Town Hall presents hurricane recovery resources

Published 12:10 am Saturday, November 6, 2021

LAPLACE — A Town Hall held Thursday in LaPlace brought St. John the Baptist Parish residents impacted by Hurricane Ida face-to-face with experts ready to assist with recovery.

Panelists included St. John Parish Assessor Lucien Gauff III, Small Business Administration Public Information Officer Yolanda O. Stokes and contractor Randy Noel, president of Reve Inc. in LaPlace. Also present were Attorney Rico Alvendia of New Orleans and Sylvia Taylor & Associates Attorneys-at-Law of LaPlace.

Assessor Lucien Gauff kicked off the town hall with an update on disaster reassessment, a tool aimed to provide tax relief for St. John residents whose homes were damaged during the hurricane.

Gauff shared that everyone will receive an automatic 5% exemption on their property regardless of whether the form is turned in. Those who do turn in the form may receive a 5%, 10%, 15% or 20% exemption, depending on the level of damage.
Gauff encourages residents to turn in photos, an adjuster’s report, a contractor’s estimate or any other materials that can be used as evidence of damage. The Assessor’s Office is also utilizing records from the parish and a program called EagleView to verify claims of flooding and extensive roof damage.

The deadline to turn in forms is Friday, November 12.

“With the devastation that hit our parish, we knew we had to do something to help our residents,” Gauff said. “We mailed out letters about disaster reassessment to homes and businesses. Some people just received them, and some people are still receiving them. Your letter says the deadline is October 29, but we have extended it a couple of weeks to November 12.”

Those who have not yet heard back from their insurance adjuster are still urged to turn in the form so the Assessor’s Office can meet tax commission deadlines. Information can be adjusted later on.

Next, Yolanda Stokes gave an overview of SBA loans and how they can be used in conjunction with funding from FEMA and insurance to help an individual recover from Hurricane Ida.

The SBA Recovery Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays at the River Region Chamber of Commerce office on Belle Terre Boulevard in LaPlace. On the days the LaPlace center is closed, residents may visit any of the other SBA Recovery Centers in Southeast Louisiana.

“A lot of folks don’t realize that the Small Business Administration is the primary source of funding to help communities recover after disasters. We provide loans to homeowners, businesses of all sizes and nonprofits of all sizes,” Stokes said.

Most of the individuals attending Thursday’s town hall were homeowners, and Stokes noted that they would be eligible for up to $200,000 to replace or repair a primary residence that sustained damage during Hurricane Ida. According to Stokes, homeowners are also eligible for an additional $40,000 to repair and replace personal property.

Low-interest disaster loans come at a rate of 1.563% and terms of up to 30 years, with a five-month deferred payment period.

As of Wednesday, SBA had approved $71 million in loans to residents in St. John Parish. Stokes shared that some residents who have flooded repeatedly are using SBA loans to pay off their home and relocate to a more resilient area.

Business owners are also eligible for money to help with damage and economic injury, even if they have already received a COVID economic injury disaster loan. The deadline to apply for SBA loans is November 29. More information can be obtained at sba.gov or by calling 1-800-659-2955.

Contractor Randy Noel understands the hardships residents have endured in the aftermath of the storm because he is going through the same process with his home and local business. As president of Reve Inc., he was able to share helpful tips with residents as they begin home repairs.

Noel said it is important to always ask contractors for their licensing number prior to handing over any payment. Individuals can enter this 5-digit number onto the Louisiana Contractor Licensing Board website to verify whether the company is legitimate. Individuals may also ask for a copy of the contractor’s license, as well as a copy of their personal driver’s license.

When it is time to replace a roof, Noel suggests asking the roofer to add tape along the joints of the decking.

“That keeps the water from coming between the boards on your roof and pouring in. It costs maybe $1,000. It’s cheap insurance if you lose shingles to keep water from coming in,” Noel said.

As residents expressed concerns over communication with their insurance companies, Attorney Rico Alvendia of New Orleans urged them to “keep fighting and keep pushing on.”

In some cases, that means enlisting the help of a trusted local attorney to fight for money for home repairs.

“Of the thousands of cases that have been filed (after 2020 hurricanes Laura and Delta) in Lake Charles, you know how many have gone to trial? None. They are settling these cases, but you have to be the one to take the next step. At some point you have to know they aren’t giving you any more money. At that point, seek out local counsel that you trust and take that next step,” Alvendia said.