Nic Hunter and John Bel Edwards

Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter announces a housing program with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021.

Low- and moderate-income homeowners in Lake Charles will get some financial help to fix the damage from storms that came ashore more than a year ago, under a program the state and city rolled out Monday.

The amount is small – only $11.3 million – but comes while hundreds of millions in federal aid clears various bureaucratic hurdles.

“This is the beginning. This is the first step. A relatively modest step,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards at a press conference discussing the program. “We still need another $700 million or so.”

The money will cover the gaps in assistance already given individual homeowners from various agencies and while the $595 million recently appropriated for recovery from the 2020 storms works its way through the system. The state also is seeking an additional $700 million for housing needs, but that request won’t be acted upon by Congress until next month.

Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said about the program: “The impetus for this was the state and the city saying that we were not going to simply just sit on our hands and wait for the federal government.”

Federal agencies are drafting regulations and standards for the spending of the $595 million approved in September. Then the state will have to submit an “action plan” for how the money will be spent. Once approved, the federal government will release lines of credit and only then can the state start spending the money.

The $11.3 million program rolled out Monday will start releasing funds far sooner, Hunter said.

Coming from state, local and federal pots of money, most of the $11.3 million will help pay up to $50,000 for low- and middle-income households rebuilding their storm-damage homes. That program is called COLC Home Rehabilitation and Recovery Program. The funds will go to individual homeowners in the form of a grant, which is called a forgivable deferred loan.

Some of the money will provide financial grants to owners of eligible rental properties.

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The city will administer the program. Hunter didn’t have the exact details ready yet, but said he hopes to use existing phone numbers for applicants to call and existing program managers to help process requests.

Local officials in southwest Louisiana, particularly Hunter, have been outspoken on the need for more federal relief dollars considering the scale of the disasters the region has faced. Hurricane Laura was one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever hit the state, and it was followed six weeks later by Category 2 Hurricane Delta, a severe freeze in February and flooding in May.

Hunter has called the roughly $595 million in long-term recovery money approved in late September woefully insufficient and questioned why the Lake Charles area has had to wait far longer than other regions following disasters. On Monday, he stressed: "The housing situation in Lake Charles is absolutely dire … This is going to help.”

Edwards noted that before Hurricane Laura, which came ashore with 150 mile per hour winds on Aug. 20, 2020, Lake Charles already had an acute shortage of affordable housing as southwest Louisiana, which had the lowest unemployment rates in the country, was attracting workers to the area.

And much of the $595 million finally appropriated by Congress after more than a year of debate will need to be spent on mitigation efforts and as a match for other federal programs, such as public assistance, he said.

“It’s not enough to meet the housing needs, even if it all went to housing,” Edwards said, adding that he has argued from the get-go that Louisiana needs $1.3 billion to address housing damages caused by the string of storms.

While in Washington, D.C. last week for a bill signing, Edwards lobbied for an additional $700 million. He didn’t run into any federal official who said no, he said.

“I’m confident, by the way, that additional assistance will be made available,” Edwards said. “Exactly what the time frame looks like, how much, or what the instrument will be, I can’t tell you yet.”

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