In response to the devastation wreaked by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Southern Mutual Help Association created a hands-on Rural Recovery Task Force and is working to build a $30 million Rural Recovery Fund to help rebuild Louisiana better than it was before.
Since it began, Southern Mutual's Rural Recovery Response has made considerable progress:
- 4,432 volunteers helped families recover, including
- 2,029 volunteers from Mennonite partners.
- 2,376 others from 44 states and 11 countries.
- 944 homeowners, fishers, farmers, businesses and churches helped to recover/rebuild or in progress, including
- 780 homeowners.
- 42 fishers.
- 80 farmers.
- 33 businesses, in addition to fishers and farmers.
- 9 churches.
The Rural Recovery Task Force is implementing a multi-pronged approach for the recovery and long-term development of the rural areas of south Louisiana, including:
- Enlisting volunteer and in-kind resources and developing partnerships to meet the needs of the affected communities.
- Identifying new policies and innovative approaches to facilitate the rebuilding and redevelopment effort.
- Working with families and small businesses through an "In-the-Field Response" to help them deal with the short-term and long-term challenges they face.
The "In the Field Response" is proceeding in three phases:
Phase 1: Focused direct relief aimed at jump-starting recovery.
Phase 2: Recovery and rebuilding.
Phase 3: Long-term development.
In Phase 1, Southern Mutual, working with partners, is continuing to provide focused direct relief in the rural sections of the 11-parish area most directly affected by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita:
Plaquemines (south of Belle Chase)
Many people living in these rural areas, like the family farmers, fishers and small mom-and-pop businesses, not only lost their homes, but the very means of creating a livelihood to recover. Fortunately farm acreage that was under salt water seems to be recovering.
In Phase 2, SMHA is spearheading a recovery and rebuilding effort, including:
- Training people to get all the federal dollars to which they are entitled through various programs and agencies.
- Looking for gaps that need to be filled.
- Evaluating public policies and providing leadership to bring about needed changes.
- Training people to get their message out about their needs and teaching them how to advocate in the public policy arena at the local, state and federal levels.
- Developing special categories of loans through SMHA’s affiliate bank, Southern Mutual Financial Services, a Community Development Financial Institution certified by the U.S. Treasury Department.
In Phase 3, the focus is on long-term development, including:
- Working with communities to determine whether homes can be repaired or must be replaced, as well as what is needed for recovery of small businesses and the livelihoods of farmers and fishers.
- Planning for community development and rebuilding.
- Building partnerships with builders and banks to greatly expand the housing program.
- Working on refinancing and debt reduction issues as well as developing a secondary market to purchase an estimated $100 million in loans to be made by SMHA's Community Development Financial Institution and partner banks.
- Developing the $150 million Teche Ridge traditional neighborhood development (TND) in New Iberia to help replenish housing stock in South Louisiana.
- Conceptualizing and working on bold policy initiatives such as National Disaster Recovery Bonds and Disaster Recovery Homeownership Tax Credits.
- Advocating for the needs of rural communities as Louisiana develops its recommendations for using CDBG funds.
- Assuring that the human and family development component of SMHA’s program is an integral part of the expanded housing and rebuilding effort.
- Doing the necessary follow-up to assure accountability, evaluate results and make needed adjustments.