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SUN HERALD ARCHIVE: Letter from Mayor Brent Warr

Recently there has been an ill intended story circulating claiming that I applied for a Hurricane Katrina homeowner grant but did not occupy the house. I am answering the rumor now in my words. I have requested a full review of my file by the appropriate agencies and intend to proactively respond to all legitimate questions concerning my eligibility for this grant.

The hurricane destroyed approximately 4,000 Gulfport homes and most of those left standing were significantly damaged. My family home was one of these. Efforts to rebuild and repair have been excruciatingly slow-going and difficult for so many of us. I along with nearly 20,000 other Coast residents, who had severe storm damage to our homes, certainly appreciate the help the MDA Homeowners Grant Program is providing. This is a crucial step in the recovery process for all of us. We should all expect that these grants are awarded fairly and are awarded based on a fulfillment of requirements and in accordance with the intent of the program to get people rebuilt and back into our homes.

My Home

I owned my home for over a year and a half prior to Hurricane Katrina making landfall. My home represents the 2 mortgages and property taxes that I have paid on it, on time since the purchase. My home is listed on my personal tax returns as my primary residence; the address was listed with city utilities, on my personal checking account and on personal bills in my and my wife's name. I received legal certification that the home was not in a flood zone and no flood insurance was necessary.

Our home was originally built in the 1940's. While it was a solid wooden structure, when we began the cosmetic sprucing up, we quickly discovered water damage, termite damage and an obsolete heating and air system. The growing list of repair needs led us to rethink moving everybody in and working on the house little by little as we have always done in our married life. Instead, we established living quarters in a single room for me to use during the renovation. My routine over the years has been to work on projects after business hours. I can run a table saw, insulate an air conditioning duct, weld, and drive a backhoe. I worked to keep costs down by doing things myself whenever possible as we discovered more and more wrong with the home. I worked there and slept there in the months before Katrina.

Most evenings and every weekend included my children and wife eating, playing and working in the house with me. However, because of construction dust and noise, Laura and the children stayed at my deceased grandmother's home in the Woodglen subdivision. We had patio furniture in the living room, the current season's clothing, basic cooking necessities, and beds in the Woodglen house. We did not own this house. Most of our clothing, children's toys and our larger furnishings were either in our home or in storage waiting to be moved there.

At the time of the storm, the inside of our home was complete and we had furniture and personal possessions in the house. This home was my primary residence. On August 29 as winds rose I left the house at 1 a.m. retreating from Hurricane Katrina to my grandmother's house in Woodglen. When I next saw the house it was devastated but standing. It was one of the few homes left in the area. This was the first of many times after Katrina that I actually wept.

Hurricane Katrina did incredible damage to the foundation of the house. The wind broke and pushed the chimney to lean against the roof rafters, and breached the roof to wreak havoc through the attic into the rooms below. The damage was well in excess of what insurance would address. To date, like many storm victims, we still have not settled with our company due to the wind versus water issue.

For the next year, we just waited and watched the house, trying to determine the financials of rebuilding. We were advised by many to tear it down and start over. A realtor approached with an offer to buy the house and property as it sat. He wanted to put condos or apartments there. I did not entertain the offer for two reasons. One, I believe that single-family residential neighborhoods should be preserved where possible. And two, this was my home and it had stood against Katrina.

We were informed about the Home Owners Grant in the same ways that every eligible homeowner was notified. We filled out our paperwork the same way every applicant did. We applied to MDA representatives we did not know and that did not know us. I answered honestly that it was (and still is) my primary residence. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, I occupied this home with my body, my financial commitment and sacrifice, time, energy, attention, family, hopes, and dreams.

Like thousands of other storm victims, my financial ability to recover from the damage and rebuild the house has been made possible by the Homeowners Grant. If we had not received this grant, I feel certain the house would still be boarded up and in the state that it was left in on August 29, 2005. As I stated at the first of this letter, I have requested a file review with the MDA and have submitted to them further information about my home along with affidavits and copies of financials. They did not ask for these things, but I want there to be no doubt as to the validity of this grant.

I believe with all my heart that public officials are mandated to care for their communities to the best of their abilities. To do the fair thing, to reach out to those in need, to work to better the lives of those that elect them. I hold myself and those around me to high moral standards. I do not ask for unfair advantage, favors or charity. I do believe that I have a right to participate in public programs for which I qualify.

To explain these personal things is foreign to me and I only do it to relate in detail that legally, morally and mentally my home is my home. It was occupied. It will be again. I do hope that my efforts to rebuild will be repeated by others. I do hope that the house stands 100 years from now and adds to the fabric of Gulfport in a positive manner. I do apologize for the length of this letter, but to know the whole is important. It is the truth.

Thank You,

Brent Warr