ACA.flooding014.063017

Carencro firefighters Travis LeBlanc, left, and Tyler Istre help Peter Francis get to his home in the flooded Rue Basin neighborhood following heavy showers that brought several inches of rain in a short period of time Thursday, June 30, 2017, in Carencro, La. LeBlanc and Istre took the boat into the neighborhood also to rescue residents stranded in their homes.

Advocate staff photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK

People who live in areas affected by last year's catastrophic floods are being urged on television and radio, by billboards and at community events to enter themselves into the state's disaster recovery program pipeline.

Soon, the pleas will lead straight to their front doors – literally.

The state is launching a door-to-door outreach effort next week to promote the initial flood survey – available at restore.la.gov or by calling 1-866-735-2001 – as it ramps up its $1.3 billion housing recovery programs.

More than 31,000 homeowners have completed the survey so far, but state officials leading the recovery say that is still far below the anticipated need. The state application process is separate from and must also be completed despite FEMA or other federal assistance homeowners may have previously sought.

The Restore Louisiana Task Force met Friday in a church in North Baton Rouge, an area where at least half of the flood-affected families haven't started the process of seeking state assistance.

"Using our data analysis, over 46 percent of the flood victims in this area with FEMA verified loss have not filled out the (survey)," said task force co-chair Jackie Vines Wyatt. "We really do want that to happen."

That's about 11,500 missing surveys in that area alone.

Paula Jones Collins said she and her husband, both retired, have gone through the process of applying for aid for their flooded Baton Rouge home.

"There aren't a whole lot of funds that we would reach to, to be able to rebuild our home or make it sufficient," she said at Friday's meeting.

Collins said she has faith that the state program will help them rebuild but she worries that, 11 months after the floods, others may not be as patient. Already, their house has been surveyed twice because of the duplication needed between FEMA aid and state-based aid, which is separate and applied for separately.

Collins said heavy rains can trigger post-traumatic stress and many left with gutted homes feel hopeless.

"It's a lot in itself," she said. "Nobody wants to get in a process when they're not sure they're going to get anything."

Officials have sought nearly $4 billion to aid the recovery from floods that hit the northern part of the state in March and the capital and Acadiana regions last August.

To date, the state has received less than half of that – about $1.6 billion – from Congress, the bulk of which is going toward helping homeowners rebuild.

The programs offer reimbursements to homeowners who have already had work done on their flooded homes or options for getting improvements made through personally selected or state-selected contractors.

Because the state is still shy of the $2.7 billion that officials say would be needed to help all homeowners, the programs have been rolled out in priority phases and tiers.

The survey gets people into the queue to start the application process. This week, the state expanded applications to some homeowners who had flood insurance and beyond the initial low-income requirement.

More than 2,700 homeowners met the strictest criteria laid out in Phases 1 and 2 of the program, which have been limited to low-to-moderate income households that have disabled or elderly residents.

The state is also beginning to take in applications for Phase 3, which extends the program to all income levels in the most impacted parishes and has no priority for disability.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who is in Rhode Island this weekend for the National Governors Association summer meeting, has lobbied the Trump administration for additional aid to extend the programs and working with the state's congressional delegation to try to get more money into Congress' anticipated August appropriation.

"We're still having those conversations," said Edwards' special counsel Erin Monroe Wesley.

Wesley said Edwards, who will be taking part in a panel discussion on disaster recovery alongside newly-approved FEMA administrator Brock Long, planned to discuss some of the state's specific disaster recovery and preparedness needs with Long.

Aside from homeowner programs, the state has established a $45 million program to encourage landlords to build affordable rental housing to address the post-flood shortage.

The program's priority goes to landlords with rental properties that flooded, public housing authorities and non-profits. The application deadline has been extended as officials hope to gin up more interest.

"It's obvious that we need additional outreach," said Community Development director Pat Forbes. "We've got to build affordable rental housing, and we know that."

The state also is fielding applications for a small business loan program and an agriculture grant program.

"It's a small amount of money compared to the overall losses but it will go a long way," Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.