August 7, 2013
Where Did Post-Katrina Money Go?
NEW ORLEANS — In the days and weeks after Hurricane Katrina, Habitat for Humanity International took in a chunk of money — $127 million, to be exact.
New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity is working to build homes in St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson and Orleans parishes.
But according to Habitat Director Jim Pate, only about 50 homes have been completed and about 70 remain under construction in the area most affected by the storm.
“I think the group that raised the most red flags was probably Habitat for Humanity,” said Trent Stamp, president of watchdog group Charity Navigator. “They were certainly on the forefront of receiving public attention. We can flash-back to they were building houses in Rockefeller Square — they were right there on the forefront. And then when it came out, they didn’t spend a whole lot of money in the actual affected area.”
In fact, of the more than $120 million raised, about $29 million made its way to New Orleans Habitat.
Pate said about $15 million has been spent, leaving about $14 million left over.
“I was surprised when I saw recently that the number of homes that they actually built in the New Orleans area,” Stamp said.
In total, Habitat International and it regional affiliates have broken ground on more than 1,000 homes all over the Gulf Coast.
But in the area most affected by Katrina, there are only about 100 homes either completed or in progress.
Pate said it’s been particularly difficult to build in Louisiana. Orleans Parish was closed for months — people weren’t allowed in the city and power and water hadn’t been restored.
“You couldn’t even get around, so there was no construction taking place post-Katrina at all in 2005,” Pate said.
He also said it’s taken months to find vacant lots with clear titles that can be used for new construction.
“Clearly, without a doubt, the issue has been land and land assemblage. All of the title issues, everything that’s going on with Road Home program — where people are taking months and months and months to be able to prove that they have the title to the land — well, those are the vacant lots we’re buying,” he said. “We cannot accelerate a legal and bureaucratic process to get the land.”
Others have criticized Habitat for building new homes when they believe storm-damaged homes could have been refurbished more quickly and for less money.
“It does not speed the construction of a house,” Pate said. “You have to go in, and you gut it. It’s dangerous for volunteers — much more dangerous going in, not because of mold or anything, but because when you go in and start doing a deconstruct, you’re putting volunteers into a position where we don’t know what’s above them in the roof, or we don’t know what’s in the walls, or the condition of the floors.”
Habitat said its building schedule is accelerating, with a goal of 250 houses for this year.
“In New Orleans, Habitat for Humanity is the single-largest home builder in the city post-Katrina. So, when somebody says, ‘Well, we don’t think you’re spending your money fast enough’ â€¦ they indicating they’re unaware of the real situation on the ground here,” Pate said.
Red Cross Spent Money Spent On Immediate Needs
In all, $4.25 billion was donated to charities for Katrina relief.
“It was over $4 billion in philanthropic support — the largest one-time response in the history of American philanthropy or the world for that matter,” Stamp said. “The vast majority of the money at this point is gone,” he said.
The American Red Cross ended up with most of the money. The agency collected about $2.1 billion from donors around the world immediately following the storm.
“One-point-five billion dollars of it — or 75 percent of it — was spent within a month,” Stamp said.
Kay Wilkins, CEO of the Southeast Louisiana chapter of the Red Cross, said the bulk of the money went to sheltering evacuees and feeding them.
“We set up shelters in 24 states out of 50 states,” Wilkins said.
Not all the money, though, was spent just after the storm.
“We held back about $193 million for hurricane recovery,” Wilkins said.
The Red Cross continues working with community groups on long-term solutions to many post-Katrina problems.
“We have created a program called Access To Care, where persons who were affected by Katrina who lived in the areas that were affected by Katrina can call an 800 number and get an instant access to emotional care,” Wilkins said. “Emotions are turning again, and there’s that fragility that surfaces, and there’s a need for them to seek emotional support and care. So, that’s basically where the funds are, have been spent and are still being spent.”
The Bush-Clinton Fund for Katrina was another big recipient of donations — more than $130 million, according to Stamp.
“They did not provide cash assistance or immediate recovery effort. They decided to hold it, wait for a while. At this point almost all that has been distributed,” he said.
Some charity watchdogs that had no problem with the Red Cross were critical of the way the Bush-Clinton Fund spent its money. Instead of helping individuals or supervising specific projects, the fund handed over its money to other organizations.
“The Bush-Clinton money was very political,” Stamp said. “You can see where it went when they dispersed it — primarily to churches, primarily to historic black colleges, and then they gave it to the governors of the states in which they raised it. So they were slow to react.”
Copyright 2007 by WDSU.com.