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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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WAVELAND, Miss. -- Terri Johnson loves her city. A third-generation Wavelander, she works in the sheriff’s department while she and her husband raise two teenage boys.

Terri Johnson stands in the ruins of her Waveland home after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.  Click 'Play' below the image to hear Terri talk about her dream home and to see where she hopes it will be built.

She says she wouldn’t live anywhere else, even after Katrina pummeled her family home, flood waters wrenching the seven-bedroom dwelling 10 feet from its base, wiping out memories and her life’s possessions.

“I was just born here, and I just love Waveland,” Johnson, 41, says with a laugh, appreciating the irony as she stands where her front door once opened onto Tippen Street.

Her dad rebuilt the home after Hurricane Camille, when she and her 11 siblings lived in a trailer for nearly six months.

She and husband Delroy, along with Destin, 16, and Dimitri, 13, lived there for seven years; now, the sodden shell awaits demolition.

That, in itself, is not that unusual in Waveland where Katrina cut a broad swath of destruction, especially near the Gulf, and where habitable homes are about as rare as unburdened insurance adjusters.

What’s tragic about Johnson’s story is that she was just about to live her dream: this month, in fact, the family had hoped to move into their new home on Waveland Avenue, five minutes away from Tippen Street.

So close to her dream
“It was a beautiful home, 2,400 square feet, with a two-car garage, three bedrooms, two baths, a living room, a den, a big kitchen and a fireplace,” Johnson recalled as we toured the site on Wednesday.

The house was never built; the builder dumped dirt for the foundation Friday before Katrina struck; the construction was due to begin the following Monday.

Now Johnson is stuck in limbo, party to one of the myriad intractable human dramas that followed the hurricane.

Her builder, according to Johnson, won’t build the house, even though the paperwork has been signed, sealed and delivered to the bank, which is financing the $160,000 purchase.

“I called him after Katrina, and he said it was going to cost $185,000, $190,000 because of the storm,” Johnson said, outrage in her voice.

The explanation, about rising costs of material and labor, didn’t wash with Johnson.

“But when you sign a contract, aren’t you supposed to stick to it? He said he would have to pay the workers more money. That’s not my fault. We did sign the contract.”

Busy builder
Enter Aaron Parker of Aaron Parker Enterprises, the man who sold the quarter acre of land and agreed the build the Johnson’s home.

“I’m not trying to make money out of that lady,” Parker said by telephone, unhappy that anyone would accuse him of gouging customers.

He agrees a contract was signed, and said he would “probably” build the house for the original price – but not now.

Parker explained that even if he could, the City of Waveland is not granting any permits for new home construction.

Moreover, it’s a money-losing proposition right now. “Before Katrina, [workers] were making $12-$13 an hour; now they are making $20-$25. All my best electricians and plumbers are working for FEMA.”

The inflationary market has raised salaries and material. “The price of everything is up,” Parker complained.

He added, “As long as costs come down, I’ll do it [in the spring].”

Small comfort
This was small comfort to Johnson when we called her back late Wednesday. “I wish he would call me and tell me that; he knows my number and he won’t call me back,” she said, with a note of resignation. “We need a home right now.”

The family recently returned from Westpoint, Miss., – a refuge for two months – so that the kids can start  school Monday, and she can return to work as a medical corrections officer with Bay St. Louis sheriff’s department.

Their home, for now, is a too-small FEMA trailer in another part of town.

Their dreams, well, they’ve been postponed.

“I still have hope,” Johnson said earlier when we spoke at where her new home should be standing.

“I think I’m cried out, I’m tired of crying. The guy hurt me so bad; this was our dream … and we’re still going to get it done.”

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78 COMMENTS

A contract is a contract, no matter what costs may have changed since it was agreed to and signed. Would the contractor be hesitant to build her house if the prevailing wages had fallen 5, 10, 15 or 25 percent (resulting in more profit to him) - I doubt it. As for a building permit, I'm sure it wouldn't take long to get one put together soon, in which case Ms. Johnson should go after the contractor in the courts with all her enegery. People decry our litigious society, but when a contract is completely disregarded and the contractor will not accept telephone calls from Ms. Johnson, the courts are the only place she can seek relief.

I would agree with Ms Johnson. The contractor did sign a contract and should have been aware of inflated costs in building a new home. Shame on him if he did not research prior to signing. He owes the family a new home regardless of what he says would be a loss. If nothing else the publicity from this article will probably hurt him more. Thanks

I would agree with Ms Johnson. The contractor did sign a contract and should have been aware of inflated costs in building a new home. Shame on him if he did not research prior to signing. He owes the family a new home regardless of what he says would be a loss. If nothing else the publicity from this article will probably hurt him more. Thanks

My prayers,Terri, for the realization of your family's dream.

Another example of how the "functional absenteeism" regarding building permits of the Waveland city government and FEMA are hurting the victims of Katrina!

I think that it is time for the government to put a halt on ALL prices. I think that it is sick that the cost of living jump so high after such devastation. Why doesn't the President put a halt on anything rising in cost.

Sorry, the builder signed a contract. There should have already been a building permit in order to make a contract. He is liable and should be held accountable to build this house immediately. He made a legal oath.

