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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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Habitat for Humanity executive Larry Gluth looks over a map of Hancock County with Wendy McDonald of Bay St. Louis. (John Brecher / MSNBC.com)

KILN, Miss. -- An ambitious plan to replace some of the thousands of homes lost to Hurricane Katrina is quickly taking shape on computer screens, drawing boards and back roads here in Hancock County.

Habitat for Humanity, the 30-year-old Christian-based nonprofit popularized by former President Jimmy Carter, plans to build “thousands and thousands” of homes via its self-help program during the next several years in hurricane-devastated communities across the South.

That’s the word from Larry Gluth, a Habitat executive from the group’s home office in Americus, Ga. “We’re looking at upwards of 1,000 homes between Beaumont, Texas, and Mobile over the next 18 months,” says Gluth, a vice president with Habitat’s "Operation Home Delivery," a unit created specifically to respond to needs in the hurricane zones.

The hunt for land is in the hands of Wendy McDonald, a diminutive, silver-haired, indefatigable Bay St. Louis native who seems to have her finger in every pie of Hancock County’s hurricane recovery efforts. After the storm struck, McDonald, 53, put a career in Houston on hold to return to her hometown and help form Hancock County Citizens in Action, a grassroots volunteer group whose chief mission is to cut the red tape between government agencies and speed relief to all parts of the community.

But the housing mission seems especially dear to her heart -- Katrina exacted a shocking toll on the homes of her parents and other relatives -- and her connections with local government officials are giving Habitat a leg up in its search for a key ingredient in its recipe for the “decent, affordable shelter” it touts in its literature: land.

On a recent day, in a darkened room at the temporary county government complex of portable buildings here, chief Hancock County building official Mickey Lagasse scrolled through screen after screen of tax roll information to help McDonald and Gluth identify potential lots and tracts for Habitat projects.

Looking for reasonably priced lots

“We’re kind of land poor in Bay St. Louis and Waveland,” McDonald explained. Many now-bare lots in those towns will be too expensive for Habitat’s program if they come on the market, or they’ll be in flood zones where the organization does not intend to build. Instead, the group is eying rural areas where they hope to secure lots for $2,000 to $5,000 apiece.

“Everywhere I go I say, ‘Anybody got any land they want to sell to Habitat,’” McDonald says with a laugh. “Everybody just kind of looks at you.”

After meeting with Lagasse, she and Gluth went out to inspect some property in person. Finding a “For Sale” sign amid a stretch of undeveloped lots in unincorporated Bayside Park, they spread topographic maps on the hood of a car to determine flood-zone data.

“It would be worth looking into,” McDonald said, running her finger along contour lines on the map.

In addition to elevation, the group’s main criteria for selecting lots include residential zoning, paved roads, and availability of water and sewer. Plugging those factors into his computer, the county’s Lagasse can help McDonald and Gluth streamline Habitat’s search. Of particular potential may be existing but undeveloped subdivisions where “a lot of land speculators came in and bought lots in the ’70s and ’80s,” Lagasse says.

Opportunity for 'serious revitalization'

The county is happy to help Habitat because, even beyond filling the great housing void left by Katrina, it sees an opportunity for the program to provide “serious revitalization” in many areas, Lagasse explains.

Gluth says Habitat’s post-hurricane efforts across the South should become much more visible soon. After two months of organizing, planning and shopping for land, the hammering and sawing, actually overseen by local affiliates, is about to begin in earnest. “Right now, we have roughly 100 lots that are secured” in Mississippi's storm-struck Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties, he says.

In addition to seeking more land, the group is looking for development partners from the private and government sectors and making arrangements to house the multitudes of out-of-area construction volunteers that will be needed to help build the homes.

When she’s not running down lots, McDonald is marketing Habitat’s plans to potential participants everywhere from chance meetings on the street to Citizens in Action forums.

“It’s not a give-away program,” she said in a presentation at one recent town hall meeting here in Kiln. “It’s a mortgage.” Applicants must have a down payment and an income that enables them to pay a mortgage on an interest-free loan. The must be willing to invest about 350 hours of “sweat equity,” either working on their own home or another Habitat project. And they must agree to live in the home for a specified period of time before selling it.

The average Habitat home in the United States costs about $60,000. Gluth said he expects the typical mortgage for a home built in Habitat’s post-hurricane blitz to be about $50,000. Most of the homes will be about 1,100 square feet with three bedrooms and one bathroom.

