East Baton Rouge is looking for some volunteers: Agree to elevate your flood-prone house or to let the city-parish buy your house so you can move to drier land.
More than 600 letters have gone out to East Baton Rouge Parish homeowners living in flood-prone areas, offering them this opportunity, if the parish gets the funding.
The Mayor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness is fishing for voluntary participation as the parish readies another attempt to apply for flood mitigation funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
MOSHEP Director Clay Rives said the city-parish has been awarded funding through the program for the past five years, with interest from homeowners sharply increasing in the years following 2016 floods.
"We started sending letters out about two weeks ago to homeowners we think qualify for this particular grant," Rives said Monday. "It's not guaranteed we'll get the funding, and this is strictly voluntary. Homeowners respond if they're interested and we help put their application together and send it off to FEMA."
The city-parish targeted more than 640 homeowners identified by the National Flood Insurance Program's database as having dealt with "severe repetitive loss" or just "repetitive loss."
Those homeowners are given two options: to seek acquisition of their home by the city-parish, allowing them to move someplace else, or get the money to have their homes elevated to reduce the chances of it flooding again.
"Flood insurance for homes with severe repetitive loss gets pricey," Rives said. "If they go through this program, their insurance rates will drop at the end of this."
Similar options were given to residents in the flood-prone community of Pecan Acres in Pointe Coupee, through different state and federal programs. There, the goal was to move that entire community and build a new one for the residents, most of whom are Black and low-income. Their old subdivision will then be converted into wetlands to mitigate flooding in the surrounding area in that community.
The option to elevated homes with this pot of federal funding is something Rives said started under Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's administration. In the past, most people only had the option of the city-parish buying their property from them.
"We would demolish the property and then maintain it," he said. "This year we're looking for homes in areas that have participated before, where we can get a cluster. If we did have a whole neighborhood participate and want to move, we could use that area for retention or some other mitigation strategy to benefit drainage."
When the city-parish applied for the flood mitigation dollars in 2015, only six homeowners applied. The following year, eight did, Rives said.
In 2017, a year after the disastrous 2016 floods, 11 homeowners applied, and in 2018 the number jumped to 37, Rives said. Last year, the city-parish received 44 applicants, he added.
The parish in the last few years has garnered the most interest from homeowners in Central's Comite Hills and Winchester subdivisions, and the Westminster neighborhood in Baton Rouge.
The path from submitting your application and receiving the federally-promised funds can take a few years.
According to the letters that were sent out, homeowners must be in the NFIP by Aug. 20 to qualify. The deadline to submit paperwork to the city-parish is Oct. 1. FEMA is expected to announce its selection of applicants around December 2021.
MOSHEP will start purchasing properties or elevating homes sometime in February 2022, if approved.
The required documentation and information needed for each option is different.
Those who did not receive a letter but are interested in applying for the program can do so by emailing MOHSEPM@brla.gov or calling (225) 389-2100 for more information.