Partners (Number 1, 2006)

Spotlight on the District

Strategy for Rebound

Damage from Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi alone was worse than that in any natural disaster in U.S. history.

More than six months after the devastating hurricane and flood surge, damage remains. Debris still stands in the millions of metric tons. An estimated 75,000 homes were destroyed, and rebuilding decisions still hang in the balance waiting on word from insurance companies and government officials.

Yet in the face of unprecedented disaster, Mississippians have shown their determination to recover as quickly as possible and to rebuild better than before. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has led the rebuilding effort, and communities have followed his example.

The Commission
Within hours of Katrina’s landfall, Governor Barbour created the Governor’s Commission for Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal. Chaired by Mississippian Jim Barksdale, former CEO of Netscape, and led by a diverse group of South Mississippians, the Commission assembled people from across the storm-ravaged region to address the state’s short-term problems and long-term needs. In dozens of town hall meetings, citizens voiced their concerns on topics ranging from education to agriculture to defense contracting to tourism to urban planning.

Governor Barbour also assembled a team of urban planning professionals. During six days in October, more than 200 local and national planners drew rebuilding blueprints for 11 devastated cities.

The Commission’s final report, “After Katrina: Building Back Better than Ever,” was the product of over 50,000 work-hours by more than 500 volunteers. It catalogs the hurricane’s damage to the state and recommends over 200 ways to meet long term challenges and build back “better than ever.”

Nothing in the report is mandated; individual communities must consider the report’s recommendations and decide how to act on them. Already towns are coming together to rebuild, making the most of this unique situation.

Recommendations for rebuilding
The Governor’s Commission offers several important recommendations for economic recovery:

  • New building and zoning codes to produce safer structures and desirable development. Towns want the option to use time-tested ideas like mixed- use, higher-density development and pedestrian-friendly streets to reduce blight and add value.
  • Regional approaches to transportation, public services and tourism development efforts. More efficient use of water and sewer resources, multi-modal transportation and mass transit are just some of the ideas that can help regionalize the recovery.
  • Housing. The report promotes asset building in low-income communities and encourages pilot housing projects to help the worst hit areas recover quickly.
  • Emergency preparedness. The state legislature has created an Office of Long Term Recovery and Renewal to assist storm-damaged areas and formulate disaster policy for the state. Communication systems and evacuation plans are also targeted in the report.
  • Paying for it. The final report identifies state and federal financing sources such as bonds and other existing financing programs. Federal appropriations and legislation will be critical to the rebuilding effort.

You can find the Governor’s Commission Final Report and more information on Mississippi’s rebuilding process at

This article was written by Will Longwitz, former communications director for the Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal.


ACCESS Miami Responds to City’s Poverty Challenge

When the City of Miami was ranked the poorest large city in the U.S. by the 2000 Census, Mayor Manny Diaz responded quickly with an anti-poverty initiative, dedicating substantial resources to improving quality of life and family financial stability for the city’s residents.

With its service-driven economy, Miami has historically registered median income levels below the national average. Nevertheless the 2000 Census ranking surprised many in the city and underscored the urgency conveyed by numerous nonprofit groups working with the area’s growing low-income population.

To coordinate and target its anti-poverty campaign the city launched ACCESS (Assets, Capital, Community, Education, Savings, and Success) Miami in 2001. ACCESS joins city resources with existing public, private and nonprofit capacity to maximize the benefit of services available to Miami residents through a variety of assistance programs.

ACCESS Miami is based on four founding principles: providing access to existing benefits; facilitating access to capital; building wealth; and increasing financial literacy.

The program has established numerous collaborations for its participants with such organizations as the Small Business Association, the Internal Revenue Service, the Mortgage Bankers Association, H&R Block, Miami Dade College, and many local banks and non-profit organizations.

Mayor Manny Diaz launches ACCESS Miami.
Photo courtesy of Miami Office of Communications.

ACCESS Miami partners with participants one-on-one to provide customized programs that meet the needs of individual residents. Opportunities include financial seminars, workshops, free tax sites, counseling and more.

H&R Block, for example, agreed to lower significantly its charge for tax preparation at offices licensed to do business in Miami, and city-affiliated tax preparation efforts last year yielded impressive results: more than 9,000 residents participated, saving over $800,000 in combined fees. In addition, more than 300 city residents opened IRA savings accounts as part of an ACCESS Miami effort. And micro-loans worth more than $700,000 were extended to small business owners throughout the city.

This year’s goals include bringing more residents into the mainstream banking system, partnering with the Miami Dade County School Board Parent Academy, arranging a collection of parenting and mentoring education workshops, and increasing employer-based education and outreach—including to city and county staff.

The recent South Florida real estate boom has heightened concern about affordable housing, and gentrification in the area, including the City of Miami, has led to a housing crisis for many. But without Miami’s anti-poverty efforts, it’s certain that even more families would be pushed out of the city by the high cost of living. As redevelopment and revitalization projects move forward, commitment to meeting the needs of low- and moderate-income families may determine the success of Miami’s efforts to address the challenge of poverty without displacing its neediest residents.

This article was written by Ana Cruz-Taura, regional community affairs director in the Atlanta Fed’s Miami Branch.

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