The Department of Housing and Urban Development has approved an additional $4.2 billion in funding for Louisiana homeowners affected by Katrina:
HUD and the Louisiana Recovery Authority say the message is simple: Come home.
Officials say the $4.2 billion given to Louisiana to help residents rebuild or sell homes severely damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita is designed to bring and keep Louisianans home.
"For the first time, we can guarantee that we have all the funding we need," Gov. Kathleen Blanco said at Tuesday's news conference announcing the grant. "We will bring back our communities devastated by both Katrina and Rita -- two pretty vicious hurricanes."
The $4.2 billion from the Department of Housing and Urban Development will be added to federal allocations Louisiana already had received to fully fund its more-than-$9 billion Road Home program for hurricane recovery. The program is designed to provide Louisiana residents up to $150,000 to rebuild or sell houses severely damaged by the storms, using grants to cover repair costs above what was covered by insurance policies and FEMA grants.
"Don't assume that you are not eligible," HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan told BlackAmericaWeb.com. "Sign up. The folks in Louisiana are creating statewide call centers -- one-stop shops, if you will."
There are a variety of options available, depending on the applicant's situation, but whether someone wants to build, rebuild or relocate, calling to see what type of assistance is available is paramount, Sullivan said.
"The intent is to, first of all, get people back their nest eggs," Catherine Heitman, press secretary for the Louisiana Recovery Authority, told BlackAmericaWeb.com. "It's also to replenish the housing stock in Louisiana."
Heitman said there is money available for those who want to repair, rebuild or build in Louisiana, as well as those who want to sell their property and relocate. The program, she said, "does favor those who want to remain within the state."
She also urged applicants to call the Road Home program at 1-888-Road-2-LA (1-888-762-3252) for details. The number for the hearing impaired is 1-800-566-4224.
For people who sell their property and can demonstrate continued permanent residence in the state, the Road Home grants cover the difference between a home's pre-storm value and post-storm insurance settlements and FEMA grants. Owners who take the "sell" option and have moved out of Louisiana state can only get 60 percent of their home's pre-storm value.
The funds were approved by Congress last month. The article says that eligibility and the "new footprint of New Orleans" will be determined by FEMA flood maps and the availability of flood insurance, and this could impact residents of the Lower Ninth Ward.
Otherwise, this is great news for many residents of New Orleans. According to news reports, 90,000 homeowners have applied, and up to 200,000 may be eligible. Unfortunately, this HUD block grant will not help displaced former residents of New Orleans public housing. As discussed earlier here and here, it doesn't seem that the issue of public housing is being adequately addressed.
In other news related to the Road Home program, the NOLA Times Picayune files this report on what homeowners can expect:
Storm-battered homeowners who apply for assistance through the state Road Home program will be called in for a meeting with a counselor to discuss their rebuilding or sellout options. But they also will be expected to bring along a trove of records, including a copy of the property deed and evidence of insurance damage payments to date.
And they should expect, as a safeguard against fraud, that any money awarded will be turned over to their bank for disbursement as a rebuilding project or sale plays out.
Such were among procedural details offered Wednesday by Louisiana Recovery Authority officials and managers of the $7.5 billion Road Home program, as it opened a Baton Rouge center for testing its procedures. By late August, there should be 10 such centers across the state, where more than 90,000 homeowners who have registered for the program will be invited to meet with counselors.
The interviews will be scheduled individually, so there will be no waiting in line.
The article explains how the process will work and the qualifying criteria. It says checks for the first applicants could be issued as soon as late August.