Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Baker Bill

The whys and wherefores, as simply as I could do them:

First, it prevents mortgage companies from being saddled with defaulted mortgages on hundreds of worthless homes. If homeowners don’t have flood insurance and can’t rebuild, many of them will simply default and mortgage companies will be left with block after block of stinking messes.

For some homeowners, it provides them with a way out of an unwinnable situation, namely a wrecked house and no insurance money. The government would pay them no less than 60% of their equity, and pay off the mortgage. Nobody gets everything, but everybody gets something.

Additionally, since everyone agrees that New Orleans’ population is going to shrink by about half, we need to shrink the city’s size as well. If we don’t, people are going to be stuck in blighted neighborhoods, with a rebuilt house in the middle of nowhere, which would also require the city to rebuild infrastructure like roads, sewer lines, and flood prevention for an area twice the size as needed with half the tax revenue. This bill gives people who want to return to New Orleans a way to get out of unsafe, low-lying neighborhoods and into neighborhoods on higher ground.

For people like me - who have insurance, want to rebuild, and live in a relatively high, safe neighborhood - the bill assures us that we’re not going to rebuild into a blighted neighborhood. Even if all my neighbors don’t come back (and I know they’re not), this bill means something will happen to those houses and they won’t just sit next to mine and rot.

Aside from rebuilding homes, New Orleans needs to strengthen its levees, and return some land to wetlands to act as a natural hurricane barrier and flood absorber (might as well do something with those unoccupied neighborhoods). Plus, it wants to put in a light-rail commuter train that would run to Baton Rouge and Mississippi, providing a cheap, quick evacuation route. All of that is going to take land, land that homes are on now. The government would have to seize this land through eminent domain, which would entail potentially hundreds of court cases, thousands and thousands of dollars to fight those court cases, and years to settle them all. The Baker bill would hopefully speed and simplify the process.

Lastly, whenever a natural disaster hits, the feds write some checks. None of that is ever repaid. On the other hand, this bill actually will give the federal government a return on its investment when the properties are resold.

In short, everybody wins. That usually means that a bill doesn’t have the proverbial snowball’s chance in Hell, but how about, just this once, we buck tradition, give the finger to history, and make it happen anyway?

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