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GulfGov Reports Releases New Recovery Study

For the complete text of the report, click on:

http://www.rockinst.org/gulfgov/ or http://www.la-par.org

GulfGov Reports:

A Year and a Half after Katrina and Rita, an Uneven Recovery

The study focused on the role of local governments in the recovery efforts and what factors have helped or hindered the process. In addition, researchers examined the status of the local economies, the housing and labor situation, and how well the states are faring.

The report found that there is progress in the recovery and rebuilding efforts. Even in the hardest hit areas, overall conditions are markedly better than they were in the months immediately after Katrina and Rita. But the recovery is uneven and the progress each community has made seems to be dependent on:

  • How effective its local leaders have been in making decisions about what direction the recovery should take.
  • How badly its business and economic infrastructure was damaged.
  • How quickly it has been able to tap into state and federal aid flows.

“It is the combination of these factors that seems to determine the speed with which a community recovers from a disaster of this scale,” said Jim Brandt, president of PAR and co-principal investigator on the project. “Local leadership is clearly crucial, but so is a community’s ability to restart its business infrastructure and to access state and federal assistance in a timely manner. When any of these elements are missing, the recovery falters or stalls altogether.”

The first GulfGov Report cited a number of lessons to be learned from the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the response to the disaster. Among them were:

  • The longer a community waits to develop a specific recovery plan, the more likely residents will be to take matters into their own hands, and the rebuilding will be haphazard.
  • Recovery efforts have advanced the most in those communities where officials have provided clear, specific direction and encouraged public input and participation.
  • Before a devastated community can make any substantive progress, it must meet its housing needs.

More than a year and a half after the storms, these lessons remain as relevant as ever. What this study makes clear is how closely housing availability and a functioning economic infrastructure are intertwined. This means that local officials have to focus on both elements at the same time in order to keep things moving forward, and that is difficult to do.

Yet, seeking outside help in the form of federal and/or state aid has brought its own set of problems, as this study shows. State and federal policy decisions made without community input have had a tremendous impact on local residents and in many cases have contributed more to delays in the recovery rather than progress. It is clear that a disaster of this magnitude is beyond the ability of local governments to handle alone, but it is also clear that state and federal policy decisions need to involve local governments if they are to help speed recovery.

“Author Karen Rowley is absolutely right to emphasize the vital role of local leaders along with a myriad of nonprofit organizations,” said Dr. Richard P. Nathan, co-director of the Rockefeller Institute and co-principal investigator on the project. “Our data show that the abundance of hard work performed with great steadfastness and under witheringly hard conditions by these unsung heroes has achieved a great deal. At the same time, the report shows that severe problems remain in the hardest hit communities. As our work continues, we want to dig into the lessons learned by local leaders and the way their relationships with other levels of government turned out to be such a special and serious problem.”

This report is part of an ongoing project being conducted jointly by the Rockefeller Institute and PAR with the help of a $900,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. In addition to the Rockefeller Institute and PAR, the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University and the Center for Urban Planning and Policy Assessment at Jackson State University also are partnering in the research network for this project. The Advisory Committee for the project is chaired by former Mississippi Gov. William F. Winter.

The report is available online by clicking http://www.rockinst.org/gulfgov/ or http://www.la-par.org.

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