Thousands of Road Home applications still outstanding
While the vast majority of Louisiana homeowners who applied for federally funded grants through the Road Home program, which provides compensation to residents whose homes were damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, have been processed, a study by the RAND Corp. released on May 27, 2008, found that some applicants had waited more than eight months to receive grants. Only about half of eligible applicants who applied for compensation in December 2006 had received grants one year later, the study found.
The Road Home Program stopped accepting applications in July 2007. But when President Barack Obama took office, there were still about 12,000 applications in the pipeline that had not been resolved. At the end of 2009, there were about 4,800 applications outstanding, said Christina Stephens, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Recovery Authority. Most of the holdups have been due to the difficulty some have faced proving they own their home (a requirement to be eligible for grants), Stephens said, and title issues can drag on. Some applicants, she said, might never be able to prove eligibility.
"There have been no big conversations with (the Department of Housing and Urban Development) to work on ways to move these people more quickly through the process," Stephens said. But she said the office is committed to resolving cases as efficiently as it can, balancing the concerns of homeowners with the need to ensure that tax dollars are not wasted on applicants who are not eligible.
Administration officials say they have taken several important steps toward moving tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents toward self-sufficiency and long-term solutions:
· On Feb. 20, 2009, Obama approved a Disaster Housing Assistance Program that was coordinated through the Department of Housing and Urban Development and nearly 200 local housing authorities across the country, with FEMA support and funding. This program was intended to ensure that the families would not experience undue rent burden while phasing them toward more permanent solutions.
· In early June, HUD provided $80 million in new housing vouchers and the Department of Homeland Security provided new resources for case management to expand alternatives available to the approximately 3,450 households still residing in FEMA temporary housing units such as trailers and mobile homes. Since announcing these steps, White House officials said, roughly 1,200 additional households have transitioned out of FEMA"s temporary housing program.
In addition, HUD ruled that Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds, grants used to help communities struggling with the foreclosure crisis, could also be used to redevelop demolished and vacant properties for housing purposes. In New Orleans alone, there may be up to 68,000 abandoned, unoccupied or blighted properties that could now be restored using this program.
In this promise, Obama spoke specifically about increasing the supply of rental property. And that has happened, according to Stephens, of the Louisiana Recovery Authority.
"On the rental housing front, we"ve created 4,953 rental units through our two programs, one for small 'mom and pop' landlords, the other for larger developers," Stephens said in January 2010. "The majority of these units offer 'affordable' rents and almost half were created in 'mixed income' communities that feature both market rate units and more affordable units for those with more modest incomes. Another 13 of these mixed income developments are under construction, and when complete they will bring another 2,339 rental units online."
But while New Orleans has seen a rapid increase in development of market-rate rental housing, there is still a critical need for more affordable rental housing for low-income residents, said Allison Plyer, deputy director of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. State officials have put the brakes on some low-income housing projects and are seeking to redirect federal grants for them toward other infrastructure needs.
"There are about 7,700 rental units in the pipeline," Plyer said. "It's up to Obama whether those developments get built."
This promise comes with a pretty broad title, restoring housing in New Orleans. However, in campaign literature, Obama made a couple of very specific promises. One was to work with state officials to establish a goal for approving all Road Home applications within two months. That hasn't happened, according to the Louisiana Recovery Authority, though the authority cut the list of outstanding applications from about 12,000 at the beginning of the 2009, to about 4,800 by the end of the year.
In a more general sense, New Orleans has, however, experienced a rise in construction of rental properties. Some New Orleans officials warn, however, that not enough is affordable for low-income residents, and some state officials are looking to redirect federal money for rental property construction to meet other needs.
That's a bit of a mixed bag, and so we rate this promise a Compromise.
Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, "Housing Production Needs," by Allison Plyer and Elaine Ortiz, November 2009
Louisiana Recovery Authority, Rental Programs
Rand Corporation, "Long, Unpredictable Delays Found in Louisiana 'The Road Home' Grants to Homeowners," May 27, 2008
Interviews with: Allison Plyer, deputy director of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center; and Christina Stephens, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Recovery Authority