The photographs have been as haunting as the stories. For days, newspapers and cable television channels have covered little but the growing tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, which struck Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana in late August. The storm– and the resulting floods– destroyed apartments, houses, businesses, and most of all, people's lives. The damage: $125 billion and counting, as of mid-September.
For all of us here at the magazine, where we think about nothing but housing for sometimes 12 hours a day, what has transpired in New Orleans has been positively horrifying to us. It's hard to know what would have been a worse fate: being trapped with thousands of other desperate people in the Superdome, without food or running water, or being imprisoned in one's own home, watching the floods rise higher and higher, with nothing more than the hope of a helicopter rescue.
No American should be forced to make such a choice.
That concept seems to have escaped the federal government, which has come under savage and well-earned criticism for its role (or rather, lack thereof) in the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
Mercifully, though, Katrina's impact has not been overlooked by the apartment industry. For every scathing news story or comment that has come across my desk about the government reaction to this massive storm, I have received at least one e-mail announcement, if not two or three, about a multifamily company's efforts to help Louisiana and Mississippi residents displaced by this massive natural disaster.
Competitors like the nonprofit Local Initiatives Support Corp. (also known as LISC) and The Enterprise Foundation are teaming up to raise a fund for redeveloping the Gulf region's affordable housing and encouraging economic development. The National Multi Housing Council has been working seemingly nonstop on Katrina issues, notifying its members daily about the latest ways to deliver housing to hurricane survivors and how to manage the bureaucratic hoops that apartment firms must be overcome to provide this critically needed shelter.
Many have accepted the challenge. Companies like The Lynd Co. in San Antonio, Camden Property Trust, Palladium USA, and many more have opened up apartments for those in need of shelter. They've tracked down furniture and, in some cases, provided food, blankets, and clothing to families with nothing. They've relaxed lease terms, security deposits, and credit requirements, acknowledging the reality that many Katrina survivors escaped with little but the clothes on their backs.
What a contrast to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose then-director Michael D. Brown said on television days after Katrina hit and the city's levees broke that he did not know about the thousands of people who had been evacuated to, and stranded at, the New Orleans convention center.
Brown's gone now, of course, after submitting a much-called-for resignation. But that provides little comfort to those who lost their homes, relatives, and friends in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. For them, it's too late. Who knows how the storm's impact could have been blunted if the government had responded as quickly as the multifamily industry? So far, apartment executives and their companies have proved more willing and better prepared to help those who survived Hurricane Katrina than the federal agency specifically trained to do so.