Senator Landrieu on Houston Recovery: Lessons from Katrina

September 14, 2017

In a Houston Chronicle op-ed, current Van Ness Feldman Senior Policy Advisor and former Senator Mary Landrieu discusses lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and what the citizens of Houston now face in Harvey’s recovery effort. 

Lesson after Katrina: Rebuilding is not development; Rebuilding is recovery!

As the devastating flood waters from Hurricane Harvey have now receded, bold vision, steady hands, courage, cooperation and stamina will be required of every community leader in the months and years to come.

The Texas congressional delegation must unite and work closely with Gov. Greg Abbott, as well as with the mayors of Houston, Beaumont, Port Arthur and other local government leaders throughout the impacted areas to shape and then implement an effective federal aid package. This package should seek to secure adequate financial resources for a full recovery as well as the policy tools necessary for a fast and effective rebuilding effort.

Re-enrolling students in schools should be the first priority. This helps stabilize the emotional health of children and provides parents with the time they need to do the hard work necessary to get their homes habitable and their businesses up and running.

Employers large and small should roll up their sleeves and do all they can to help employees get back to work and back in their homes. There are many fine examples of corporate leadership in the wake of past disasters. One such example is Shell's extraordinary and well-documented efforts post-Katrina in New Orleans.

The Small Business Administration has some useful resources available to get small and medium-sized businesses back up and running. Most notably, the $10,000 to $15,000 restart grants that have been successfully utilized in the past should be deployed again. However, a special focus must be given to reducing red tape so these grants can be quickly dispersed to help the many gas stations, small food stores, local retailers and family-owned businesses in the hardest hit areas.

The efforts of thousands of residents who must gut and rebuild their homes can be done more efficiently by streamlining and redesigning, if necessary, the federally mandated National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. As many of us tried to explain after Katrina, rebuilding is not development! Rebuilding is recovery! Federal law should reflect that reality, and best-in-class-housing-recovery models should be implemented. One example is the St. Bernard Project, a nationally recognized nonprofit that works shoulder to shoulder with homeowners, mobilizes volunteers and effectively stretches each dollar to rebuild homes and neighborhoods.

As we all start to rebuild this significant part of the Gulf Coast, a critical energy and trade corridor for our nation, let us keep in mind the challenges of rising sea levels and a climate that is changing and producing ever larger and more ferocious storms. We must make intelligent and sometimes difficult decisions throughout our rebuilding efforts.

Finally, our country can and should pull together across party lines to shape a federal response package that matches the great spirit of the people of Texas. All of our civic and religious organizations must continue to partner with local and state government whenever possible to ensure that aid and comfort get to everyone, especially the poor. Let's commit to each other to put our best effort towards this recovery until everyone is home.

Click here to view the article in the Houston Chronicle.