September 13, 2005
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane
Katrina, the government and non-profit communitys reaction
involved immediate human needs like food, water, and shelter.
But the response is quickly moving toward long-term rebuilding,
with a large emphasis on saving historic structures.
The Heritage Emergency National Task
Force, a 10-year-old coalition of 40 non-profit, professional,
and government agencies including FEMA and the National Park
Service, has formed a Katrina response group. It will coordinate
relief assistance, figure out how to aid the owners of damaged
or lost properties, and help shape Congressional responses.
Congresss first response, on September 8, was to appropriate
$51.8 billion to feed and house victims, rebuild schools and
bridges, and to clear out rubble. Subsequent legislation is
expected to address the needs of historic property owners.
The AIA, the National Trust for Historic
Preservation, and other members of the Katrina response group
began drafting proposed legislation to protect historic properties
and aid owners in the disaster area. The groups most
developed approach calls for owners of houses listed on the
National Register or lying within a National Register historic
district a 30 percent tax credit on qualified rehabilitation
costs. This would supplement the existing Federal Historic
Rehabilitation Tax Credits for income-producing properties,
typically commercial properties in Main Street
neighborhoods. In addition, the response group has developed
a dozen or so administrative proposals to help the Treasury
Department streamline delivery of the tax credits in the targeted
area. It also worked on a plan to supplement tax incentives
with a direct grant-in-aid approach that would be administered
through the State Historic Preservation Officers in Louisiana,
Mississippi, and Alabama.
For its part, the National Conference
of State Historic Preservation Officers has taken charge of
coordinating historic preservation offices in the three affected
states, and advised officers from other states ready to send
assessment teams to disaster areas. Triage teams sent to the
affected areas will include preservation experts, architects,
and engineers; US/ICOMUS (the U.S. National Committee of the
International Council on Monuments and Sites) was coordinating
offers of assistance from disaster experts overseas.
Its important after any disaster
to make sure historic buildings dont get red-tagged
for unnecessary demolition, says Nancy Schamu, executive
director of the National Conference. Echoing Schamu, Patricia
Gay, executive director of the Preservation Resource Center
of New Orleans, says, No demolitions should occur without
thorough review and without consideration of the determination
of owners to save their houses.
The historic New Orleans neighborhoods
built primarily before the 20th century, including the Vieux
Carré, the Lower Garden District, Faubourg Marginy,
and Uptown, lie on higher ground and sustained relatively
little damage. Gay was most concerned about districts like
Broadmoor, an early-20th-century neighborhood, and Ponchartrain
Park, built in the 1950s for African American homebuyers,
which she said might be lost.