At the Kiln meeting, McDonald stressed that the home will be solid and attractive. “These are houses you wouldn’t mind having next door to you,” she said. “These are houses you would be happy to live in.”

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Habitat is just one of a number of nonprofit organizations that work because of the time and donations of individuals and businesses.

It is heartwarming to both volunteer and watch others work together to help others. If you can't do it now, don't worry ... there will still be plenty of help needed this Spring, next summer, or even next year. Just give some of your time to one of the organizations!

We went (as a classroom) for a week to Waveland, MS before Thanksgiving and want to go again in the Spring.

This is all well and good, but it doesn't address the problems that I and others like me have. We owned our home (ours was damaged, but still standing, thank goodness), like others we paid our mortgages, paid our taxes, paid our insurance (gyped), etc. Yet no one is coming up to us and saying "We will rebuild your house or help you repair your house for no interest." Where is this type of help for the majority of the middle class that was wiped out?

The Response for Hurricane Rita, no one thought that people lost homes. Getting simple and correct answers were very hard to come by. agencies did not see us a desaster, unlike katrina we got no discounts or anything of the sort we were told to just wait well i am still waitng.

How do i contact someone from the Miss. area
Thank You

Anyone with any answers to the urgent need for housing the displaced victims of Katrina and Rita is at least making an effort. Does your race or status in the community really matter when you have no roof over your head. It seems that Habitat's efforts are at least a good start given the NIMBY attitude in New Orleans.

I think the folk in mississippi are so wonderful, I spent 2 week in Pass christiana after labor day helping and plan to go back when the weather warm up and I can camp out. Accommidation was the biggest reason for not staying longer, get those trailer in camp ground asap so we can help the residence rebuild. I love to teach the folk there how to paint.

If the material and labor is donated, then why is there a morgage. Doesn't Habitat build on the property already owned by the people there????? In Long Beach along there was hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of empty lots where there was nothing but concrete slabs. I wouldn't think that acquiring land was too much an issue if the people still owned it. Am I mistaken in thinking that they are looking to buy more land in an attempt to build or is it another oppurtunity to have waste and abuse at the expense of the local people and the tax payers.

I've seen Habitat For Humanity's work. It is a good program. I am glad they are focusing on the stricken area. But please do not recommend they put up metal buildings for a hurricane zone. My family stretches from southeast TX to Hancock County MS. We saw all the big ones down there from Audrey to Rita. We see patterns in the aftermath. Wood flexes, so well built old-style wood houses often survive. Heavily reinforced concrete-and-steel commercial grade construction has a chance of surviving, and seems to be the only type with a good chance in Katrina's wind-driven tsunami. Brick buildings fall apart if hit by storm surge. Rain was driven by Rita through some of the newest walls into insulation, forcing otherwise intact brick homes to need gutting and rebuilding; so the way sheathing and exterior walls are built matters, and modern methods are not always best. Metal buildings fare worst in high wind, peeling apart. The rest of the country gets much of its fuel and food because of people who live in that coastal region, so rebuilding is needed. But if we want the new buildings to have a chance, we need to use lessons from what is still standing now.

Habitat has just produced a video about the devastation in the Gulf region. Go to their website.

So far NO leadership emerged to help in this Hurricane, from the Mayor of New Orleans and up.
The mayor ask us to come back!!
Rent is up by 70%, if found.*We should have rent controll over the next 2-3 years in the Metro area, AND rent to paid by FEMA for Lakeview , New Orleans for 2-3 years, plus subsidies in tax refund,,,for utility, moving expenses, gas mileage.

I live in Northern Louisiana and already there
have been problems in the trailer parks where FEMA trailers have been placed and are occupied by New Orleans evacuees in my area. I know most of these people just want to go home, but do you blame people who have worked hard to buy a nice home. I know I wouldn't want these trailers in my neighborhood. The reason: the crimes that have been committed by some of the evacuees that live in the FEMA trailers in this area. Many of these "families" have never worked a day in their lives and have always and will always depend on a free ride. That is the main problem. I hope and pray that the day never comes that my husband and I have to rely on public assistance. I have a great job and so does he, but we are not beyond flipping burgers or cleaning jobs to put food on the table.

