Louisiana launches $11M housing program for Hurricane Laura

By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Nearly 15 months after Hurricane Laura struck, Louisiana is kicking off $11.3 million in housing repair and rebuilding programs for the southwestern city of Lake Charles while it waits for hundreds of millions in promised federal aid to arrive.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, and Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter, a Republican, announced the plans at a joint press conference Monday. The effort will be financed with federal housing and disaster recovery funds available to the state and city through various programs.

The dollars largely will pay for home rehabilitation work for low- to moderate-income homeowners, with grants capped at $50,000 per household. A $1 million share of the money will help landlords rebuild housing if they are willing to rent to low- to moderate-income tenants.

“The housing situation in Lake Charles is absolutely dire,” Hunter said. “This is going to help.”

The city of Lake Charles will administer the program. Hunter didn’t immediately provide information on how people can apply, saying the city is still working out the logistics for the two programs.

Both Edwards and Hunter acknowledged the money is nowhere near the amount needed to address the gaps in insurance coverage and the blight of abandoned houses destroyed by Laura in Lake Charles alone, plus the needs of the southwestern region.

“This is a beginning. This is a first step, a relatively modest step,” Edwards said. Later, he added: “This should be a signal of hope and not construed as, you know, ‘mission accomplished’ because certainly that is not the case.”

But the $11.3 million is aimed at jump-starting housing repairs, in hopes the $595 million in federal disaster recovery block grant funding promised to southwest Louisiana will be on its way soon to help pay for more rebuilding work. The money was included in recent legislation passed by Congress that helped avert a government shutdown.

Edwards estimated that $1 billion is needed across southwest Louisiana for housing reconstruction alone from Laura and Hurricane Delta. The full $595 million in disaster block grant aid headed to the state can’t all be spent on housing, because of federal requirements that about $89 million must be spent on efforts to mitigate future flooding and storm damage, Edwards said.

Receipt of that larger disaster aid likely is still months away. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development oversees the block grant aid, which will require the state to outline plans for spending the money and receive federal approval of those plans. HUD hasn’t yet issued its regulations for the spending for the state to submit plans.

Laura struck the southwestern parishes on Aug. 27, 2020, as a fierce Category 4 hurricane. Less than two months later, Delta swept into the same area as a Category 2 storm. Historic flooding followed in May.

Across southwest Louisiana, homes still bear blue tarps and await roof repairs, businesses remain boarded up and some neighborhoods look almost abandoned. Thousands remain displaced.

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