Chinese Drywall Shuts a Charity Effort Down~

Lawsuits drag on in the long saga of contaminated Chinese-made drywall, used to build thousands of homes in a few Gulf and Atlantic coastal states during the peak years of the recent housing boom, when American-made drywall became scarce. But whatever the outcome of the continuing litigation, awards will come too late to preserve one housing effort: the New Orleans program of Catholic Charities, working to rebuild and repair the homes of the poorest of Hurricane Katrina’s victims. The New Orleans Times-Picayune has the story (“ Chinese drywall forces Hurricane Katrina rebuilding group to premature end,” by Bruce Nolan): “Operation Helping Hands, the Catholic ministry that deployed thousands of volunteers to gut or rebuild nearly 2,200 homes after Hurricane Katrina, said Wednesday it will shut down next summer, sooner than expected, because of its disastrous encounter with toxic Chinese drywall. ‘Simply, we didn't have the funding to stretch it any further,’ said Helping Hands Director Kevin Fitzpatrick.” Operation Helping Hands still has $2 million in the bank for its program, the paper reports. But program directors have decided to use that money to re-gut and re-repair 41 houses that were already gutted and restored once, using Chinese drywall, after Katrina. The agency will also keep its commitments to other residents already enrolled in the original rebuilding program. Helping Hands has relied on volunteer labor and grant money to gut thousands of houses, and has rebuilt hundreds. “Fitzpatrick and Catholic Charities President Gordon Wadge said Operation Helping Hands might have continued two or three years longer, but for the massive repairs mandated by the tainted drywall,” the Times-Picayune reported. The end of the Katrina recovery program won’t affect other work by Catholic Charities, which operates 41 ministries with other focuses, including counseling, literacy, food support, and help for battered women. Construction and building rehab fall outside the group’s core expertise in any case, said Gordon Wadge: “Our challenge all the time is to say which ministries we can sustain. We feel like we can't be all things to all people at all times. How do we look to aligning ministries to immediate needs, care for the most poor and vulnerable? Those are hard decisions we have to make every day." Other charities with a housing focus, however, have also taken a hit from Chinese drywall. Habitat for Humanity, as well as Rebuilding Together New Orleans, have chosen to shoulder the full cost of remediating homes that they’ve built or rehabbed that are now tainted by the defective material, the paper reports: “Aleis Tusa, a spokeswoman for Habitat for Humanity, said that agency so far has repaired 146 tainted homes, having found that 208 were problematic. The agency continues to monitor others for signs their drywall has to be ripped out, she said. And Daniela Rivero, director of Rebuilding Together New Orleans, said her agency is in search of private funds to repair 28 homes tainted with Chinese drywall.” In other Chinese drywall news, homeowners in Florida who elect not to participate in a settlement reached in New Orleans Federal court have received permission from a Florida state judge to pursue their own individual lawsuits against Banner Supply, a Florida-based building materials distributor. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has the story (“ Judge rules homeowners can opt out of drywall deal”): “Broward County Circuit Judge Charles Greene has ruled that the victims may file separate lawsuits against Miami-based distributor Banner Supply Co. if they are not satisfied with the class-action settlement. David Durkee and Victor Diaz, two Miami attorneys representing victims, had complained that the Banner settlement could leave their clients without enough money to make repairs, which cost more than $100,000 per home. Greene instructed all plaintiffs to advise the court whether they wish to be included in the settlement class.”