A key component of the housing recovery plan put into place after Louisiana suffered catastrophic floods last month has faced complaints about shoddy repair work and a slower-than-expected roll out.
Leaders say they are still working through the kinks of the Shelter at Home program — the first of its kind in Louisiana. Meanwhile, thousands of homeowners are waiting, hoping that they will get quality improvements that will help get them back into their flood-ravaged homes.
Alice O'Conner, 56, is among the slightly fewer than 2,000 people who have already seen repairs begin on their homes through Shelter at Home.
On Wednesday, she walked through her house in North Baton Rouge, examining the work that had been completed, and what had not, about 24 hours after crews had first arrived on her doorstep.
The outlets that had been replaced are anchored to patches of drywall along otherwise exposed walls. The sink sits on an unpainted wooden frame. She wasn't sure if she should ask for more work to be done to get a bedroom in a more livable condition.
It's clearly bare-bones — something officials say people should be prepared for when they seek out the program. Shelter at Home cannot cover complete renovations. It is crafted specifically just to do the minimal amount of work to get people back into their homes as they continue the flood recovery.
"I do know this is temporary," O'Conner said, adding that she was overall satisfied with the work that has been done. "I'm easily satisfied. They didn't have to give me anything for free."
More than 18,800 people have applied for the program, which sends crews to perform small-scale repairs needed for people's homes to be livable again.
About 100 homes have been completed as of Wednesday, with 40 more pending final inspections. More than 1,800 home repairs are in progress.
Gov. John Bel Edwards remained optimistic about the program during this month's episode of his call-in radio show on Wednesday, despite complaints about the pace that it has been rolled out and now the quality of repairs.
"We're ramping up the program dramatically," he said. "We're going to make sure we ramp it up and we increase capacity so many more homes are benefited in the near future."
A Facebook video that went viral this week shows a man walking through a house that was part of the Shelter at Home program, pointing out flaws with the work that had been done — broken outlet covers, cracks between pieces of drywall and a dirty toilet among them — and questioning the program's validity. The man repeatedly misstates the program's cost and intent, but the flaws in the work performed are obvious.
Edwards noted that Shelter at Home ends with a final inspection of repairs.
"Much of the work in that video would not have been approved and would have been re-done," Edwards said. "Some of the work there wasn't up to standard."
Shelter at Home was modeled off of "Rapid Repairs" – a program that popped up in response to Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey. That program also faced complaints, including questions about shoddy repair work.
Shelter at Home, which the state is already preparing to spend at least $400 million in mostly federal money on, sends crews to qualified houses to perform up to $15,000 in basic repairs – some drywall replacing, bathroom repairs, gutting and other work – so that homeowners can return there.
Just four of the more than 18,000 households that have sought help from Louisiana's signatur…
Leaders say it gets people back into their communities, eases the burden on an already crunched housing market and gives people who have been staying in cramped spaces with family members a shot at a living situation closer to what they had pre-floods.
One of the issues that currently has plagued the program is the realization of the temporary nature of what it actually covers.
O'Connor's repairs included getting plumbing, HVAC and electrical up to code. Her water-logged front door was replaced so that it would close and provide safety. She also received a mini refrigerator, topped with a microwave and a hot-plate-style double burner.
They also cleaned the mold that had started to grow in one of the closets, hung a new bathroom door and have been working to get her air conditioning back running.
O'Conner was one of the few people who did have flood insurance, so she sees the Shelter at Home program is giving her a way to return to her home so that she can then start the complete renovation process.
"I feel for so many people who don't have insurance," she said.
She said she understands that her house is only in a temporary state as she prepares to move back in, but she'll be happy to return.
O'Conner has been staying with her daughter and three grandchildren in a two-bedroom apartment.
"It's nothing like home," she said, quickly adding that she realizes she is lucky — many people had nowhere to go. "There's no place like home. It's still all love."
Edwards said a recent change in the program is that Shelter at Home workers are now required to show homeowners photographs of the types of repair work that the program covers to illustrate their temporary nature.
"FEMA cannot fund permanent repairs," Edwards said, referencing the federal Stafford Act that regulates what FEMA funding can go toward. "It's a shelter program. We have to make sure that people understand what to expect."
Contractor Randy Corrass, who has been working with the contractors on O'Conner's home and others, said he had been to about 15 houses as of about noon on Wednesday.
"A lot of people are happy to see you," he said.
But he said he had also seen several people ultimately back out of Shelter at Home and say they no longer wanted to participate once they realized what types of repairs were being covered.
He said often those people had already started more substantive repairs on their own.
FEMA has determined that flood victims who live in mobile homes should not automatically be …
Carmelle Brumfield, 39, who lives in Denham Springs, is in the early stage of the Shelter at Home process and waiting for the work to begin.
Brumfield said the home she shares with her 7-year-old daughter took at least 5 feet of water "My whole house was flooded," she said.
She said she understands the purpose of the program and the temporary repairs that it entails, but she wishes that it would offer more permanent solutions for homeowners, like her, who didn't have flood insurance and are trying to rebuild their lives.
"Honestly, I'm not asking for a whole lot," she said.
She hopes to get back into her home so she can begin the permanent repair process. In the meantime, she's been living with family.
Brumfield said she worries that the temporary nature of the Shelter at Home work might leave some people living in sub-par housing conditions down the road — people who aren't able to make further repairs once they return home.
"Especially older people who are displaced," she said. "You know once you go, some of them are just going to stay there as it is. They need their house back."