We can’t blow Isaac rebuilding opportunity

Published 11:45 pm Friday, September 19, 2014

There is another public meeting planned for St. John residents to learn how to take advantage of the Hurricane Isaac Housing Program.

Community members are welcome to come by the West Bank Community Center, 173 E. Third St. in Edgard, at 6 p.m. Monday to gain a greater understanding of how St. John the Baptist Parish is able to provide funds to eligible applicants to repair or elevate homes that were damaged by Hurricane Isaac.

The parish can also provide financial assistance to eligible applicants to buy a home in the parish.

There is no sugarcoating the massive blow Isaac dealt St. John, but through this grant provided by the Office of Community Development Disaster Recovery Unit, $19.3 million is coming to St. John for the creation of five housing programs. The first $1,083,398 of those funds is going to St. John the Baptist officials to begin program activities.

Parish officials will administer the programs, with the state Office of Community Development’s Disaster Recovery Unit and Louisiana Housing Corporation providing oversight, guidance and technical assistance.

Programs to address the housing needs within St. John the Baptist Parish will include:

• Homeowner Rehabilitation — $11,549,820 to help homeowners rehabilitate, reconstruct and elevate Isaac-damaged home, with $476,316 obligated;

• Small Rental Rehabilitation — $3,594,140 to owners of one- to four-unit rental properties to rehabilitate, reconstruct and elevate those properties, with $218,815 obligated;

• Housing Elevation — $2,500,000 towards a voluntary elevation program for homes located in flood-prone areas, with $86,483 obligated;

• Demolition and Clearance — $350,000 to demolish and clear properties identified by the St. John the Baptist Parish Planning and Zoning Department as uninhabitable, hazardous or otherwise unsafe storm-damaged homes, with $91,885 obligated; and

• Homebuyer Assistance — $1,306,960 to assist low- to moderate-income residents in becoming new homeowners, with $143,628 obligated.

Parish leaders said the application process would begin Oct. 27 at the St. John Community Center. The parish plans to establish a way for residents to submit online applications, as well. Those interested can access the plan and submit comments online by visiting doa.louisiana.gov/cdbg/dr/IC_ActionPlans.htm and opening “Isaac Partial Action Plan 4.” A copy of the plan can be requested by calling 225-219-9600.

Pat Forbes, executive director of the Louisiana Office of Community Development, said by investing in elevation, demolition of blighted properties and assisting first-time homebuyers, this plan allows the parish to build back safer, stronger and smarter housing.

St. John experienced extensive damage to its housing stock as a result of Hurricane Isaac, and state leaders estimate nearly 6,000 homes had $61.9 million worth of damage was inflicted, while 1,881 renters suffered moderate to severe damage. More than 55 percent of homeowners and 84.5 percent of renters who experienced damage were in the low- to moderate-income population.

Today and in the weeks before this measure becomes a reality, it is up to parish leaders and area residents to become as informed as possible so this opportunity and this money doesn’t fall down a bottomless pit of government ineptitude and actually leads to significant housing development.