your narrow-minded approach to solving problems.

    No need. You’re doing just fine, an dI wouldn’t want you to start actually caring, because that might be a large crisis for you. :-)

  6. Oh, and by the way, donating to private charities is a good thing, just like taxes (then again, this is only if you realize that taxes should benefit the citizens of the United States of America)

    Or are the Katrine victims not citizens? I understand you not thinking so, what with their ethnic diversity and all. Too troublesome to actually care. Better to write them off as free-loaders and not-worth-the-government’s-time. Makes it easier, I’m sure. I’d pity you if I hadn’t read your other screeds.

  7. And really, Sharon. “Do nothing” is not a narrow-minded approach…how? Or are you pulling your usual disingenuousness? I’m not surprised either way, of course.

  8. Question: How is government intervention in the Terri Schiavo case okay, and government intervention in the Katrina fiasco not okay?

    I eagerly await your bullshit.

  9. Okay, upon further recollection, I was really flippant, and I should be understanding.

    Sharon, please do not overload your brain by attempting to think about entities who are not you. You should definitely stick to self-serving ethics, as opposed to actions that benefit people who are not you. I’m incredibly sorry for putting you through anything that made you dissuade yourself from a complete focus on your ego. That was evil of me.

  10. No need. You’re doing just fine, an dI wouldn’t want you to start actually caring, because that might be a large crisis for you.

    Well, pointing out the narrow-mindedness of your approach to problem-solving is what it’s all about.

    Oh, and by the way, donating to private charities is a good thing, just like taxes (then again, this is only if you realize that taxes should benefit the citizens of the United States of America)

    I wouldn’t characterize paying taxes as “a good thing,” but more of a “necessary evil.” But it does show the difference in philosophies: if you think paying taxes is “a good thing,” then you just want to keep increasing that “good thing.” Whereas, if you think taxes are “a necessary evil,” then keeping taxes low is, indeed “a good thing.”

    Or are the Katrine victims not citizens? I understand you not thinking so, what with their ethnic diversity and all.

    Gee, it usually takes moonbats longer to start calling one racist. I guess this is based on the fact that I live in such a racially homogeneous place.

    And really, Sharon. “Do nothing” is not a narrow-minded approach…how? Or are you pulling your usual disingenuousness? I’m not surprised either way, of course.

    The narrow-mindedness of your approach is that only government can solve problems like those faced by the Katrina survivors. It assumes that there are no private organizations involved with the situation, or that solutions from those who have been there might not work better than government bureaucracies.

    Question: How is government intervention in the Terri Schiavo case okay, and government intervention in the Katrina fiasco not okay?

    I’m not certain that intervention in the Terri Schiavo case was “okay,” although I supported it at the time. I actually argued that the court’s hands were tied because there had been nothing procedurally wrong with the adjudication of Schiavo’s case. It seems to me that “government intervention,” in that case, was designed to fix what was perceived as a horrible loophole: a beneficiary being allowed to determine the life or death of a loved one. This is, of course, the way things frequently work: one’s spouse, who will, most likely, greatly benefit from one’s will is also the person permitted to make one’s final life decisions. It just was terribly unfortunate in Mrs. Schiavo’s case that her husband did not appear to have her best interest at heart.

    How does this compare with government intervention in New Orleans? My objection is that governmental micromanagement is partly what has delayed the rebuilding of New Orleans. Not to mention the sorts of budget mismanagement that government is famous for.

    Sharon, please do not overload your brain by attempting to think about entities who are not you. You should definitely stick to self-serving ethics, as opposed to actions that benefit people who are not you. I’m incredibly sorry for putting you through anything that made you dissuade yourself from a complete focus on your ego. That was evil of me.

    I realize you have no life, Jack, and therefore assume everybody eagerly reads your crap and responds. But how any of this has to do with me completely “focus(ing) on (my) ego” is beyond me. Care to elaborate? Which part of thinking this may not be a government function is “focusing on my ego”?

  11. Mr Goff, please note that I concluded:

    We’ll wind up spending public money on the displaced, to put them in some sort of residences other than FEMA trailers; that’s a given. But that does not mean that it makes any sense at all to build new housing in a hole in the ground; whatever public obligation we assume for such people does not require that they be returned to the same place.

    That isn’t a statement that we should not help the citizens displaced by Katrina; it is a statement that we ought not spend taxpayer dollars to rebuild in such a vulnerable spot.

  12. No need. You’re doing just fine, an dI wouldn’t want you to start actually caring, because that might be a large crisis for you.

    What a bunch of immature, self-serving garbage!

