Louisiana Landlords Navigate Assistance Program

John Chagnard and Children i i

John Chagnard stands with his children in the empty lot in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans where his double rental unit once stood. Noah Adams, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Noah Adams, NPR
John Chagnard and Children

John Chagnard stands with his children in the empty lot in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans where his double rental unit once stood.

Noah Adams, NPR

A Louisiana plan called the Small Rental Property Program is designed to help owners of rental properties damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

It's part of The Road Home program, which was started last summer with $7.5 billion of federal money. Most of the Road Home funds are intended for Louisiana homeowners, but $800 million of the recovery money has been earmarked for landlords who own up to four rental properties.

Louisianans have already grown skeptical of The Road Home; only a few homeowners have received checks to rebuild. Some are calling the rental program "The Rental Road Home."

Landlord John Chagnard owned a duplex in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans and is trying to rebuild.

"I just want to help people to get back in the city," Chagnard says. "All I want to do is make the mortgage payments, and that's it."

He says that getting the building torn down was difficult enough, requiring permits and inspections, and a day spent at City Hall.

Now he's bringing his papers to another desk in the back room of a church, where he has come to learn about the Small Rental Property Program and get a one-on-one adviser to help him file the application.

Adviser Collette Dessells reviews the paperwork with Chagnard, showing him how to file for reimbursement for the demolition, and helping him navigate the necessary financial hoops to rebuild: estimates, architects, finance costs, legal costs, title insurance costs, landscaping, not to mention the other costs that might come up.

New Orleans has plenty of landlords who are eager to rebuild, and the Small Rental Property Program offers no-payment loans that are forgiven if the rents are under market-rate for 10 years. Tenants would be low- and moderate-income.

Donald Vallee, who heads a local landlord association, owns 18 townhouses that took six feet of water. He said the plus is if you're charging $880, and the guy next door is renting for $1,400, your tenant is never going to move.

The amount of money in the rental program can only help fix about 20 percent of the rental units damaged by the hurricanes.

Calvin Parker, with the state's Office of Community Development, acknowledges that a lot of people are frustrated by the pace of the overall Road Home concept, and that the program's poor reputation could affect the success of the rental program.

"This is new, and we would like the people of Louisiana to give us a chance, and to make sure that we can roll it out in the best possible way," Parker says.

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