Hurricane Katrina

Cost to rebuild frustrating to East Biloxians

BILOXI - Residents left the Biloxi Community Center on Thursday night hot and frustrated after the fifth and final meeting hosted by Living Cities, a nonprofit organization working on redevelopment ideas for East Biloxi.

"I think people are looking for more answers than they're getting," community advocate and conservationist Terese Collins told Living Cities representatives at the community center, where Hurricane Katrina knocked out the air conditioning. "We don't need answers in three months. We needed them four months ago."

Residents want to know how they can afford to rebuild homes they lost to Hurricane Katrina.

Housing specialist Lamar Wilson estimated $185,000 would be the average cost to build a 1,000-square-foot house, including $30,000 for land and $20,000 to elevate for protection against future hurricanes. By contrast, 20 townhouses on land the same price would cost $125,000 a unit.

Those prices are out of reach for most East Biloxians, but public and private resources can bridge that gap, Wilson said, if this is the city's goal. He discussed various ways this might be done, but residents wanted specifics.

He also said residents could pool their individual projects and hire one developer to save costs.

Gordon Brigham, who has led the Living Cities effort in East Biloxi, promised recommendations will include a resource center where residents can get answers. He said Living Cities, which has assisted cities since 1991, would find a location and funding for a resource center and he hopes it could be set up shortly after the organization's report is sent to Mayor A.J. Holloway in a couple of weeks.

Living Cities is not discouraging residents who want to rebuild, but is trying to explain the realities they face.

Low-lying areas where single-family homes used to sit are more suited to multi-story housing because the cost can be absorbed over more units. Also, parking can be located on the lower level to minimize hurricane damage. Higher ground where many houses survived should continue to serve for single-family homes.

Ward 1 Councilman George Lawrence, who lost his home at the peninsula's tip, said residents are not interested in townhouses and apartments. They want houses with yards where they can grill just like they have always done.

Lawrence said, "I think the major problem is you're not addressing the needs of the people sitting here."