Meeting Name: Community Meeting- Restore Louisiana Program
Location: The Foundation House; 720 Enterprise Blvd. LC, LA, 70601
Date: December 6, 2022, 6:00 PM to 8 P.M.
Documenter: Tasha C. Guidry, Project Coordinator
A packed room of residents had many questions about the Restore Louisiana program that provides financial assistance to homeowners impacted by recent hurricanes and flooding.
The atmosphere in the building prior to the meeting was one of apprehension, frustration, and anger. The room was full of those who were seeking answers to long awaited questions regarding the Restore Louisiana program, which has an intent “to provide grant assistance to vulnerable low-to-moderate income homeowners impacted by Hurricanes Laura, Delta, Ida, or the May 2021 Severe Storms.”
The room was packed to capacity with a mixed demographic. Chairs had to be taken out repeatedly as more citizens piled into the building looking for solutions to their housing problems. The facilities parking lot was full so many attendees took a chance parking vehicles on the empty lot next door only to later find their tires bogged into the wet soil and having to be pushed out.
The meeting was hosted by Police Jury members Mike Smith District 2 and Eddie Earl Lewis, J. District 3, who is also the owner of the Foundation House. The meeting was called to provide citizens with information regarding the Restore Louisiana Housing Rehabilitation Program, Calcasieu Parish Police Jury Resources, City of Lake Charles resources, and the December 10th Election and Amendments.
The meeting was opened by Police Jury member Mike T. Smith, District 2. It was very noisy, everyone talking at once. Police Jury member Mike Smith asked everyone to keep the noise down and stated that we would open up the meeting with prayer which he led. He next stated that we had a lady present from Restore Louisiana to discuss the housing program but that he forgot to get her name but stated that “she was there to answer any questions that we had regarding the program.”
Jennifer Perkins (Restore Louisiana) introduced herself. Ms. Perkins stated that she was there to assist homeowners who had suffered major to severe damage from Hurricane Laura, Delta, or the May ‘21 floods. Ms. Perkins stated that one of the main questions that they are asked at Restore Louisiana is “How do I qualify and what is classified as severe?”
FEMA determines who qualifies as having had major or severe damage, not Restore. To simplify the explanation FEMA would have provided a sum of $8,000 or more for repairs or $3,500 or more for personal property. If you received the $8,000 or more you may qualify for Restore as its a major rehabilitation program. HUD determines how the Restore money can be spent and those are the parameters that the state must currently operate by.
Ms. Perkins stated that the state was aware that some people were visited by FEMA and were not awarded $8,000 or more because we were in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. (FEMA inspectors did not enter homes and asked questions from outside about damage.) Perkins said the state is aware of that scenario and is in dialogue with FEMA about that matter. Until something is agreed upon that state must continue to operate the Restore program as it stands.
Ms. Perkins encouraged people to apply for Restore and stated that there were caseworkers in the back to apply. Ms. Perkins stated that Restore has an office in the Magnolia Building on the third floor in Suite 306 and accepts walk-ins on Mondays, Wednesday, and Thursdays.
The rest of the time was spent taking questions from the audience and receiving commentary. Questions consisted of everything, including “when did Restore start?”Ms. Perkins stated that, “Restore started in Feb. 2022 but, the grant was just recently signed in October to begin giving money to homeowners.” Ms. Perkins clarified that ”there were two types of assistance: FEMA money and Restore funds. FEMA is emergency funds which comes right after an event whereas Restore comes from CDBG funds which comes later on and is recovery money. It does not come fast but comes long after the storms which is why the state fought to have reimbursement money available to homeowners because they know that by this point people have done what they needed to do to get repairs done to at least be living in their homes.”
One citizen, Deborah Kennerson, asked, “Why did money have to be given back to Restore that was awarded by FEMA? Ms. Perkins asked her to explain. Ms. Kennerson stated that FEMA gave her niece $17,000 towards repairs on her mobile home and that Restore would only award her money minus what FEMA had given her. Ms. Perkins, stated that in any federal programs “although the programs are different, they would not engage in a Duplication of Benefits.” Perkins went on to say that through inspection after FEMA has awarded money HUD/Restore would verify what work was completed versus what they believe the work is that remains to be done and the organization may not be aware of the impact of multiple storms.”
So, if a homeowner was set to receive $80,000 for a new mobile home from Restore but had already received $17,000 from FEMA an inspection would occur to verify what work was done and that the $17,000 would be deducted leaving the homeowner with $63,000. In other words, funds would not be duplicated for work that was already supposed to have been completed.
Questions and commentary went on such as this for another 15 minutes with commentary made by audience members. The gist of the audience commentary was that the community was still struggling. Many people had major repairs that needed done and were not funded enough if funded at all and that they were tired of going to meeting after meeting and hearing the same stories from different officials with no results.
Ms. Perkins stated that there would be access to caseworkers in our cities to help with the process. She offered to look at resident’s files personally and mentioned the possibility of Restore going door to door trying to find people who had not applied and would encourage them to do so. The majority of the attendees were there to hear about Restore. Many left after the Restore presentation.
What happened to Restore not rehabilitating homes in flood zones?
What is the most money that they would give a homeowner for repairs?
What happened to elevation money for homes in the program that are in flood zones?
Is there still a Flood Insurance Assistance program?
What rubric did they use to make a determination as to what a homeowner would receive for damage to property?
Has anyone received additional money through the appeals process?