Financial Recovery Slow for Katrina Family in Texas

Selwyn and Chiquita Smith. Credit: Joshua Levs for NPR. i i

Selwyn and Chiquita Smith during a visit to work on their New Orleans home after Hurricane Katrina. Joshua Levs, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Joshua Levs, NPR
Selwyn and Chiquita Smith. Credit: Joshua Levs for NPR.

Selwyn and Chiquita Smith during a visit to work on their New Orleans home after Hurricane Katrina.

Joshua Levs, NPR

Katrina: One Year Later

Smith Family Financials

The Smith family has exhausted its own financial resources and mostly relies on help from others.

Pre-Katrina Income:
$50,000+

Insurance Money Received:
$35,000

Current Income:
$0

Current Savings:
$0

Current Texas Rent:
$1,300 per month

Potential Rental Income:
$48,000 per year

McKinney/Dallas, Texas map. Credit: Doug Beach. i i

McKinney, Texas, is on the north side of Dallas and is about a 10-hour drive from New Orleans. Doug Beach hide caption

itoggle caption Doug Beach
McKinney/Dallas, Texas map. Credit: Doug Beach.

McKinney, Texas, is on the north side of Dallas and is about a 10-hour drive from New Orleans.

Doug Beach
Debris in the Smiths' New Orleans home. Credit: Joshua Levs for NPR. i i

After Hurricane Katrina hit, debris on the floor of the Smiths' home in New Orleans included photos of their three children. The family now lives in Texas, but hopes to return to New Orleans one day. Joshua Levs, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Joshua Levs, NPR
Debris in the Smiths' New Orleans home. Credit: Joshua Levs for NPR.

After Hurricane Katrina hit, debris on the floor of the Smiths' home in New Orleans included photos of their three children. The family now lives in Texas, but hopes to return to New Orleans one day.

Joshua Levs, NPR

Following the Smiths

Reporter Joshua Levs has followed the Smiths since their evacuation from New Orleans last year.

A year after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, hundreds of thousands of families are still working to rebuild their lives. Many have not received the kind of assistance they say they need, and are largely fending for themselves.

Selwyn Smith and his wife Chiquita were among those hit as hard by the financial consequences of Katrina as they were by the storm's winds and water. They escaped the hurricane alive, but their property and finances were completely wrecked.

"You still can't believe that's New Orleans, man," Selwyn said of his former city. "You still can't believe that's a city in America that's going through this, and still going through this."

Before Katrina, Selwyn was a mortgage lender and a landlord. He pulled in as much as $50,000 per year from his mortgage business, allowing him to put some of his rental income into savings. Katrina put a hold on his mortgage business and damaged the rental properties. The storm also ruined the duplex the family lived in.

The Smiths are now trying to put their lives back together while renting a home in McKinney, Texas, near Dallas, for $1,300 per month.

They have run through their modest savings, and the $35,000 in insurance money they received for damaged properties.

Chiquita spends her days taking care of their three children — ages 10, 12 and 15 — and working on her bachelor's degree through Internet courses with a college in New Orleans. She also spends a lot of time making phone calls to insurance companies in search of money the Smiths believe they are still owed.

Selwyn has been unable to take on a job while he tries to get the family's rental units in New Orleans rebuilt and rented again. Those could bring in as much as $48,000 per year.

Selwyn has made seven trips back to New Orleans. It's a 10-hour drive from Dallas. He has no choice but to try to bring his properties back to life. Selling them would mean a financial loss that the Smiths can't afford. But the expense of rebuilding has been hard to swallow, too, costing more than the $35,000 they've received in insurance money.

"It's Katrina prices. You get horrible work, people start a job and then they leave," Chiquita observed. "They're ripping people off — people [are] getting ripped off left and right."

She feels the government hasn't done enough to help, either.

"I feel like they forgot about us," she said. "They're not thinking about the stuff you have to deal with: mortgages that you already have, family and you're trying to build your life."

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