I just hope that a few scumbags don't make the whole effort look bad.I like the idea on helping to build or in this case rebuild your own home is great. Yes some poeple are not able to swing a hammer but there is always some thing to do at a work site. If people are willing to get down to work to rebiuld their comunity you know band together it will make the area stronger (safty in numbers)these are things that makes the USA great but if someone is just looking for a hand out let them stay in a tent. I just hope that all the work that needs done will not drain the resourses of Habitat for Humanity to do work in other areas.

Hurray for Habitat, this is an excellent example of what must happen continuously for the next three to five years all along the gulf coast! It doesn't get the press that New Orleans does, but is just as needful. I would also suggest to Habitat that they consider shifting their focus somewhat from doing only new construction to taking on the more difficult job of restoration of existing gutted structure, which is what is most available all along the gulf coast. Its not as clean and neat and tidy, but it is what is in greatest need in the communities that are trying to rise from the flooding and winds.

We, as a country of individuals, can't wait for FEMA, federal, state or local entities to fix this disaster, it is simply beyond their ability to do so. Those entities can and should rebuild levies, bridges, infrastructure, and provide funding, but the scope and magnitude of the residential loss can only be addressed by each of us from our hearts and hands, not our taxes. We must act as individuals and as private sector groups, taking the initiative to bring relief to the thousands upon thousands of devastated families that were in the eye of Katrina and lost everything.

While I have for many years worked with Habitat on my local level, I am now working with Presbyterian Disaster Relief (PDA), one of many organizations stepping into this void with volunteer worker teams from across the country. Having already worked a week in Gautier, MS, over the Thanksgiving holiday, and now returning for a month in Gulfport, MS, next week, I can personally attest to the gravity of the situation faced by all the citizens of the gulf coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The destruction is beyond belief, the recovery will take years and years, and the social fabric of those communities has been altered permanently. We must not therefore point fingers at nameless agencies, but rather, each of us must look into our own hearts and do what we would want others to do for us, were we to find ourselves in harms way. When I surveyed the Biloxi, MS, area I was amazed to find that as far as I could drive all day, and as far as I could see, there was nothing but foundation slabs, debris piles and gutter structure, but people determined to rebuild and come back and just hanging on now. Their possessions were gone but their spirit rises like the Phoenix from the mud! We must not abandon them to the next news worthy catastrophe or to government systems that will move on to other more politically important issues inevitably. Each of us has something to give, and all such gifts will make a difference! Please, find what you can do and then do it, now!

I agree with the idea but, what about the trailer project? Some people are afraid to have that type of housing near their homes.. I think this is the time to band together as humans beings. Because if you treat people like dogs don't act surprise when you get bit

To Lanier Pratt, Durham, NC: God bless you for your insight and the work of your hands! We all need to look deep into our souls and ask ourselves what we would do if we and our families were in this situation. Thank God for good-hearted people like you and other volunteers who give so freely of themselves. It is hard work. It is grueling - emotionally and physically. HFH's efforts are to be commended; I do agree with the person who suggested that HFH consider a rebuilding effort for those whose homes have been gutted. As all of us that have worked there know so well, there are hundreds - if not thousands - of homes that have been gutted and now need loving hands to rebuild.

The first one went up last week!
The volenteers where part of a rebuiling group aranged by Chabad On Campus National.
for blogs and videos check out http://www.Chabad.edu

I live in Harrison county just over the city limits from the Pass. We have already had two trailers on our property while the people were waiting for power and water to be gotten back on line in their own neighborhoods. Everyone I know or hear about can hardly wait to get either a FEMA trailer or an RV they purchase on their own and locate it at their home site (whether their house is still there or not). They aren't asking to just sit in these trailers on someone else's property but just as a starting point. Hearing about these homes that will hopefully soon start to be build has given me the first positive feeling I have had in weeks.

No, Habitat can't help everyone -- prospective homeowners must be able to pay a mortgage, but can't earn so much that they go beyond Habitat guidelines -- but it *does* show how much progress can be made when a culture favors cooperation over competition. The Habitat system works: I've volunteered on more than 100 Habitat homes in three states and five countries, and often think it's done more for me than I've done for those homeowners. Habitat has restored my faith in people...and hopefully, will do the same for thousands of Americans displaced by Katrina and Rita.

I signed up online to to help Habitat in New Orleans, however I've received no call. Is anything going on? I've volunteered for Habitat before. I can give a week and have a place to stay nearby.

