Katrina Housing Program Blasted

Katrina Housing Program Blasted NEW ORLEANS, LA - About 300 of the planned 500 Katrina Cottages are under construction as part of a long-running pilot recovery program, with the other 200 or so awaiting federal environmental permitting before groundbreaking can commence, a state official said Monday. But Wil Jacobs, who handles housing efforts for the Louisiana Recovery Authority, could not tell unimpressed state lawmakers precisely when the first structure will be occupied by people displaced during the 2005 storm season.

"Something has gone wrong, and this thing hasn't worked, " Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, said of the Alternative Housing Pilot Program, which the Uptown legislator called "an utter disaster."

Jacobs, who attempted during the Legislative Audit Advisory Council to shine a positive light on construction progress, could not finish his rebuttal to Abramson's indictment before another New Orleans lawmaker interrupted.

"Don't sit there and pretend this has been a model project, " said Sen. Ed Murray, a Democrat who is running for mayor. "It hasn't. It's taken way too long."

Five of eight planned sites - which includes clusters of individual cottages placed on single parcels - have broken ground, Jacobs said.

Single-family units will be completed in the next few weeks at Jackson Barracks in New Orleans and Hidden Cove in Baton Rouge, with multifamily units to follow at the barracks. When finished, there will be more than 90 units at the Louisiana National Guard headquarters and 42 units in Baton Rouge.

A group of about 40 cottages on Sixth Avenue in Lake Charles and a development of 27 units at Harbor Estates in Westwego is on track to finish in the fall. And the Fischer development in Algiers, with about 100 units, should be completed in early 2010, Jacobs said.

But 200 sites in Lake Charles and New Orleans, most of the latter involving partnerships with the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority are awaiting final environmental review.

Jacobs told legislators that he is scheduled to meet Wednesday with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials about those assessments.

Abramson asked: "The bottom line is we have no idea of the time frame for these scattered lots?"

Jacobs replied, "That's probably correct." He said at one point, "It's a FEMA process."

Jacobs said all construction should be completed by next March.

Earlier this summer, FEMA granted Louisiana an extension of a Sept. 17 deadline to "obligate" all of the $75 million the state received for the program, which Congress approved in 2006 to test alternatives to traditional FEMA trailers. The new deadline is Jan. 31, 2010.

As for choosing occupants, LRA has plans, along with its local partners for each of the sites, to begin next month processing applications for the homes.

About 45,000 households - all of them having received storm assistance and still demonstrating a housing need - are in the initial pool, according to the agency. About 4,000 of those have been identified as "highest priority." Recipients are intended to buy the homes or rent to own.

The Jackson Barracks sites are reserved for employees of the state Military Department, which will determine who qualifies for the houses. Officials say the homes there likely will not be occupied until all the residences are completed.

Abramson asked Jacobs, "Are we going to be back here in January 2010 and have nobody in these cottages even though they are finished?" Jacobs answered, "We don't want that."

Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, referenced the modular construction of some homes in the program: "If this happens again, can you just give me the (money), and I'll go to Lowe's and buy it? I'll find the site myself."
Source: NOLA.com

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