- The Washington Times - Friday, November 11, 2005

Volunteers began building homes not far from the Washington Monument yesterday, hoping to renew interest in the need to help provide replacement housing for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Federal officials and members of Congress joined business leaders and private citizens in a Habitat for Humanity International project to frame 51 homes for shipment by Nov. 19 to hard-hit areas of the Gulf Coast.

“It’s so easy when a crisis gets off the front pages to kind of forget it,” said Tom Jones, a Habitat spokesman.

The 29-year-old charity held a similar five-day event on New York’s Rockefeller Plaza in late September.

By late next week, one home for each of the nation’s 50 states and the District will have been framed on one of five assembly pads set up on the Mall.

Segments will be loaded into containers and onto flatbed trailers, then trucked to Louisiana and Mississippi for reassembly.

“Volunteers will work with the families to build their houses,” Mr. Jones said.

The homeowners will repay mortgages limited to the cost of materials, or a total of about $2.5 million for the 51 units, according to Freddie Mac Inc., which donated the materials.

Hundreds of the mortgage lender’s employees have volunteered to help build the single-story houses, which will be about 1,100 square feet with three bedrooms.

About 1.5 million people lost their homes because of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, which followed a few weeks later. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has spent $3.4 billion on temporary and transitional housing since the storms struck.

But thousands of evacuees dream of one day returning “to the places in which they have so many memories,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

He told the Veterans Day crowd that ongoing volunteer efforts are essential to the region’s recovery.

“There are tens of thousands of families that are still homeless, and we’ve got to figure out a way to house them,” said Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, who joined other dignitaries to construct the first home.

“People are coming together from every state in the country and D.C. to build new homes, so people can begin to rebuild their lives,” said, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat.

Organizers are hoping to draw more attention for the ongoing recovery effort before the nation becomes preoccupied with the upcoming holiday season.

With the annual Atlantic hurricane season ending Nov. 30, this year’s storms no longer are dominating the news.

“This is a nation with a very short attention span,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat.

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