Katrina-Affected Miss. CU Keeping An Eye On Delinquencies

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Navigator CU is heading into 2006 with a healthy balance sheet, despite extraordinary events during 2005 that has it on the lookout for possible loan delinquencies.

For many credit union employees, the issues at work are only compounded by what they're dealing with at home-or what's left of it.

Since Hurricane Katrina struck in late August, The Credit Union Journal has chronicled the trials and tribulations of two Gulf Coast credit unions, Navigator Credit Union and Singing River FCU. Both CUs were flooded, issued millions of dollars in loans and emergency cash, shook hands with National Guardsmen and cops guarding their drive-through tellers, had branches damaged, and lent a sympathetic ear to members, employees and board members who lost cars, homes, and sometimes hope, during Katrina.

Hitting Home

Among them was the household of EVP Laurin Avera. The two-story, brick home was situated a block from shore of the Gulf of Mexico, surrounded by well-to-do homes and waterfront mansions. Floodwaters broke through the front of the building and swept out the back. Avera's Washington Ave. home has been condemned after more than 50% was destroyed by floodwaters. The home will be torn down, the lot cleaned up and, Avera said, he hopes to sell it in the next couple of years. For now, the Avera's are living at Laurin's parents' home and bedding one son in a FEMA trailer brought in after the storm. Avera says now his family has learned one simple lesson: "We had too much stuff," he said. "We can get by with a whole lot less. We have learned we can do what we have to do."

Avera said he continues to be impressed and amazed at the outpouring of support from everyday Americans and the credit union community. The Mississppi Credit Union League donated cooked turkeys to volunteers and employees during Thanksgiving and a work crew from Georgia is still in the area, sleeping on cots at a local church. Avera said he's established a relationship with the United Way due to their help after Katrina. "We need to be there for others in the future," he said.

Moving To The Second Floor

Although it lost six ATMs from storm damage, Avera said Navigator CU two-story main branch is at full capacity and the IT department is being moved to an industrial complex 25 feet above sea level. This month, trailers will open at the Pascagoula shipyard to serve members who build naval vessels. "We're not at 100%, but we're at 100% of what we have," he said.

Avera said Navigator CU was "loaned out" before Katrina hit and has gotten through the 30-day extension it gave to members. Members having loan difficulties have been dealt with on a case-by-case basis with many refinances taking place. As insurance and federal money starts to pour into the Gulf States, Avera said he expects more real estate loans this year.

Avera said Navigator will take the step of hiring counselors to help employees and members deal with the aftermath of Katrina as part of a newer effort to focus on its people. He noted that most people are still working under a great deal of stress and he's is concerned about worker performance and conduct.

"We're all traumatized. Everyone is in this area," he said.

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