A special legislative committee on hurricane recovery recently held two lengthy meetings at New Orleans City Hall to hear concerns from local residents about the state's Road Home program, the Hazard Mitigation Grant program and the Small Rental program. All three post-Katrina recovery programs have been steeped in controversy, and members of the Select Committee on Hurricane Recovery got an earful at the hearings.
As a result, the state Office of Community Development (OCD) has opened a hurricane recovery office on the 8th floor of City Hall to assist program applicants. The office is open from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Assistance is available to walk-ins or by appointment by calling 658-8880.
At the request of the committee, OCD brought staff to the meetings to give individuals an opportunity to meet one-on-one about their applications. During the two-day meeting, more than 400 citizens met with staff.
The most frequent — and frustrating — complaint from program applicants was the lack of follow-up on the part of OCD and/or outside contractors hired to process applications, says committee chair Rep. Neil Abramson. "It just seemed to be a continuous cycle of red tape and complicated rules," he said, adding that the committee will prepare a report about attendees who met with staff about their claims.
As a measure of the programs' dysfunction, even former state Rep. Peppi Bruneau, an attorney who served in the House for three decades, could not navigate the Road Home and Hazard Mitigation programs. Bruneau says he was merely trying to get the $9,346 difference between his Road Home grant and the actual cost of elevating the den at his split-level home, but was met with frustration at every turn.
"I was shunted from one person to another, each with some different, maddening little requirement, and was finally told that the file had been sent to Baton Rouge for payment only to be met with the 'OC deductions' reducing me to zero," Bruneau said. "Every conceivable roadblock known to mankind was placed in front of me because I had the temerity to appeal this matter."
The committee has requested that OCD follow up directly with all individuals who attended the meetings with concerns. The committee also asked OCD to keep its members apprised on the status of all claims, including the results of the direct contact, the applicant's response and the status of the application. — Clancy DuBos