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Rebuilding Flooded Louisiana: A Puzzle of Work and Money


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In parts of southern Louisiana where the flood water was five or six feet deep in mid-August, homeowners are still wondering how they will pay for the repairs to their homes and businesses, who will help them do the work, and when. In the bedroom communities outside Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and other cities in the region, it’s the worst flooding they’ve ever had. Most of the damaged houses weren’t in high-risk flood zones, and of those flooded in low to moderate-risk zones only 12.5 percent of the homeowners had flood insurance. Amid the confusion and the delays, people are looking at their options. 

The flooding aftermath has stretched contractors and construction workers to their limits. Daryl May, a contractor, had four projects going when reached by phone this week. “I’ve had opportunities to work on eighty houses,” but he said he doesn’t have crews for that much work. “It’s overwhelming down here.” Some workers are in particularly short supply, such as sheet rock finishers and cabinet makers, he said. May is focusing his work in East Baton Rouge Parish because it is slow going to from place to place in the region. Most houses have more than one service truck parked outside, which slows traffic. “Our traffic was bad before this,” he said.

“I know a lot of these folks are waiting on FEMA. A lot of folks don’t have any money, a lot of them can’t move forward until a verdict is in, so if that could be expedited, it would help a lot of people. A lot of people are in limbo.”  

Another contractor, Charles Landry, said he is fortunate that his family was not affected by this disaster, as it was in previous floods. “I had to gut my mother’s house once for Rita and once for Ike, and she wouldn’t move,” he said. “The rising rain is bad, but there’s nothing worse than a surge because of the mud.” The damage in the 20 parishes most affected by the recent flooding equals about an eighth of the damage in New Orleans after Katrina. 

Landry does niche work, so he has been referring people to other contractors. “The line is long because there aren’t enough general contractors to go around.” On the plus side, “Now most of the trash has been removed. You couldn’t get around there was so much debris on the side of the street.”

On Sept. 28., Congress approved $500 million in flood relief for Louisiana, West Virginia and Maryland as part of a continuing budget resolution. That’s less than the $2 billion that President Obama requested; Louisiana legislators hope that is a down payment and more will follow. According to The Advertiser, Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement after the House vote: “The people whose lives were turned upside down by the historic flooding expect us to give them every opportunity to rebuild. They need to know that help is on the way, and this is first step in that process.''

Homeowners have until Oct 15 to apply for FEMA’s Shelter at Home program, which pays for up to $15,000 for basic clean up for approved residents and the opportunity to stay in their homes while the work is underway. Five prime contractors are handling the work, Roy Anderson Corp, Lamar Contractors, Core Construction, The Lemoine Company, and SLS Co. The Daily Advertiser of Lafayette, La., reported on Sept. 23 that repairs on the homes for 77 homeowners were complete. Shauna Sanford, press secretary for Gov. Edwards, told the Advertiser that statewide, 19,333 households applied for the assistance.

Not everyone is happy with Shelter at Home because it ramped up slowly and the repairs are only the basic sort needed to make a structure habitable. Instead of waiting, some homeowners have gone ahead and done larger-scale repairs.

May said his clients are stymied by a lack of money. “I know a lot of these folks are waiting on FEMA. A lot of folks don’t have any money, a lot of them can’t move forward until a verdict is in, so if that could be expedited, it would help a lot of people. A lot of people are in limbo.”

Homeowners have also received more than $107 million in other FEMA grants, which are for such things as rental assistance and “other serious disaster-related needs,” according to a FEMA news release.

People who can’t get help from FEMA or need more money can apply for Small Business Association loans for their homes and businesses. The Severe Storms and Flooding Disaster loans are for businesses and homes in 20 Louisiana parishes and for economic injury in 16 additional Louisiana parishes and seven Mississippi counties. Applications for physical damage loans are due October 13 and for economic injury are due May 15, 2017.

Claudette Reichel, the LaHouse Director and a professor for Louisiana State University, said that these loans are not a great option for many owners because it means they will owe more on top of their mortgage. She has been hearing from flooded people daily at  her job as microbial expert. For example, people call after they have started tearing off wet siding and don’t know how to clean and dry the interior or what to do when they find mold. “When they open up the wall, they’re finding all kinds of things, fiber board, gyp board: It’s a major dilemma. Even those with flood insurance have to wait for the flood inspector, and they (the inspectors) were overwhelmed.” 

It would only help to have more contractors in the area. Contractors who seek Louisiana licensure can take advantage of a scholarship offered by the state’s Accreditation Institute in October and November. For $200, contractors can attend class two hours a week and prepare for the state exam. Louisiana licensure is required to work as a contractor in Louisiana.

Asked whether it would be helpful to have out-of-state workers, May said, “I think if you work in a concentrated area, Prairieville, Greenwell Springs, I think there’s room for outside folks to come.” If people work locally, then the central roads won’t be blocked. “There’s definitely a shortage of contractors. There’s plenty for them to do down here.”