[StBernard] They gave him money to fix his house. Now they want it back.

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Tue Apr 29 15:13:14 EDT 2008

They gave him money to fix his house. Now they want it back.
Posted: 10:34 AM ET
Randi Kaye
360° Correspondent
Every time I go to do a story in New Orleans I hold onto a little piece of
hope that things are going to be better this time

that the community is going to be more healed, that the town is going to
look more alive, and that the programs put in place to help homeowners are
actually doing so.

Well, I should have known better. Imagine this: Louisiana residents – after
all they’ve been through and all they’ve lost – are now being billed by the
state for nearly two million dollars!

Yes – you read that right. TWO million dollars.

Why? Well – it turns out the contractor hired by the state to dole out
federal dollars designed to help homeowners rebuild
how do I say

The contractor, ICF International, may have overpaid as many as 5000
residents. In other words, the state gave these people too much grant money
after state inspectors estimated home damages.

In all, homeowners could be asked to pay up $1.75 million. Some families
could be on the hook for $150,000 each!

I interviewed a New Orleans man named John Montegut who had spent about
$100,000 repairing his home. About $20,000 of it was from a state grant,
part of that federally funded Road Home program to aid homeowners. Well, he
just got a bill in the mail for $13,000 from the state telling him they’d
overestimated his grant payment.

How’d that happen? Montegut told me the state’s inspector included in his
damage claim the repair of six skylights (he doesn’t have any skylights!!)
and the replacement of 22 windows which were far above the water levels and
completely unharmed. Montegut says the inspector was in his house for five
minutes and he was not allowed to see the damage claim so had no way of
knowing what was included.

Here’s the killer: Montegut doesn’t have the money to pay the state. He
spent that money fixing up his house. But he and every other homeowner who
got a grant signed a contract with ICF agreeing to pay money back if
overpayments were later discovered. Now remember, he wasn’t even allowed to
see his paperwork. Montegut told me he never expected he’d owe the state
money. But it turns out the actual cost of repairing his house was far
greater than the grant anyway.

The contractor, ICF, told us it is a federally funded program and the state
is demanding that it ask for repayments. ICF is promising a “compassionate
process” and says it doesn’t expect a large number of families to be
affected but we’ve learned from an advocate for the homeowners about 300
families have already been billed. The state plans to fine ICF for its
mistakes and it plans to hire an auditor to review every case.

Is it cruel, as homeowners have said, to ask residents for money back after
all their suffering following Hurricane Katrina? Or, as resident John
Montegut told me, “They (ICF) made mistakes all along, why should people
suffer?” What do you think? We’d like to know.

More information about the StBernard mailing list