  13. Jack, and therefore assume everybody eagerly reads your crap and responds.

    If I have no life, yet you read and responded to what I wrote, what does this say about you? Of course, you probably didn’t do it eagerly, as it might have made you have to picture those ungrateful leeches.

  14. Well, considering you spammed this post last night and I didn’t even look at this site before this morning, I’d say it proves that you were obsessed and I…was busy having a life.

  15. Sharon logic at its finest.

    Coming from the guy who spammed the queue last night? You shouldn’t be throwing stones.

  16. Coming from the guy who spammed the queue last night?

    Which is proof towards having no life in Sharon logic. No, you don’t have to keep mashing the keys, I get it.

  17. .That isn’t a statement that we should not help the citizens displaced by Katrina; it is a statement that we ought not spend taxpayer dollars to rebuild in such a vulnerable spot.

    You are an idiot (as has been observed before).

    New Orleans exists for a reason.

    “New Orleans is not optional for the United States’ commercial infrastructure. It is a terrible place for a city to be located, but exactly the place where a city must exist. With that as a given, a city will return there because the alternatives are too devastating. The harvest is coming, and that means that the port will have to be opened soon. As in Iraq, premiums will be paid to people prepared to endure the hardships of working in New Orleans. But in the end, the city will return because it has to.

    Geopolitics is the stuff of permanent geographical realities and the way they interact with political life. Geopolitics created New Orleans. Geopolitics caused American presidents to obsess over its safety. And geopolitics will force the city’s resurrection, even if it is in the worst imaginable place. “

  18. And…you aren’t commenting? Interesting, if predictable.

    Well, you’re predictable…but not particularly interesting.

  19. Phoe: that the Port of New Orleans has a valuable use is not in dispute; that the city must exist in it’s pre-Katrina form to support the port is.

    As much as I dislike subsidized mass transit, it would be far less expensive to rebuild for the poor displaced people of New orleans on higher ground and add a fast commuter rail line to whatever jobs they had in New Orleans, or in servicing the port. Then, when the next monster hurricane strikes, the water will recede from high ground, there’ll be less damage, and far less to rebuild from scratch.

  20. As much as I dislike subsidized mass transit, it would be far less expensive to rebuild for the poor displaced people of New orleans on higher ground and add a fast commuter rail line to whatever jobs they had in New Orleans, or in servicing the port.

    A more sensible argument, assuming you can back it up with, say, a cite to an urban plan based on this. *IS* there any suitable high ground near NO?

  21. A more sensible argument, assuming you can back it up with, say, a cite to an urban plan based on this. *IS* there any suitable high ground near NO?

    I guess you have never been there? Yes there is plenty of higher ground. Cite, just go to USGS and get a topo map. The “problem” with most of the higher ground is not it’s proximity but that people with more money already live there.

    The poor people did not really choose to live in the areas they did. These were slums and they were stuck there and forgotten by everyone except the police and the criminals who took advantage of them. Their suffering during Katrina was due to them being forgotten and abandoned.

    Quite a number of these people have chosen not to come back, from Houston to Lubbock and as far away as Denver and beyond they have decided to stay and start new lives. They did not want to be thrown back into that same hole. I am talking about the poor who lived in government housing and the like. These people did/do not have the relatively higher paying jobs at the Port of New Orleans. Many of these people are elderly or single women and their children.

    The shortage of “rental” units for the lower middle class and up is a different situation altogether. “Affordable” housing or worse still “government” housing, well, that is a different type of critter and nobody wants that in their neighborhood.

    These people don’t deserve to shoved back into the same places where nobody else will live. Where the homes never appreciate in value and where slum lords reign supreme. They also don’t deserve to be warehoused in trailers.

    The poor in NO, in Louisiana and in the South were not created by Katrina. Too bad after the tragedy there is a desire to put things back just the way they were. New Orleans was always known for its Jazz, food and nightlife, unfortunately it has also always been known for its poor. Sometimes, some things are better off not being rebuilt.

    There is of course a great many forces at work here and trite and silly absolute statements do not contribute to the discussion. One example I heard is “well Amsterdam….” New Orleans, hell Louisiana has is much in common with the Netherlands as New Zealand has with Angola. New Orleans has problems up river and down, and the old parts of the city are problematic concerning flooding.

    I guarantee you one thing, no matter what the solution down there ends up being; there will be Louisiana politicians up and down the food chain getting rich along with their friends.

    BTW Pho, if you ever get this far north New Orleans is a magical place to visit. The people who wash the dishes at the restaurants you visit or the maids who clean your hotel room are the folks we are talking about, not longshoremen.

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