I'm a native New Orleanian and I spent many summer days in my youth at my grandmother's house in Waveland. That house is still owned by my family and I own property in Waveland. My colleagues and I in upstate New York are eager to help residents of Waveland in their recovery effort. We are contributing to the "Spirit of Waveland" fund but is there a need for clothing or other personal items? Please contact me. Thank you.

They just live through hell why American are so mean when people are in trouble. Why dont they help each other instead of rising everything the wood the salary It is a shame I am proud to be a Canadian we dont cut each other troat.

SOUND LIKE TO ME THIS GUY IS A RIP OFF. HE SEES A WAY TO MAKE MORE MONEY.A CONTRACT IS A LEGAL DOCUMENT ONCE IT IS SIGNED. MR. PARKER IS MONEY HUNGRY. BUSINESS MAN THANKS FOR WRITING THE STORY PEOPLE LIKE THIS I DON'T CARE FOR.

Surely, there must be some time of casualty insurance OR better yet, government assistance made avialable to familes effected /affected by the hurricane(s). Possibly, with the huge OIL profits made OFF people before, during and after these hurricanes, OIL companies should also be approached as a possible financing resource .

I really feel for that family, but everything does go up after a storm of that magnitude. She has to understand that. I live in southwest Florida and we are dealing with the aftermath of Wilma. The cost of living here is outragously high. I'm living with family becuase I can't even afford a home, not even to rent.


Do you have a clause in your contract regarding the date the house was to be completed and the amount of $ he was to pay in penalty each day after completion date has past? If so you can start charging him after that date. Breach of contract could be considered - unless he files bankruptcy. I'm not a lawyer but had a contractor try the same thing. Thankfully the pentalty clause was in our contract. Good luck sweetie, I really feel for you.

I feel badly for Ms. Johnson, however I also understand the position that the builder is in. First of all, he can't pull a permit right now if he wanted to. There is aboslutely nothing that can be done if the city is not granting permits - not even the court system can force the city to allow a permit if there is a hold on new construction.

Secondly, builders do consider reasonable cost and labor increases in the cost of a home, however, no one could ever have predicted the extent of price gouging and FEMA coming in a paying workers double their current salary.

The contractor is basically stuck - if he goes ahead and tries to build the house (barring the fact that he can't get a permit) he will dig himself into a financial hole that he can't get out of. (Remember, he probably has at least 5-10 contract for houses.)

He will probably be forced to either declare bankruptcy go out of business because of the severe financial loss. Then everyone that has a contract with him will loose out anyway.

It shows bad faith on his part that he has not continuosly returned Ms. Johnson's phone calls, (He's probably completely swamped with phone calls and overwhelmed with the entire situation)however, he has not stated that he will not build the house. In fact he spoken openly with the reporter who called him and stated that he still hoped to be able to build the house.

I am a residential builder and the contract should have had a cluase in there for inflated costs of raw materials and labor, if it did not the builder should absoulty honor the contract. Since the contract has been signed the owner/client should fight it if the builder trys to charge her more. Permits are a sticky situation you are at the mercy of the city and their timeline. I wish the client luck and will pray for a good outcome....

I agree a contract is a contract. The bigger picture is that the builder is probably not a large builder and more than likely has little to no cash flow or reserves due to the conditions. If he starts starts the job, he will be working on a project that could cost him money that he doesn't have. That means the subs don't get paid and they file liens on the new house or work comes to a halt midway during construction due to no money. She would still end up paying the difference and likely a lot more to finish it. If you think the current situation is stressful and terribly awful, you need to make your thought box a lot bigger and realize life isn't too bad right now. There are several things that could make it worse.

There is a thing called "force majure" in contract law, which basically means that you're not responsible for acts of God.

But - this is not the case here. He is citing supply issues that are something he does have control over. He could have contracted for the materials and labor when he signed the original deal.

If he did not, then that's his problem - and he should bear the cost.

Remember the name of this outfit and his position next time you need a contractor..... you now know his position if things are unfavorable to him - what if there's a quality problem with his work that will require him to spend some more to make it right? Will he fix that problem voluntarily, or would you have to sue?

Hmmmmm.

I totally agree and feel for Mrs. Johnson as a mortgage processor for a bank a contract is a contract and can not be dismissed nor changed unless agreed to by all parties. I truly hope she held on to that contract kept it safe and dry and when the dust settles she will get her new home. She is in my thoughts and prayers.

i feel bad for terry and her family..however, katrina even affected the prices in alaska, gasoline prices skyrocketed causing prices of everything to follow...the contracter who is to build terry's home should explain this to her and attempt to resolve the situation or at least have the decency to talk to her.

It may be a silver lining that Ms. Johnson cannot get her house built per the contract she has in place. It is very likely that the construction techniques and materials required in the contract are of the same type that doomed so many homes and buildings in Katrina's path. Ms. Johnson and her family now have an opportunity to consider building a stronger, more hurricane resistant house on the same piece of ground. It may cost her more up front, but in the long run could save her money on insurance and when the next hurricane strikes.

