After receiving complaints from housing advocates that thousands of homeowners with complex cases are still having difficulty satisfying all the requirements of the Road Home Program, the state has agreed to provide $2 million to put more case managers to work assisting property owners in closing out their accounts with the disaster grant program.
Under the contract, the Louisiana Office of Community Development will provide $1 million each to the nonprofit Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance and Baton Rouge-based Franklin Associates. They will use the money to create a new service that provides an intermediary between Road Home administrators and homeowners with complicated files.
The so-called “liaison services” are meant to address long-standing complaints that the oft-criticized disaster grant program is difficult to navigate.
GNOHA will concentrate its efforts on homeowners in the New Orleans area. Franklin Associates will split its work between the New Orleans area and southwest Louisiana.
Employees from both agencies recently completed a week of training on Road Home policies and procedures.
The three-year contract is funded through federal Community Development Block Grant funds set aside for the operation of the Road Home Program.
Office of Community Development Executive Director Pat Forbes, who administers the program, said he expects all homeowners to come into compliance during the contract period, but the new program’s funding and length can be increased and extended if necessary.
There are more than 4,500 noncompliant homeowners in the greater New Orleans area. That figure includes 3,457 in Orleans Parish, 310 in Jefferson Parish, 581 in St. Bernard Parish and 161 in Plaquemines Parish.
GNOHA will focus on helping homeowners in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes. Franklin will work in the other two parishes and elsewhere in the state. There will be 12 case managers between the two agencies.
Both agencies have been given a list of noncompliant homeowners and will contact them.
The issue of funding for more case managers was raised last summer at a meeting of the City Council’s Community Development Committee. At the meeting, Forbes said he would support using $500,000 in CDBG money to provide assistance to homeowners whose cases were still outstanding.
The federally funded Road Home Program was created in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 to help Louisiana residents rebuild or sell their damaged or destroyed homes.
The original deadline to meet the requirements of the grant program was Nov. 21, 2013. But the problem-plagued initiative still has a backlog of thousands of unresolved cases and homeowners who have been dubbed noncompliant since receiving grants. Some of the homeowners with outstanding cases have been designated as out of compliance with the program merely because they have errors or missing documents in their case files, housing advocates told the City Council.
The program has a contractor assigned to answering homeowners’ questions, but housing advocates have said that’s not enough because homeowners need one-on-one assistance to understand and address their complex cases.
In announcing the $2 million contract, the state said part of the liaisons’ job will be to act as a “second reviewer” of the outstanding cases and to help homeowners gather and submit required information.
“The housing service providers who testified to the committee knew that there were a lot of people out there with complicated cases and files but who were not able to access help through the centralized case management system in Baton Rouge,” said City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who chairs the Community Development Committee. “The problems they have faced are not because of a lack of available money. We need to sit with people and do what we can to make them whole.”
If homeowners remain noncompliant beyond the end of the new contract, they will be put into “grant recapture” to work out a repayment plan to the state.