[StBernard] LRA Transfers $627.5 Million to Address Projected Road Home Shortfall; State's Commitment Tops $1 Bi

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Mon Jun 25 20:51:20 EDT 2007

LRA Transfers $627.5 Million to Address Projected Road Home Shortfall; State's Commitment Tops $1 Billion

Board Also Approves UNOP and St. Bernard Citizens Recovery Plan, Clearing Way for New Orleans to Access $117 Million and St. Bernard to Access $26.33 Million

BATON ROUGE, La. (June 25, 2007) - The Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) Board of Directors today approved a plan to transfer an additional $627.5 million to the Road Home Program for homeowner assistance grants to address the projected shortfall in the program budget. Should the Louisiana Legislature approve the proposal, the move would bring the state's commitment to the shortfall to just over $1 billion.

"Last week, we got a very warm reception on Capitol Hill from leadership in both houses of Congress. But Washington asked that we put skin in the game," said LRA Housing Task Force Chair Walter Leger. "Our homeowners and local governments have put skin, flesh, bone and their very lives in this game. The state has already invested $4.6 billion in our recovery, but the political reality is that Washington has asked us to put up an additional $1 billion and we're moving in that direction today."

The LRA's proposal became possible because Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and the Louisiana Legislature took steps to cover the $300 million of construction costs for the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans and to pay $277.5 million for the costs of repairs to state buildings. To complete the $1 billion package, the LRA recommended freeing up an additional $50 million in CDBG funds by reducing a number of programs' uncommitted funds by 5 percent.

Several LRA board members accompanied Governor Blanco to Washington last week to meet with Congressional leadership and the Louisiana delegation to discuss Road Home budget projections and to request their assistance in securing additional resources to ensure that every homeowner receives his or her full grant.

Current projections indicate that more homes were damaged and that the amount of damage is more severe than FEMA estimates suggested, that the cost to rebuild or repair damaged homes is higher, and that the estimated percentage of losses covered by insurance are less than expected relative to the original estimates.

According to the program's administrators at the Office of Community Development and ICF International, the program has received more than 148,000 applications and held close to 128,000 in-person appointments. More than 88,000 benefits have been calculated with grants averaging about $72,000. To date, almost 30,000 homeowners have closed on their grants.

"The long-awaited surge has finally occurred," said LRA Executive Director Andy Kopplin. "We expect the program to meet its benchmarks for this month and every month forward."

During a report from the Long-Term Community Planning Task Force, the board officially received the Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP) and approved the New Orleans Strategic Recovery and Redevelopment Plan as presented by Dr. Ed Blakely from the Office of Recovery Management in the Mayor's Office of New Orleans.

The resolution adopted by the board recognized that UNOP represents a citizen-driven recovery vision for the entire city of New Orleans which was developed with unprecedented participation and representation from every part of the city including displaced citizens currently residing in Baton Rouge, Houston, Atlanta, Dallas and the entire diaspora community and included all prior neighborhood recovery planning efforts.

"I would like to thank all of the participants in UNOP with particular thanks to the citizens of New Orleans," said LRA board member Kim Boyle. "Many returned to take part in this process and many more participated from elsewhere because of the importance of this plan in rebuilding."

The move clears the way for the City of New Orleans to access $117 million in CDBG funds to help get the parish plan underway. After a presentation from St. Bernard Parish officials, the board took similar action approving a proposal to provide $26.33 million to the parish for their long-term community planning efforts.

The board also approved a resolution urging Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary James Nicholson to clearly recommit that the VA Medical Center will be built in downtown New Orleans in partnership with the new LSU medical center. The partnership between LSU and the VA is expected to yield cost savings to the state of an estimated $400 million over 25 years.

Following an update on education recovery from Louisiana State Superintendent Paul Pastorek and incoming New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) Superintendent Paul Vallas, the board voted to support an allocation formula for distributing $200 million in CDBG funds to public school districts impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to cover FEMA ineligible repairs and expenses including but not limited to deferred maintenance, insurance deductibles, costs associated with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and other facilities rebuilding costs which FEMA will not cover. The selected formula is supported by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), the legislative education committees and the majority of superintendents of hurricane-impacted parishes.

Board members also enthusiastically welcomed RSD Superintendent Vallas to Louisiana and expressed excitement that Vallas, the former Superintendent of the Chicago and Philadelphia school districts, has come to New Orleans.

The board also received a briefing from the US Army Corps of Engineers on the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force Risk and Reliability Report released last week and available to download at http://nolarisk.usace.army.mil/ <http://nolarisk.usace.army.mil/> .

"This seems to be a great tool and good judgment material to help people decide where to rebuild," said LRA Coastal Protection Committee Chairman Rene Cross.

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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