Some St. John residents fighting for home elevation 7 years after Hurricane Isaac; others satisfied with process

Published 12:24 am Wednesday, May 8, 2019

LAPLACE — Every time a passing rainstorm fills the Cambridge subdivision streets with water, Joycelyn Howard feels her anxiety spike.

At the forefront of the LaPlace resident’s mind is every rain event is a chance for water to creep into her house the way it did during Hurricane Isaac.

Nearly seven years have passed since floodwaters displaced her from her home and stole her furniture and personal belongings. More than six years have passed since Howard applied for the Community Development Block Grant program in hopes of having her home elevated, and she is still on the ground.

Howard isn’t alone; after $32 million in CDBG funding ran out in 2017 with 22 homeowners still awaiting elevation, several residents were left feeling wronged by those they trusted.

“This has been an emotional rollercoaster for seven years,” Howard said. “It cripples my life. I wake up with it on my mind. I go to sleep with it on my mind.”

The worst part, according to Howard, has been the frustration of unanswered questions and rescinded promises.

Howard has refrained from making repairs on her shutters and gutters to avoid jeopardizing her eligibility for grant funding. While another FEMA-based funding source has become available, Howard is now tasked with coming up with a 25 percent match and questions how the cost of elevation has raised $30,000.

Howard, Ethel Evans and Leonard Minor are all in the same boat after recently finding out their homes did not have the substantial damage needed to qualify for additional grant funding to cover the 25 percent.

Howard fears impropriety on behalf of St. John the Baptist Parish employees, who she said presented her with documentation that inaccurately represents the damage her home sustained during the storm.

No damage costs were included for Howard’s air conditioning and electrical repair necessitated after Hurricane Isaac.

Additionally, Howard said the document, which she saw a copy of for the first time late last month, incorrectly represented her insurance information, home value and the year her home was built.

According to Howard and Evans, another resident said her document could not possibly be correct because it contained a photo supposedly taken after a home inspection one month after the storm, with the car she lost in the hurricane seen parked in the driveway.

St. John Planning and Zoning Director Rene Pastorek said the criteria for ICC is determined by FEMA, adding documentation came from what applicants submitted to insurance companies following Hurricane Isaac.

To qualify for funding, Pastorek said applicants must meet “very specific” criteria or substantial damage of more than 50 percent from a storm or severe, repetitive losses.

“If we don’t comply with those regulations, when FEMA comes and does their audit, we can lose a lot of money for a lot of residents,” Pastorek said. “That’s why it’s so important that we maintain the integrity of the estimates.”

Howard is further frustrated with lack of communication and a seemingly endless loop with no established chain of command in dealings with St. John Parish and state mitigation. She said interactions with the Parish have made her feel personally targeted.

Driving through the subdivision, she feels frustrated seeing homeowners who allegedly applied for the program later than she did receive elevation while she feels no closer to a solution.

Minor reported the same dissatisfaction, noting he doesn’t feel the Parish has kept him in the loop throughout the process.


Applications for the CDBG program began in 2013 after St. John Parish received $32 million in funding from home rehabilitation, according to Chief Administrative Officer Laverne Toombs.

Out of more than 1,500 applications, more than half were eligible for the program on the basis of storm damage.

Eligibility was further limited to those who completed the necessary paperwork, according to grants administrator Myra Valentine.

Since then, more than 300 homeowners received rehabilitation, elevation or new home construction.

In 2017, 22 of the 55 homeowners contracted for elevation through the CDBG program were informed funding had run out. Elevation plans were halted indefinitely for these residents as parish officials began searching for alternate funding sources.

“This is a volunteer program,” Toombs said. “The money can only go so far. It’s unfortunate we ran out of funds, but we were still looking for ways to help them.”

St. John’s Grants Department participated in a national competition and was approved for a FEMA non-disaster hazard mitigation program to cover costs of elevation.

However, the program comes with the stipulation that homeowners must contribute a 25 percent monetary match.

According to Toombs, duplication of benefits have been roadblocks for some residents who already received renovation funds from FEMA or insurance programs.

Toombs said Parish employees have worked tirelessly on weekends and holidays to assist residents.

“We’ve been in constant communication with these individuals,” Toombs said.


Toombs said disillusioned residents represent a small portion of homeowners and don’t account for those the program has helped.

Joann Johnson, Linda Davis and James Lumar all received fully funded new home constructions through the CDBG program and reported satisfaction.

Lumar applied for the program after Hurricane Isaac, just barely making the deadline, and was surprised years later when he received a call for a new house in 2017.

“I’m in my house, and me and my family are enjoying every moment of it,” Lumar said.

“It’s a blessing from the Lord above. I didn’t have problems with the contractor or anybody who created it. Some people, I’ve heard, had some problems, but I did not have any problems.”

Davis described the program as a blessing and was happy to move into her new home in 2016.

During the process, Johnson almost gave up while living in a home damaged by a fallen tree but decided to keep on praying. She said she is enjoying her new home and was satisfied with the process.

Others, including Wanda Sanders of LaPlace, feel the work that has been done is incomplete and unsatisfactory.

Sanders alleges the new roof she received through the program has openings that have caused a leaking fireplace, a cracked exterior and severe termite problems.

She fears other areas of her home left unrepaired could still be holding mold.