Slidell homeowners swamp home elevation grant meeting

Slidell residents hoping to get federal grant money to elevate or rebuild homes that have been hit by multiple floods lined up around the block at the Slidell Municipal Auditorium on Monday night to hear what their chances are for getting help.

The answer they received wasn’t too encouraging.

Monica Martin, planning director for Providence Engineering Corp., looked out at the crowd filling the auditorium. She estimated the turnout at about 500 people

“We’ll be lucky if we have enough to do 100 homes, so one out of five,” she said.

The city sent out 1,200 letters to people thought likely to be eligible because they appeared on a list of properties FEMA provided the state of properties that have suffered repetitive or severe repetitive flood losses.

Kimberly Rawls, of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said that means four or more claims that equal or exceed $20,000 or two claims that exceed the building’s value.

The crowd was so large that the city ran out of packets and had to open the balcony to provide enough seating. Slidell Mayor Freddy Drennan, who opened the meeting, said the big turnout underscores the need for the program.

“Look around and see how many homes really need to be raised. This brings the point home,” he said.

But the audience began to thin as Martin answered questions about eligibility. Only homes inside the city limits are eligible for this grant program, she said; those outside must go through St. Tammany Parish’s program. Only homeowners who had flood insurance 180 days prior to July 19 — the first day for this program — are eligible, she said. Those answers prompted some departures.

One audience member asked if the home had to be a primary residence. They do not, Martin said, but she described the program as “extremely competitive,” making it unlikely that a secondary home would take priority. The worst properties will be first in line, she said.

While some stayed, undeterred by eligibility requirements, the other hoops clearly dismayed homeowners, especially the very tight deadline for submitting paperwork: Aug. 22.

Martin went through the packet point by point, stressing the importance of providing all information and including pictures, among other details.

But when she told the audience that they had to have three bids for the work, the mostly quiet and attentive crowd began murmuring.

“You have to get three bids in a month?” an audience member asked, incredulously.

“I’m sorry,” Martin replied. “I don’t make the rules.”