A multi-million dollar program to help Livingston Parish residents elevate or sell homes that flooded in August 2016 is generating less interest than coordinators had hoped as a Thursday deadline approaches.?
Eighty-seven people in the parish have applied for federal assistance that covers 75 percent of the costs of elevating or acquiring and demolishing flooded homes as of Tuesday, said Sarah Allen, grant coordinator at the Livingston Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
"It is still fairly low compared to what we thought we would receive based on the number of homeowners who flooded in August," she said.
Allen said the office was hoping to see more applications, considering 1,269 homes in the parish are repetitive losses, meaning homeowners have filed at least two flood claims in the past ten years. Homeowners who have only flooded once, as well as those who have experienced repeated flooding, can apply for the assistance.??
Applicants are from all over the parish, she said, and are mostly people tired of repetitive house flooding. Allen said some are having more difficulty paying for their flood insurance or getting paid out after a claim.?
The biggest deterrent to people signing up is that the program leaves too much of a gap for either an elevation or buyout, Allen said.
The program covers 75 percent of the cost of an elevation, which can range from $40,000 to $250,000, she said. Homeowners then must find the money to pay for the rest of the cost of jacking a house up into the air.
In the case of an acquisition, the program will pay 75 percent of the appraised value of a home. The homeowner in a buyout must pay 25 percent of the costs associated with the process, such as surveying or closing fees.?
She said many homeowners also do not know where they will be in nine to 12 months when the final eligibility determinations are made, which can also decrease the attractiveness of the program.
After the Nov. 30 deadline, the parish must prepare an application to send to the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for a cost-benefit analysis before a final determination is made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on which elevations or buyouts will go forward.
Allen said the parish has tentatively allocated $10 to $12 million for elevations and acquisitions. The money comes from Livingston Parish's $63.8 million hazard mitigation pot from FEMA that followed the devastating August 2016 flood.?
After Hurricane Isaac, the parish made available $7 million in assistance. After the March flood last year, the parish had $513,000 that could be used only for elevations.
Allen said the cost share should not be a deterrent for people who want to apply. Homeowners may be eligible for additional grants to fill the gap. Those with flood insurance may be able to get $30,000 to help cover their share.?
Parish President Layton Ricks said Livingston is directing such a large sum from the hazard mitigation pool to elevations at FEMA's direction.?
He said people benefit from the program because it allows them to stay on their properties. But he noted that the people who are often eligible?— elderly people living in older homes — are typically less able to afford the cost share.?
Ricks said his preference is toward elevations, rather than acquisitions that become parish property. In general, Ricks said he would rather focus mitigation money on larger watershed projects.
"I'd rather help people maintain it and do drainage-type projects," he said.?
The parish has also promised funds from the hazard mitigation allocation for cleaning of some major drainage ways, including the Tickfaw River, Natalbany River and West Colyell Creek. Homeland Security Director Mark Harrell has also said he would invest $10 million in the Comite River Diversion Canal and has offered to appropriate hazard mitigation funds to repair a weir intended to improve drainage on the Amite River.?
These projects, especially the Natalbany River cleanup, which is a cooperative effort with Tangipahoa Parish, are basically in line with a state-directed effort to get parishes to think regionally and cooperate to reduce flood risk.??
But a FEMA study conducted after the March and August 2016 floods indicates there is a value in elevations and acquisitions.?
The loss avoidance study looked at the amount of money FEMA has spent mitigating homes in areas inundated during the floods and compared that figure to the amount that would have been spent on repairs, content losses and displacement costs.?
Of the approximately 800 homes mitigated after flooding in Louisiana over the past 20 years, 183 were in areas inundated by water during the two 2016 events, according to the study. Only seven of those homes flooded in either disaster, according to Shona Gibson, the civil engineer from FEMA who authored the study.
The study found FEMA paid out almost $30 million to elevate or acquire those homes. The agency estimates that the buyouts and elevations saved the federal government almost $27 million in payouts if those properties flooded.??
Gibson said in an interview that the study showed mitigation works and that elevation and acquisition are effective hazard mitigation techniques.?
The hazard mitigation program casts a wider net than the flood mitigation program, another FEMA initiative that is available on a nationally competitive basis each year and has stricter requirements, Allen said.??
Bart Dupepe was approved this year for a buyout under the flood mitigation program on his home in Maurepas.?
Dupepe, 40, said he lived in the home on Highway 22 along the Amite River with his dad as a teenager. He bought the concrete slab house in 2008 and lived there with his wife and three kids until he could not take the flooding any more and moved to a nearby property.
Since 2008, the house situated along the Amite River has flooded five times, he said. In addition, he said his flood insurance premiums have risen from $600 to $2,800 per year.?
"When I was younger, it was a little easier to deal with," he said. "But you get tired of losing everything you own."
The process was complicated and took a year and a half, he said, including two surveys. But now FEMA will be buying his house for $110,000. Due to the type of program, he will get the full 100 percent of the appraised value.?
"Every time I turned around, I had to do something different," he said about the bureaucratic process to get approved through the program. "I kept thinking of what I had to get in the end, and it was going to be worth it."?
For more information about the hazard mitigation program visit www.lohsep.org.