[StBernard] LRA Takes Action on Measures to Improve State's Administration of Road Home Program

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Fri May 11 00:11:41 EDT 2007

LRA Takes Action on Measures to Improve State's Administration of Road Home Program

Board Also Approves Louisiana Speaks Regional Vision for South Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. (May 10, 2007) - The Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) Board of Directors today adopted two separate measures aimed at improving the administration of the Road Home program and contract to assure a higher level of quality of the program.

The board approved a measure to adopt a "Road Home Statement of Principles" developed in conjunction with the Citizens' Road Home Action Team (CHAT) that homeowners can use as a resource as they progress through the program. The principles affirm that all program participants should have access to a fair and swift resolution of errors, disputes, and appeals and the calculation of Road Home program benefits should be consistent, fair, and accurate. The list also states applicants should be able to accept grant money without losing the ability to benefit resolution and appeal.

"These principles are directed at giving broad guidelines to ICF for how homeowners ought to be respected and treated when going through the program," said LRA Housing Task Force Chairman Walter Leger.

While the LRA does not implement the Road Home program, the board felt it was critical to restate its commitment to moving the program forward in an expeditious and fair manner and stress that all homeowners should be treated with respect throughout the process. Similar iterations of the principles have previously been adopted by councils of the city of New Orleans, St. Bernard and Jefferson Parishes.

The board also passed a measure directing the LRA's Chief Financial Officer of to research contractual provisions regarding performance penalties and incentives that can be included in the Division of Administration Office of Community Development's (OCD) contract with ICF International and to report findings to the LRA board and to OCD by June 7, 2007. Although applications to the program have been steady, appointments for homeowners, calculations and notices of awards, and closings have not kept pace with the expectations of homeowners or the LRA board.

"Our research, advocacy and watchdog function can be best served by providing OCD with what penalties and performance incentives are typical for other contracts of this size in Louisiana," said Leger. "We want to provide potential solutions to assist OCD in making informed judgments before negotiating the next leg of ICF's contract."

OCD has indicated that it will renegotiate ICF's current performance penalties and standards beginning in July. The measure adopted today will provide the state with additional information to determine appropriate contractual benchmarks and performance measures in advance of OCD's next negotiation with the contractor.

A specific program procedure regarding Option 2, for homeowners seeking to establish owner occupancy of a new residence in the state, was brought to the board's attention after a homeowner contacted Walter Leger for assistance. While some customers have purchased their new home and can demonstrate ownership, many others have not yet purchased the new home. Without the board's approval, current program guidance states there will be time limit placed on the how long the homeowner has to purchase second home. It also suggests this time frame be negotiated with each homeowner, but not to exceed 180 days. A program participant explained to the board that upon closing, he was informed he would be required to purchase a new home within 90 days in order to receive his full award. The board resolved to examine this guidance as it may become problematic for program participants selecting Option 2.

"Let's clear the deck and make certain there are no conflicting federal regulations or laws against extending this time frame," said LRA Chairman Norman C. Francis. "I am instructing LRA staff to research and recommend to OCD a more appropriate timeline. We don't want any more obstacles to homeowners getting to their closing and accessing their grant awards. We should also look into whether there were other parties adversely impacted by this procedure."

For the third meeting in a row, the board also discussed the most critical issue facing the recovery - a possible shortfall in the Road Home budget. Based on a request from LRA Executive Director Andy Kopplin prior to the April board meeting, OCD asked ICF to produce for the LRA a more rigorous analysis of current financial estimates. According to ICF, projections show the program is on track to serve an additional 17,700 homeowners than were originally estimated by the Federal E! mergency Management Agency (FEMA). ICF's data shows the program could run over budget by $2.9 billion should current projections bear out. Kopplin informed the board that Governor Blanco met with Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding Chairman Donald Powell on May 9 to discuss these projections and to request his assistance in securing additional resources to ensure that every homeowner receives their full grant.

During the morning session, the board enthusiastically approved a resolution supporting the Louisiana Speaks Regional Vision for South Louisiana, the LRA's long-term community planning effort which was unveiled to the public last week. More than 25,000 Louisianans expressed their visions for recovery and rebuilding through the Louisiana Speaks process, constituting the foundation for the plan, making Louisiana Speaks the largest survey of its kind in American history. John Fregonese of Fregonese/Calthorpe Associates presented an overview of the plan to the board prior to their vote.

"Finally, the moment is before us - the Louisiana Speaks plan is launched," said LRA Long-Term Community Planning Task Force Chair Donna Fraiche. "Unlike any planning effort ever conducted in the United States, this plan will be universal in its theme and command 100 percent participation."

Local and regional officials, business leaders, economists, urban planners, and coastal planners also participated in the planning process and provided guidance for strategies and actions included in the plan. The long-term community planning initiative provides a flexible framework for Louisiana's recovery which embodies three Vision Goals: (1) Recover Sustainable; (2) Grow Smarter; and (3) Think Regionally. The resolution stressed that a sustainable recovery would require reinvestment in communities, building key protection systems, stemming wetland loss, and meeting the immediate needs of businesses and workers.

"This plan represents the first step in realizing a sustainable recovery and paving the way for a safer, stronger and smarter future," said LRA board member Sean Reilly.

In other action, the board received an update on New Orleans's recovery plan from Jessie Smallwood, Deputy Director of Mayor Nagin's Office of Recovery Management. Dr. Ed Blakely is expected to formally present the City's plan for recovery at next month's LRA board meeting.

Board resolutions and presentations for the board meeting are available on the LRA website at www.lra.louisiana.gov <http://www.lra.louisiana.gov> .

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated South Louisiana, claiming 1,464 lives, destroying more than 200,000 homes and 18,000 businesses. The Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) is the planning and coordinating body that was created in the aftermath of these storms by Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco to lead one of the most extensive rebuilding efforts in the world. The LRA is a 33-member body which is coordinating across jurisdictions, supporting community recovery and resurgence, ensuring integrity and effectiveness, and planning for the recovery and rebuilding of Louisiana.


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