Video: Big Easy rebuilding permits too easy?

NBC News
By Ron Allen Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/8/2006 7:23:26 PM ET 2006-02-09T00:23:26

Peter Sladovich came to city hall armed with pictures of his flood-ravaged home and ready for a fight. He's challenging a damage estimate that says more than 50 percent of his home was destroyed. He needs an assessment below that to get a permit to rebuild. Turns out, winning his appeal was easy. His assessment came in at less than 50 percent.

“Once they go through the reassessment,” Sladovich says, “they do make it easy for you to rebuild, absolutely.”

City officials acknowledge that more than 80 percent of the homeowners, whose houses are condemmed, win their appeals and are allowed to rebuild. That’s raising the question: Is it too easy? Every day hundreds of homeowners are getting permits to rebuild, including many with homes in flood-prone neighborhoods. Critics say the permit process is too arbitrary and potentially dangerous.

Robert Hunter used to run a federal program that provides discounted flood insurance to communities like New Orleans.

“These are homes that were seriously damaged, and to put them back the way they were just seems foolish,” says Hunter.

Thousands of homeowners are getting permits and taking matters into their own hands, because New Orleans still does not have a rebuilding plan.

Homeowner Peter Bergeron is fixing his home. “Don't wait for government,” Bergeron says, “go do it yourself, that's my opinion.”

The problem is the city eventually might decide not to put streets or utilities where some residents already are hard at work.

“You have two plans on the same track,” says political analyst Silas Lee. “And apparently they might collide, or will collide, at some point.”

City officials say building inspectors, overwhelmed by the destruction, only made rough assessments. They're willing to work with owners who can prove them wrong.

“Our job is to say, ‘Look, by the rules, we can get you back in the game and you want to help us build the city back, it's our job to help you do that,’” says Greg Meffert, New Orleans' Rebuilding Coordinator.

Many owners would rather build now and worry about the city's plans later.

“I'm not selling my property,” says resident Paul Condoll. “I'm going to get all the permits I need.”

They're determined not to lose the places they call home.

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