John Stossel: Wal-Mart, Private Sector Moved Faster After Katrina Than FEMA

Gov't officials admit private sector moving more quickly to rebuild New Orleans.

ByABC News
October 14, 2008, 12:55 PM

Oct. 15, 2008 — -- It's been three years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. Three years since Mayor Ray Nagin promised to rebuild the city. Three years since politicians agreed to spend $80 billion in tax dollars to do it.

Most people would agree that government should provide aid to people who are the victims of natural disasters. But much of New Orleans still looks like it did a week after Katrina hit.

Block after block of homes in the city's Ninth Ward still look like falling down wrecks. If residents there want to rebuild, they need a permit -- one of many hurdles to jump on the road to recovery.

Rev. Louis Adams of Holy Ground Baptist Church wanted to repair the flood-ravaged building, but the city's permitting process made that impossible. While he was appealing the city's refusal to grant him a permit to repair the church, the city tore down the building by mistake.

Dolores Davis' home was flooded by several feet of water during Katrina. She and her late husband, Harry, applied to the State of Louisiana's Road Home program, which channels money to homeowners who want to rebuild their homes.

More than two years after applying, she's still waiting.

"It's, you know, been one thing after another," Davis said.

"You'll have one worker this day and next week you'll talk to another worker, and you have to explain the same thing over and over," she said.

So, where does the blame belong for the slow pace of rebuilding? Don't point to the city, says New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. He says that everyone in government wants to make sure checks and balances are in place to prevent abuse and fraud. But he admits that there's a price to pay for that oversight.

"You have to go through, you know, 10 different approval processes before you can get something actually built," he said. "Governments are not built for speed, period."

When the Private Sector Is Faster Than Government

Government's checks and balances are why so much of New Orleans is still devastated. Yet, less than a mile away from some of the worst destruction is a neighborhood filled with brightly painted, beautiful new homes, all built by Habitat for Humanity. Habitat, a non-profit Christian organization, builds simple, low-cost homes with donated materials and labor.

"When they say they're gonna come in for a build, they build the houses," said jazz singer and New Orleans native Harry Connick Jr. "I mean, they're for real."

Connick helped build those homes -- he and others decided that building homes was the right thing to do. They didn't use government money, and no one in the government told them what they needed to do.

To build the homes, Habitat for Humanity employed specialists who know how to fight through bureaucracy, something the average person may have trouble with.

They built 70 homes -- quickly. Even Nagin admitted they did what the government didn't.

"We're seeing private sector does it better and quicker," Nagin said. "There's not a lot of rules and regulations."

But government does have a lot of rules and regulations, and some people think they get in the way of helping people who need it the most.

"Everything that we have done we have been able to accomplish in spite of the government," said Malik Rahim, one of the co-founders of the Common Ground Collective, a group formed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Common Ground provides short-term relief and long-term support rebuilding communities affected by hurricanes.

Rahim says that getting to those billions of tax dollars that government set aside for rebuilding was nearly impossible, so he gets money from individual donors, some of them tourists and passers-by.

He has a sign urging people to get out of their cars and lend a hand. They did, as did a number of celebrities.

"Brad Pitt has done more for this community than anyone," Rahim said.

Brad Pitt is doing more than the government of the United States?

"I would say 10 times more than the government," Rahim said.

Pitt founded non-profit group called Make it Right, which aims to build new, energy-efficient homes in the Ninth Ward. Some people doubted that Pitt would follow through, but with few delays, homes started going up. The first homes were finished this summer.

If Brad Pitt and Harry Connick, Jr. can work to build dozens of new homes, why does it take government so long to follow through on its plans? The New Orleans mayor said he has made it easier for people to rebuild their homes, making permits available online at kiosks throughout the city.

"We issued thousands and thousands of permits right after Katrina. So, we tried to get out of the way, and I think it paid off for us," Nagin said. "We have everything online, so you can go online, you can visit a kiosk."