Louisiana Housing Plan Questioned

The Louisiana Recovery Board votes on whether to send to the state legislature the governor's housing recovery plan. Some housing advocates and black caucus members say the plan does not provide enough rental housing for tenants displaced by storm damage.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Moving a little ways up the Gulf Coast now to Louisiana.

Lawmakers could vote as early as this afternoon on that state's plan to restore hurricane-ravaged housing. Governor Kathleen Blanco has been pushing a rebuilding and buy-out plan that she has dubbed, The Road Home.

But it could take awhile for homeowners to receive a check, unless Congress grants Louisiana more than four billion extra dollars it is requesting for housing aid. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY reporting:

Governor Kathleen Blanco says the key to the state's recovery is housing. But the past few months, Blanco's so-called, Road Home, housing plan hit as many potholes as one of the state's hurricane damaged streets. The biggest has been getting the funding to help homeowners fill in insurance gaps as they consider rebuilding. Surrounded by state officials yesterday, Governor Blanco talked tough as she called on Congress to approve an additional four and half billion dollars in housing aide.

Governor KATHLEEN BLANCO (Democrat, Louisiana): We are holding strong on this position. We will not move off of it. Decreasing the maximum eligibility would treat Louisiana citizens differently from Mississippi citizens, and we don't think that's proper. In fact, it's downright un-American.

CORLEY: Under the Louisiana program, homeowners can receive grants or federal recovery money for repairs and rebuilding, originally for as much as $150,000. But until more federal funds come through, Blanco says the state would only be able to provide half the amount. She says she'll continue to push for the additional four and half billion from Washington.

Gov. BLANCO: We've lived and breathed this reality for the past eight months, so there's nothing that any of us want more than to bring our people home.

CORLEY: Under the state's housing program, homeowners could receive a grant for reconstruction. If they don't want to rebuild in Louisiana, the check would be for about 60 percent of what their home was worth before the hurricanes hit. But before any federal funds can be disbursed, state lawmakers must approve the plan.

Early on, Republicans complained about a provision that would have limited the state's housing assistance, providing it only to low-income homeowners or those who lived outside the floodplain. The restriction was dropped. State officials are also trying to insure that there's more housing for residents to rent. Kalima Rose, a housing activist who's been working with local groups, says the state needed to pay more attention to creating housing residents can afford.

Ms. KALIMA ROSE (Housing Activist): You may know that over half of the housing lost in Louisiana was rental housing, and in New Orleans it was even higher than that. And the earlier versions of the plan were proposing restoring just between 20 and 30 percent of that housing. So we were really concerned that there would be long-term homelessness, people stuck in shelters and trailers.

CORLEY: Rose says this latest version will allow more apartment rehabs. The Louisiana Recovery Authority says it will follow federal guidelines for construction, but Joseph Di Fatta says that's a mistake. Di Fatta, council chairman for St. Bernard Parish, says he understands the state's concerns, but he says some federal provisions should just be ignored. Di Fatta points to a FEMA rule calling for Parish homeowners to raise their homes several feet off the ground when they rebuild.

Mr. JOSEPH DI FATTA, JR. (Council Chairman, St. Bernard Parish Council): It actually takes and it eliminates all slab homes in St. Bernard Parish, regardless of the elevation of the property you're building it on. And it's temporary, and being temporary, we feel it's an undue amount of stress on the homeowner to come back. So what we feel, people are not going to come home. They'll relocate somewhere else where they don't have these types of activities or this building requirement on them.

CORLEY: State officials say they are trying to make sure Louisiana's housing assistance program works to the advantage of the nearly 123,000 people who are eligible. But, Governor Blanco says if more federal aide isn't forthcoming, Louisiana will have to scrap this new housing plan and start all over.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News.

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