Cities and Thrones And Powers

Rudyard Kipling

Cities and Thrones and Powers,
Stand in Time's eye,
Almost as long as flowers,
Which daily die:
But, as new buds put forth,
To glad new men,
Out of the spent and unconsidered Earth, The Cities rise again.
This season's Daffodil,
She never hears
What change, what chance, what chill,
Cut down last year's:
But with bold countenance,
And knowledge small,
Esteems her seven days' continuance
To be perpetual.

So time that is o'er kind,
To all that be,
Ordains us e'en as blind,
As bold as she:
That in our very death,
And burial sure,
Shadow to shadow, well-persuaded, saith, "See how our works endure!"

I read this poem just days after the distruction and it is sad yet it has a glimmer of hope.It spoke to me inreference to rebuilding and that of hope for all who were devistated.
Humanity begins within the human heart.The contributions made to better a fellow man's life for no reason other than you are moved to do so, will have life changing effect that ripple like a pebble in a pond. Who's lives and the lives of children you will effect in helping a stranger rebuild their lives, beginning with charity of the heart and a few nails and lumber.supplies to help with the relief efforts Habitat is another venu where skilled labours and novices alike can lend a needed hand. Habitat for Humanity rebuilds families, communities and lives.. And with new hope may Habatit and all involved some day say "see how our work endures." As my church as gathered

God bless!

Something isn't right about your experience/opinion of Habitat For Humanity. My daughter was just approved for a Habitat home. She's 24 years old. She has three daughters. She's in college Full Time and about to complete a double Associates Degree and go on to obtain her Bachelors.

She's a MINORITY. She works and has a great work history. Her credit score is in the low 600 range. She was denied the first time around, but after just 6 months and a few classes and meetings later-she was approved. She'll be moving in her new home in August 2006.

Habitat is wonderful. I have followed the program for many years. Trust me, if there is racial bias - I have never seen it and I now know (3) families who are homeowners because of Habitat. (All minority)

Their help in Mississippi, (LA) and (AL) will make a tremendous difference in so many lives. THANK YOU HABITAT! I plan on volunteering as many hours as possible in 2006.

Lynn, Michigan

Its a shame that some folks don't realize our obligation as citizens of the world to stand up for justice and the rights of the downtrodden globally. Kudos to Habitat (a non-profit) for these efforts at home. Freeing up monies for critical and equally important work our US government can and should do overseas. Its not simply a matter of should we... We Must. Or we are no better than the scum who are responsible for the great "man-made" problems like terrorism and genocide. Lets look at the good efforts like these and not be blinded by short sighted, selfish types. With any great accomplishments come great costs. Americans have paid these costs dearly for 2+ centuries. Let's not shrink from our responsibilities now because the demands are not nearly as great as in the past, but the rewards are greater still. Wake up America! Stop listening to the drivel that passes for "news" and read into things... Great things are happening out here, most just aren't paying much real attention. Most want to sit and watch TV or read the news. How about checking your facts, and being satisfied with the results when you realize... Nothing's as much of a scandal as the "news" would have you believe.

Hooray for MSNBC for taking the effort to offer an uplifting message about people trying to make a positive difference. Boo... to those who can only find faults and problems everywhere!

...What about "homeless" Katrina victims? Several
thousand homeless lived on the streets of New Orleans
when Katrina hit, many died.
No one offered these individuals any "habitat" homes or FEMA trailers, not one. Both the government
and private charities treat these people as a separate
lower class, not worthy of $2000 cash grants, nor a
nice trailer ,nor a home in rural areas.
Why must the main form of discrimination in this
country continue to be "economic" discrimination? Why
does one need to be "homeowner"or "renter", to get help in N.O.?
there are now 1.7 million chronic homeless in the
U.S.A. In danger of dying on the streets every day, yet not considered an "Emergency" by FEMA and churches and private charity.
signed, Lee Suba, Denver, CO

i have some matetials to donate...heat and air , plumbing and electrical....contact me

In response to the Once Proud Southerner. I just wanted to point out that the people stirring up the problems concerning the FEMA trailers are down in New Orleans and not our Gulf Coast area. Even our "well-bred" people would be proud to have a trailer at this stage. Thank you all for your continued prayers and support for our neighbors on the Coast.

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