Ms. Johnson is correct, she does have a legally binding contract, unless there is an "Act of God" clause, which is not uncommon.
However, beating up your contractor is never a good idea for several important reasons.
To say he should have been aware of rising costs is silly, as the hurricane hit as construction began. Furthermore, most contractors have a fairly thin margin of profit on their homes, so there is a real danger that he could loose lots of money, and he'd be tempted to cut corners and thus costs to save himself from ruin. A bankrupt contractor will do no one any good.
Most construction contracts can be twisted to allow contractors to substitute cheaper materials if they need to, so even if he’s really good, it wouldn't pay to force his hand. Materials cost have risen sharply all over the nation because of the back-to-back disasters. I just helped re-roof a home here in Maine, and the cost of materials rose sharply as we worked.
My suggestion is for Ms. Johnson to negotiate with her builder, and hold him to his suggestion to begin work on the home on a mutually agreed upon, prearranged later date, with a new contractual letter to seal the deal. MOST IMPORTANTLY, the new agreement should have a realistic completion date, so her contractor’s on-going work doesn’t delay her project further. And materials and labor costs are not likely to go down for more than six months, so she should be prepared for a long wait.
There are a few bright spots that she may have lost sight of…it was not her new house that was destroyed. She did not own a historic home that is gone forever – tragically large numbers of historic properties have been completely destroyed. And finally, her new home can incorporate hurricane safety measures, ties and the like, that might not have seemed important six months ago. Good luck to her and all who continue to suffer from the loss of family, friends, beloved pets, homes, and all that was safe, familiar and commonplace.

While I understand Mrs. Johnson is upset about her situation, I also understand the other side of this unfortunate circumstance. I hope that she is thankful for the fact that her new home was not distroyed along with her home she was living in. Please stay positive and work with your builder. Anyone who has ever built a home knows that set backs happen and things are not always perfect. You have livied threw a hurricane, what is 6-12 months extra to wait for your dream home!! Home is where your heart is !!! Put your heart into making the best of your circumstance for the next 6-12 months and be thankful that your family is alive and well!! I'm sure if you remain positive, have faith and have patience, your community will get itself back on its feet and your dream home will be worth the wait. God bless you and look to your community and those around you for strength. Material possesions are worth far less than your family and friends!!

Ms.Johnson you have a valid contract and your builder must honor it.I strongly recommend you have your lawyer fight for you.If you don't have a lawyer then please get one...I am a member of Pre-Paid legal service,represented by one of the best law firms in Georgia,Ms has same service,for about $26.00 a month you too can be protected.I'm not trying to sell you anything however you need this service now.Please e-mail me at hsk470@bellsouth.net and I will share the details with you.Bottom line let your lawyer fight your battle...there is real power in Pre-Paid legal services,it give the average citizen the power the rich have.Don't give up hope...be encouraged. GOD BLESS you and your family.

I've known Aaron Parker for over 40 years. He has never cheated anyone. This storm has made people face alot of changes. Look at the price of gas,electricity, food etc. Do you really think anyone would expect a house to be built for $160,000 that cost the builder $240,000. This storm was an act of God. Mr. Parker could not control the after effects of this storm. I doubt that Aaron Parker has not retuned Mrs. Johnson phone calls. I know his suppliers gave him bids at prices they are not honoring now. Mrs. Johnson faied to mention that the city of Waveland is considering makeing people put their homes on pillings(16-17 feet above sea level). Her home is around 14 feet above. This also would raise the cost of the "Dream Home". Who do you really go after?

We should all be careful and not say anything that could be misconstrued as rude, especially us Christians. We shouldn't assume that she isn't thankful and appreciative for her life, family life, and her other blessings.
That being said, I am praying for your family. It is a setback and it's got to be frustrating. I never, and I doubt some of the other who responded, have ever experienced what you and many people from your area have experienced. I lived through Opal in Brewton Alabama, and moved back to San Antonio Texas because I just didn't want to ever go through that again. Katrina was far worst then Opal ever was so I can only imagine, and again express my heartfelt empathy for all of you. Furthermore God spared my part of Texas from Rita (barring crazy traffic, gas shortages, food shortages, and extreme hot weather afterwards). So I would never want to say to anyone what he or she should do or be thankful for.
I just sincerely hope that you continue to trust in God and it will work out. The contractor too we must pray for, as we don't know his situation. Not saying what he is doing, by not calling you back or honoring his contract in a timely manner is right, but we must forgive those who trespass against us. I have to say he has sited some reasonable reasons as to why things are not going as planned however I think he could provide a workaround that would still be beneficial to both parties, if he tried. I pray that he will.
As for the Canadian who asked why we Americans kick each other while we are down, well that is such a blanket statement, which is absolutely wrong and judgmental. There are way too many instances that have been shown by wonderful Americans who reached out with everything that we have, and sometimes don’t have, that contradict that statement. I mean look at Texas! My stated showed the world how loving and supporting Americans are towards one another and it is still evident in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and everywhere else. And that’s just one of many states of the Union, which reached out! We Texans have opened our doors to our neighbors, and I am proud to be a Texas and I continue to pray for each and every one of you!!!
Lorraine Goodridge-Truitt Austin (by way of San Antonio) Tx

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