Feb 242014
 

LaToya Cantrell

LaToya Cantrell

The state lawmakers who sit on the legislature’s Hurricane Recovery Committee will take up the issue of “intimidating” Road Home collection letters previously raised by New Orleans City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell in a meeting this evening (Monday, Feb. 24), officials said.

Anyone in the state who has received the letters is encouraged to attend the meeting at 5:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers at New Orleans City Hall, according to a news release from Cantrell’s office:

The Louisiana Legislature’s joint Hurricane Recovery Committee will meet 5:30 pm Monday, February 24 in New Orleans City Council Chambers. The committee will address Road Home collection letters that have been sent to homeowners, demanding repayment of program grants that were originally dispersed for rebuilding houses following Hurricane Katrina.

Road Home has been sending these letters to homeowners, who properly used the funds to fix their homes. Anyone, no matter his or her parish or town, is encouraged to attend this meeting, which is open to the public. New Orleans committee members Reps. Neil Abramson, Jared Brossett, Sens. Ed Murray, Karen Carter Peterson, David Heitmeier and J.P. Morrell put the issue on their agenda. State Office of Community Development Director Pat Forbes and other state officials will address the committee on the issue.

The meeting is a result of an investigative story by local reporter David Hammer and Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, whose office has received numerous phone calls from worried homeowners that received the letters.

“Road Home has been sending these intimidating letters for months now, and I am relieved that the committee is taking up this issue,” says Cantrell. “I am concerned that some folks will pay back these grants out of fear that no one is standing up for them. Please attend the meeting. I will stand up for you and we will get this resolved.”

Cantrell, who herself received a letter, adds that for many of these homeowners the money in question covered only a small percentage of the total bill for fixing their homes. The federally-funded and state-managed Road Home program was started after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures. The Congress devoted more than $13 billion for the program, and the state awarded monies to more than 117,000 recipients.

Unfortunately, The state has failed to keep any acceptable data on homeowners, who are not in compliance. As a result, the Road Home is responsible for much of the blight that plagues our neighborhoods. The state paid $900 million to Road Home contractor, ICF International, to run the program.

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  • Karen Sepko

    Owen, FEMA had a database of elevation grant recipients (the larger grants issued) that was turned over to the Louisiana Housing Corporation and State Disaster Recovery Unit.

    A HUD Office of Inspector General audit ( IED-09-002, issued in March 2010) showed 82% non-compliance with the Road Home Program.

    After the HUD OIG Audit, the State conducted site visits to 100% of a 199 homeowner sample. As of December 2011, 187 homeowners had moved back into their homes but 149 did not use the grant money to elevate. That’s 80% non-compliance, similar to the results from the HUD OIG Audit in 2010.

    As of August 31, 2012, the State’s documentation showed a total of 24,042 homeowners either were noncompliant, including those that had not elevated their homes; were non responsive; or did not provide sufficient supporting documentation. Therefore, the State did not have conclusive evidence that the $698.5 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) disaster recovery funds had been used to elevate homes.

    If this money is not paid back by grant recipients the State will have to pay which trickles down to ALL taxpayers. This is not fair to people that used their grant money properly, had insurance coverage and paid to renovate on their own.

    What’s more troubling is the FEMA grant recipient database is not public. Buyers of past Road Home properties need to ensure the house is compliant because the Federal Government has a No Duplication of Benefits clause. If the Road Home house was not elevated and it’s subject to another flood, the new buyer is not entitled to elevation benefits. Remember… Flood insurance follows the house not the owner as in Hazard Insurance. I am hoping the State will release the grant recipient database (since it’s taxpayer money) so we can ensure integrity of our home sales.