EAGER TO LEARN HOW BUILDERS WERE FARING IN THE wake of the destruction from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we sent crack contributing editor Ted Cushman to the Gulf Coast in late September to talk with builders and survey the devastated area. Cushman, a resident of Vermont, loaded up his all-wheel-drive vehicle with water, a portable generator, his laptop, and other supplies and headed south to see what was going on.

It wasn't a pretty sight. Cushman encountered builders whose economic livelihood hung precariously in the balance: their half-finished subdivisions torn to pieces; their places of business destroyed; their apartment portfolios ruined. Many lost their own homes to the high water and winds and were struggling to get their lives back in order to help with the rebuilding effort. (Cushman's story, “Rebuilding Dixie,” begins on page 118.)

Help is on the way. The NAHB has pledged $1 million to help displaced or economically injured industry members get back on their feet, so that they can start working again and contribute to the rebuilding effort. This money was part of the $2 million earmarked for relief at the group's fall board meeting.

Assistance is coming from a variety of other industry sources as well. Pulte Homes was one of the first to step up, quietly giving $1 million to the American Red Cross for the relief effort (employees added another $200,000, says CEO Richard Dugas), and Hovnanian Enterprises gave $250,000 to the American Red Cross and will match personal contributions from its 5,000 associates across the country. Some companies—including Hanley Wood, LLC, BUILDER'S publisher—contributed to Habitat for Humanity, which is spearheading a new housing-in-a-box initiative. (For a longer list of donors and to learn what you can do to help, see page 126.)

GRAND PLANS Meanwhile, it's not clear what the strategy is for housing the more than 400,000 families displaced by the storm. FEMA initially ordered 125,000 trailers and mobile homes at a cost of more than $2 billion that it hoped to deploy close to the affected regions. The original plan was to establish campuses with as many as 15,000 homes each, but the agency ran into bottlenecks with shipments and couldn't find adequate places to put them.

During congressional hearings in early October, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) pointed out that only 109 Louisiana families had been put in those homes. At about the same time, FEMA turned its attention to lining up 18,000 housing units in hotels, motels, cruise ships, closed military bases, and rental units.

Andres Duany led a group of urban planners to Mississippi to develop a master plan for the affected area. And Bruce Karatz, CEO of Los Angeles–based KB Home, has offered to set up a division in New Orleans to build both for-profit and nonprofit housing. He asked government officials to find him a piece of ground where he could build at least 300 homes, enough to make it economical to support a division.

THE WORK AHEAD This may well be the biggest public restoration job in the nation's history. We lost 12 times more houses than in any other natural disaster. The latest estimates from the American Red Cross indicate that more than 350,000 homes were destroyed or damaged past the point of reclamation. Another 300,000 units suffered major or minor damage. Overall, almost 850,000 housing units were damaged, destroyed, or affected by Katrina and Rita. Most of the destroyed housing units, four-fifths, are in Louisiana. Mississippi can lay claim to most of the rest.

It will take many years, probably more than a decade, to rebuild the affected areas. One can only hope that the builders whose livelihoods were damaged by the storm will be able to help with the effort.

e-mail: bthompson@hanleywood.com

Editorial Director

Learn more about markets featured in this article: New Orleans, LA.