Edgard family approved for, then denied home recovery money following Hurricane Isaac

Published 12:15 am Saturday, January 12, 2019

EDGARD — Floorboards are weak and uneven and cabinets hang slightly detached from the wall at Bertha Louis and Pamela Lewis’ mobile home on Central Avenue in Edgard, remnants of water damage sustained when the structure lost its roof during Hurricane Isaac.

A storage pod stocked with belongings, a port-o-potty and a dumpster have been jammed in the side yard since January 2018, accompanied by a St. John the Baptist Parish Planning and Zoning sign.

When the pod first appeared, it was a welcome sight. It seemed years of following protocol would finally result in a newly constructed home for Pamela and her elderly, disabled mother.

The family received notice on Feb. 8, 2017, that they had been awarded $117,500 through the St. John the Baptist Parish Hurricane Isaac CDBG Homeowner Rehabilitation project for new residential construction.

Inspections were conducted through Royal Engineering, floor plans were delivered and all seemed to be moving forward when a demolition permit was issued Oct. 24, 2018.

Demolition was set for Nov. 6. That day passed without action; only radio silence as Pamela made phone calls seeking an explanation.

Weeks later, Pamela was told her family no longer qualifies for the CDBG grant due to “duplication of funds” since FEMA issued the family $2,029 after Hurricane Isaac.

A storage pod and port-o-potty have been jammed in the side yard since January 2018.

“Why wasn’t I told about the duplication of funds at the beginning of the application for the grant, instead of at the end?” Pamela questioned. “Why not just subtract the $2,029 from the $117,500 grant? This has been a roller coaster ride. It’s not to satisfaction, at all. No one can give us an answer.”

Additionally, Pamela was told the program did not cover mobile home reconstruction. A follow-up inspection from Royal Engineering Thursday afternoon offered no new answers, only further assertion the home does not qualify.

St. John Parish Councilman Kurt Becnel said more than one mobile home reconstruction has been performed through the CDBG program within his district, and he’s baffled that the rules appear to have suddenly changed.

“It really breaks my heart,” Becnel said. “They followed every step from the beginning. They followed protocol. If it was 10 steps, they completed all 10. When they went out there a year ago and inspected it, they saw a trailer. That’s ignorance on Royal’s part.”

Becnel said it’s unfair to Pamela and Bertha, as well as all Central Avenue residents to leave the “eyesore” pod and dumpster abandoned on the property without plans to move forward with the project.

However, Becnel is confident the mother and daughter will receive their home.

Pamela Lewis steps on unsteady flooring near her front door.

He and councilman Larry Sorapuru Jr. reached out to Washington D.C. late last month and are in contact with U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond and his staff.

According to Becnel, Richmond plans to reach out to Gov. John Bel Edwards.

“They’re going to qualify because I will fight this all the way to the end,” Becnel said. “I’m going to fight until my last breath and go all the way to the top. These people deserve that new home like they were told they were getting it.”

Councilmen Larry Snyder and Lennix Madere Jr. are also advocating for the reconstruction, according to Becnel.

The matter is particularly pressing because of Bertha’s health concerns, family members said.

Bertha is in her 70s, requires breathing treatments three times a day and suffers from seizures.

One of those seizures was onset when Pamela told her their home no longer qualified for reconstruction.

Neighbors helped load Bertha’s bed back into the weathered home after she slept on the sofa for almost a year, anticipating the home would soon be demolished.

Family member Lovenia Ross said Bertha “needs her home.”

Ross suspects Bertha is always congested because of mold likely hiding between water-damaged walls.

Pamela agrees the home is not adequate to meet her mother’s health needs, making it important a new home is built.

However, she said the reason her family deserves it is not for health reasons, but for diligence in following procedure.

“I don’t want to keep using my Mama’s sickness,” Pamela said. “We proved there is hurricane damage. We didn’t steal any of this paperwork. We were approved. How can you give approval and then take something back from somebody?”

Royal Engineering did not respond to requests for comment as of press time Friday morning.