During four years of home-elevation heartache, Loretta Smith and her daughter Saundra have been vagabonds — moving from one relative’s house to another so they could sew new suits for the Ouachita Nation Mardi Gras Indians and get their minds off their neighboring homes in eastern New Orleans, which a contractor left unfinished.

“I’m 81 years old, and no one will loan me any money … because I’m too old,” Loretta Smith said tearfully last week. “It depresses me. To know that I had such a beautiful home and now I don’t have it.”

But now, the Smiths are getting an early Mardi Gras present: The state’s home elevation program, which had lost their case in the shuffle and failed to track down their absentee contractor, is suddenly promising to replenish the grant money they paid to the contractor and get them back in their houses, hopefully before Loretta Smith’s birthday in November.

“We hope that Ms. Loretta can invite all of her close friends to celebrate her 82nd birthday in her home — in her completed home,” said Craig Taffaro, director of the state’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

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