[StBernard] Study: Home grants lagging
Westley at da-parish.com
Wed Mar 19 20:21:20 EDT 2008
NEW ORLEANS â€” The stateâ€™s federally funded Road Home hurricane recovery program has not been an express lane for many homeowners who applied for grants, a nonprofit research group told a Louisiana Recovery Authority panel Tuesday.
The RAND Gulf States Policy Institute examined the history of all Road Home applications through mid-December, looking specifically at the total time it takes an eligible homeowner to apply for and receive a grant, and found that some homeowners got their grants in two months while others waited more than 500 days.
The Road Home recorded more than 185,000 homeowner applications from July 2006, when the program began, to July 2007, when the application deadline expired. To date, more than 103,000 homeowners have closed on their grants.
RAND Corp. senior analyst Rick Eden likened the crush of Road Home applications to a marathon and the varied speeds of its runners, saying some applications were resolved quickly, others slowly, and eventually they became spread out.
â€œYou can get hung up in a variety of places,â€™â€™ Eden said of the many stages in the grant-making process during an LRA Housing Task Force meeting in New Orleans.
Eden said the fastest 25 percent of grant recipients received funding within about 200 days; the median recipient was funded in about 243 days; 75 percent of eligible homeowners received their grants within 296 days; and a fourth of the recipients waited at least 384 days.
â€œThatâ€™s history,â€™â€™ LRA member John Smith shot back. â€œLetâ€™s get to the root of the problem. Deal with it, ICF. Deal with the problems.â€™â€™
Former Gov. Kathleen Blancoâ€™s administration hired Virginia-based ICF International to administer the Road Home program. It was recently revealed that state officials increased the management contract ceiling from $756 million to $912 million in the waning days of Blancoâ€™s administration.
LRA Housing Task Force Chairman Walter Leger said the task forceâ€™s chief concern is with â€œgetting the job done,â€™â€™ not with how much it will cost.
Eden said RAND Gulf States Policy Institute found, among other things, that:
* Homeowners that chose to either sell their home to the state and relocate within the state or sell and move out of state waited about 100 days longer for their grant than homeowners who chose to rebuild in place.
* Applicants living in condominiums or townhouses waited 50 days longer than homeowners.
* Homeowners with flood or wind insurance waited a little longer for grants.
* Thousands of eligible applicants remained in the verification stage for more than 100 days.
â€œThere are a lot of unexplained variations,â€™â€™ task force member K.C. King, who belongs to the watchdog Citizens Road Home Action Team group, noted.
CHAT founder and LRA Housing Task Force member Melanie Ehrlich said she was disappointed that the institute did not address the quality, or the lack thereof as she alleged, in the Road Home program. She complained that some applicants are dealing with â€œexorbitant resistance to correcting mistakes.â€™â€™
The LRA hired the institute to assess the performance of the Road Home program.
Eden said the instituteâ€™s final report will be out in about a month, after it is peer reviewed.
â€œPlease ask your peer reviewers to read faster,â€™â€™ Leger urged Eden.
The Road Home program also has a rental housing component, providing grants to landlords who agree to keep rents low in exchange for forgivable loans.
The Louisiana Housing Finance Agency and the New Orleans demographic consulting firm of GCR & Associates conducted a study of rental housing demand in the New Orleans area and told the task force Tuesday that the estimated demand for rental units affordable to low- and moderate-income households is between 29,000 and 50,000 in metropolitan New Orleans.
GCR planner and housing consultant Rebecca Rothenberg said Hurricane Katrina only worsened the pre-storm housing needs in the New Orleans area.
â€œThere was a lot of need before the storm,â€™â€™ she said.
Rothenberg also said homelessness is up 400 percent in New Orleans since the hurricane and is now six times the national average.
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