Bill to revamp Road Home program advances

Hurricane-affected homeowners’ fury over demands for repayment of Road Home grants propelled legislation through a House committee Tuesday.

Senate Bill 441 is nearing final legislative passage. It would create new rules for the Road Home program’s collection efforts.

“The issue we’ve run into repeatedly is that constituents complain that the process isn’t transparent. They don’t know what they’re required to do, what they’re required to turn in,” the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. J.P. Morrell, told the House Appropriations Committee.

Beginning in January, more than 20,000 people received letters requesting repayment of funds they received to rebuild their homes after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Homeowners were asked to submit complete paperwork to the state Office of Community Development on how they spent their hurricane recovery funds.

The state mailed letters to 25,770 homeowners. Very few apparently responded to the initial correspondence. State records indicate 20,707 homeowners did not respond and received another letter in February.

In most cases, the homeowners’ files at the Road Home program lacked one or more pages of documentation. Homeowners received 30 days to make their files complete.

Meghan Parrish, spokeswoman for the Division of Administration, said the 12,301 homeowners who have not responded to any grant recapture letters have been referred to an attorney’s office and will be sent a third grant recapture letter. The total amount of those files comes to $832 million, she said.

Morrell, D-New Orleans, told members of the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday that homeowners deserve more information. He said many homeowners were confused by the letters.

SB441 requires the Road Home program, at a minimum, to prove homeowners were contacted at their current addresses, outline how they can verify they properly used the money and give them 90 days to respond.

State Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette, interjected to point out that homeowners across south Louisiana are dealing with the issue. She said homeowners affected by hurricanes Gustav and Ike also received letters.

“He points out an issue that we have been struggling with all across the state, not just in Orleans,” Champagne said.

The committee, without objection, advanced SB441 to the full House.

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