Hurricane Homeowner Aid Deadline Nears

The Associated Press
Friday, November 30, 2007; 6:18 AM

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Nearly 12,000 applicants for homeowner aid through a hurricane recovery program have not signed up for appointments to calculate their grants _ or determine their eligibility _ as a weekend deadline looms.

Homeowners who do not schedule a first appointment with Road Home officials by Saturday lose any chance for rebuilding or buyout money, and those who do not show up for an appointment with a housing adviser by Dec. 15 also won't be eligible for aid.

Road Home provides buyout or repair grants of up to $150,000 to homeowners with severe damage from hurricanes Katrina or Rita, which pummeled parts of Louisiana in 2005.

Despite the deadline, officials said they have not seen a large increase in requests for appointments, even after an advertising campaign, mailers and direct phone calls to applicants.

"We would have expected that we would have been processing more requests for appointments over the last couple of months than we have been," said Michael Taylor, director of the state Disaster Recovery Unit in Gov. Kathleen Blanco's administration, which oversees the Road Home and its private contractor, ICF International Inc.

The leader of a New Orleans-based homeowner advocacy group, however, said many applicants may not be on track to lose their eligibility, but instead filed duplicate applications.

Melanie Ehrlich, the head of the Citizens Road Home Action Team, said she filed an application by mail and then online after hearing that an online application may get a faster response.

Ehrlich received a Road Home grant in April, but since then has been contacted multiple times about scheduling an appointment _ even though she said she has told officials to scrap her duplicate application.

"We'll find out perhaps in the end of this procedure how many of those missing applicants were duplicate applications," she said. "I'm sure some of them were people who were unclear about whether or not they qualify, whether it would be worth it to apply, but another major factor in those no-shows is the problem of ICF not filtering out the duplicates."

More than 186,000 people have applied for grants since the program began more than a year ago, and more than 72,000 homeowners have received aid. The program is funded with $10.4 billion, mainly in federal recovery money. As many as 164,000 people are expected to be eligible.

The Road Home faces an anticipated funding shortfall of as much as $1.5 billion. State leaders are pressing to be allowed to use $1.2 billion in federal hazard mitigation money for the program. If that's approved, the governor's Louisiana Recovery Authority estimates the grant program could be $300 million short.

But until officials meet with applicants and determine their eligibility, they can't put a final price tag on the program.

The grant program call center will take appointments through 11 p.m. Saturday, said Road Home spokeswoman Gentry Brann. Officials are not expecting the flood of calls they received for the application deadline earlier this year.

Brann said many applicants who have not set up appointments may have realized they are not eligible for aid because their insurance covered their losses or they do not fit the criteria for a grant.

And those scheduling appointments don't always show up. Taylor said the no-show rate is about 40 percent, but officials don't know why.


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