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Response shifts to rebuilding and heritage

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By Allen Freeman

October 2005

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the government and nonprofit community's reaction involved immediate human needs. But the response is quickly moving toward long-term rebuilding, with a large emphasis on saving historic structures.

On September 2 and 8, Congress appropriated first $10.5 billion and then $51.8 billion to feed and house victims, rebuild schools, bridges, and roads, provide medicine and services, and clear out rubble. Most went to FEMA, the Department of Defense, and the Army Corps of Engineers. The Bush administration's rebuilding efforts have included four $100 million contracts to construct emergency housing.

Setting its rebuilding agenda, the AIA has specified several legislative proposals, including a $50 million federal grant program to fund "New Community" demonstration projects in the impacted areas; a $200 million "21st Century Schools" grant to provide new and repaired educational facilities in the region; incentives to clean up and redevelop contaminated brownfield sites; and federal grants for planning directed by local citizens and governments, with involvement from architects and planners.

To help protect historic structures, the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, a coalition of 40 nonprofit, professional, and government agencies, including FEMA, the AIA, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the National Park Service, has formed a Katrina response group. The group has begun drafting proposed legislation calling for owners of houses listed on the National Register or lying within a National Register historic district to get a 30 percent tax credit on qualified rehabilitation costs. The group has also worked on a plan for a direct grant-in-aid approach that would be administered through the region's historic preservation officers. The group aims to include preservation officers on damage assessment teams, and to prevent any unneeded destruction.

"It's important that historic buildings don't get red-tagged for unnecessary demolition," says Nancy Schamu, executive director of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers.

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