Thursday, April 13, 2006

Conversation with a homeowner

A co-worker lives out in Kenner. I talked to him this morning to get his reaction to the new FEMA requirements for rebuilding homes that were severely damaged by Katrina flooding (more than 50 percent of the home damaged).

Me: So you know that FEMA finally published the new flood maps – the plan for what you're going to have to do with your house – whether or not you're going to have to raise it. I was just going to ask you about your situation.

MM: Oh, you know what it feels like? It gets you in the gut and does like that to you (clenches hands into fists in front of his stomach).

Me: So, $42,000 for the first foot. $9000 for every foot after that. The minimum you're going to have to raise your house is three feet.

MM: Three to seven feet.

Me: Sure, but the minimum is three feet. Have you had a surveyor come out to your house?

MM: Yeah. That's another expense.

Me: And what was the result? How high are you going to have to raise your house?

MM: Three feet.

Me: So, FEMA will pay you $30,000 to raise your house. You have to pay the rest yourself. So here's the question: Do you know if any of the plans proposed in Governor Blanco's LRA proposal will compensate you for the cost to raise your house above and beyond the $30,000 that FEMA will give you?

MM: I don't know. I applied for the LRA, but I haven't heard anything.

Me: Well, the LRA plan still has to be approved before the money can be disbursed.

MM: Yeah, but how long is that going to take? You know? Then there's the SBA.

Me: So you applied for an SBA loan?

MM: Yeah, but I'm still waiting for an answer on that. You have to wait for everything. Here's an example. You apply for FEMA rental assistance. So you send that in, and wait three weeks. They say, well you didn't give us your insurance estimate of the damages to your home. So you send that. Three weeks pass before you get an answer. Then FEMA says that the insurance company should pay for rental assistance. That's bullshit! I didn't get anything from the insurance company for what they call prohibitive use of the house. That's all by mail. But you never get to talk to a real person. You see? And they give you 60 days to resolve the issue. But I'm hearing that other people are getting money from FEMA. M- knows someone down the street who got $21,000 for rent.

Me: That's a lot of rent.

MM: That'll pay for rent on a place for two years.

Me: You could make a down payment on a house with that kind of money. But now the SBA loan, you have to pay that back. I don't think homeowners should be liable for damages to their homes caused by the failure of local and federal officials to do their jobs. The federal government should compensate homeowners. The federal government is liable.

MM: Well, the SBA gives out grants too. That's what I'm hoping for.

Me: So you won't have to pay that back.

MM: Well, you see, at my age, at 75 years, I'm going to pay and pay and pay and they'll never see their money. So they're going to look at the situation and either give me a grant, or a denial.

Me: But is the SBA going to let you spend some of that money to raise your house?

MM: I hope so. I mean, they're going to give you the money to repair your house. They ought to let you use it to raise your house.

Me: Well, you never know – they're could be a clause in the rules that prevents you from using the money to raise your house.

MM: I don't know. You just can't get a straight answer from anybody. That's the most frustrating thing. You can't talk to a real person. You can't get any answers. You just wait, and wait, and wait.

Me: My view is that they aren't committing the resources needed to help people down here solve the problem.

MM: I don't think they want to solve the problem. They just don't want to spend the money. I'm about to throw up my hands. I'm just tired of this. No one gives you a straight answer. I just want to get back into my house. I just want to get back into my house.

If anyone's wondering, I'd say this guy's about as old school conservative as they come (though I believe there's less that divides true conservatives and true liberals under the Bush monarchy, but that's a topic for another post).


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