Louisiana governor’s housing plan gets federal approval
NEW OLREANS – Louisiana’s plan to use federal money for repairs, reconstruction and buyouts of hurricane-damaged property has been approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, department Secretary Alphonso Jackson announced Tuesday.The “Road Home” plan pushed by Gov. Kathleen Blanco, worth more than $8 billion, still needs congressional approval of $4.2 billion. That money is now before a conference committee in a spending bill for hurricane recovery, war costs and other items.Jackson urged Congress to approve the funding during a news conference Tuesday with Blanco.”The president is insistent that we have that $4.2 billion,” Jackson said. “The Congress understands … they want to make the persons who want to return as whole as possible.”If approval comes soon, displaced homeowners should begin receiving checks by late summer, Blanco said.The plan would provide grants of as much as $150,000 per homeowner.For those repairing or rebuilding, a grant would cover costs exceeding what was covered by insurance policies and grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.There are about 123,000 owner-occupied homes eligible for the program, state officials said. Owners of an additional 77,000 apartments also could be eligible for grants to help restore southern Louisiana’s decimated rental market.Apartment shortages, combined with increasing insurance premiums for those who own buildings in areas hard-hit by Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29 or Rita on Sept. 24, have caused rents on units that survived the last hurricane season to increase 20 percent or more in many cases.The program includes incentives for people to rebuild in Louisiana. For instance, those who choose a buyout but have moved out of state can get only 60 percent of their home’s pre-storm value.That means that if insurance payments or FEMA grants already meet that threshold, they get nothing from the Road Home program. Therefore, it may be in their interest to take the rebuilding option and then try to sell the home on the open market, which is what Louisiana officials want.”What we need is for our housing to come back up, and we’re not planning to let the money go to some other state, some other region,” Blanco said. “This funding must be invested in our recovery. We fought too hard for it.”Louisiana already has $4.6 billion in hand for the program but is pressing for approval of full funding so it does not have lower the grant amounts.A registry for homeowners who may qualify already is set up, but only 80,000 have signed up.New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who was recently re-elected and whose relationship with Blanco has been strained, thanked the governor for her work on the plan.”We’re starting to have movement on a lot of projects that we’ve been talking about and dreaming about and that our citizens want so desperately,” Nagin said.—On the Net:The Road Home: http://www.louisianarebuilds.infoVail, Colorado
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