Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Welcome Home Center

Yesterday we closed on our Road Home grant. We received $120K for our house, and an additional $30K to raise it. We are a few inches above the BFE (Base Flood Elevation) now so we didn't qualify for ICC (Increased Cost of Compliance) money. So it was a welcome surprise to get the $30K, and we are going to raise our house 3 feet. That will put us more than 3 feet above the BFE, and about 10 inches above the high water mark of the 2005 flood. We'll be the highest house in the neighborhood, which has advantages and disadvantages. If this block floods again, Mid-City is finished anyway in my opinion. To my surprise, the Road Home is sending the checks to Standard Mortgage, the same company that holds the mortgage to our house. I'm hoping, though not too optimistic, that this will free up some cash so we can make some funds with interest. We owe Standard Mortgage about $145K on our house. By law Standard Mortgage can only hold in escrow what we owe them. Thus we're hoping the $150K from Road Home will be enough to cover our debt, and they will write us a check for the $80K that Allstate has paid us. Although we'll use the funds to rebuild our house, as the arrangement currently works, Standard Mortgage has been able to keep the $80K and make money off interest without having to pay us any interest. Incidentally, the Road Home mandates that Standard Mortgage pay us 1.5% interest while they hold the Road Home money. But in the end I'm fairly certain Standard Mortgage will deny this request, claiming the Road Home funds are a separate entity. It seems everyone is making money off Katrina except for the people who live and work here.

Today we closed on our SBA loan. Our loan started off being $126K at 2.5% interest, then was reduced to $108K about 9 months ago. Then last Tuesday it was cut to the $10K that they advanced us about 10 months ago as we were on record for receiving the Road Home money. They state we can't duplicate federal funds. We were really counting on being able to keep both the SBA and Road Home funds, but we've had a few days to get over the shock. Therese says that many of her friends are still rebuilding under the misconception that they'll have both the Road Home and SBA funds. That's a real shame. In any event, we were scheduled today to go to the Welcome Home Center, at 1250 Poydras, to close on the SBA. We were supposed to sign many pages of legal documents so that we essentially had two liens on our property. One to Standard Mortgage (for about $145K) and one to the SBA (now for $10K). Today we learned that we didn't need this second lien, as with the SBA, loans for $10K and under don't need the lien. That was good news. But we didn't feel very welcome in the Welcome Home Center. In fact, we felt the opposite of "welcome."

When we left the "Welcome Home Center," Therese was crying pretty hard. It all started when we arrived early at 8:30AM. There were several people outside in the cold and wet weather. Many of them were elderly. The doorman/security guard at 1250 Poydras wouldn't let anyone enter the lobby, which was heated and dry, until 9 AM exactly. That didn't make us feel very welcome. I would have complained more but after a year and a half of all of this crap I am pretty numb at times. Then, as the building security monitored us closely, we went with the crowd up the stairs next to the escalators (that they refused to turn on) to an upper floor. That didn't make us feel welcome. We took the elevator to the 14th floor, and when we got off, we were treated like cattle. We were spoken to like we were in prison, and told to line up. A security guard said we would be searched thoroughly before entering the federal government space, and if we had anything that we shouldn't have, we should take the elevator downstairs and get rid of it before we came back up. Then they made me take everything out of my hands and pockets, and went over my person thoroughly with a metal detecting wand. When I went to retrieve my "stuff" a security guard said I needed to turn off my cell phone. I asked "can't I just keep it on vibrate" and about got my ass kicked. That didn't make me feel very welcome. Some lady called my name and I went a few steps and asked if I could wait for my wife, who was next in the process behind me, and they said no. So I followed some lady for a few yards, and then Therese came, and the same lady asked if that was my wife, and I said yes. Anyway, Therese was very upset at that point, which is odd, because usually in these situations I'm the one who is about to start yelling and she is calming me down. So it was a role reversal, and it caught me off guard. The SBA officer said we didn't need to sign anything, and we left after completing several more bureaucratic hurdles. On the elevator down, I said "That went pretty well." That is when Therese started crying. She was very upset, and said what if her grandma came to the Welcome Home Center seeking help to rebuild her life. What if these same people had been so rude to her grandma. And who the hell is going to help people like that. Therese and I are very educated, and have family and friends to help us out emotionally and financially. What if you had to navigate through this process and you were illiterate, let alone didn't have email. I commented that this experience was nothing. I said "if you really wanted to experience the rude and inept way that our government works, you should have spent some time at the Causeway Concentration Camp after Katrina like I did." We both agreed that if anyone ever asked us for advice on how to handle rebuilding their life after something like this, it would be to move far far away, cut all ties with the place that flooded, and never look back.

Calling such a place the "Welcome Home Center" was ironic, and sort of funny to me in a way, but in the end it was thoroughly cruel. As a reminder, Katrina's destruction of New Orleans was not a natural disastor. It was caused by human error, and remains the biggest screw up in the history of the US government. The people who live, or lived here, certainly deserve better than this.


Anonymous said...


We just found out we have been disqualified from the Raod Home.

It is beging to fell more like the "Don't Let The Door Hit you on the Ass on Your Way out program"

Me said...

I work at the Welcome Home Center for a Non-profit organization. We are funded by FEMA though. Unfortunately, the rules we have to follow are often frustrating and downright stupid.

I got in this business because I want to help people. I have to remind myself of it daily, sometimes hourly. I am thankful for the security guards because I'm sure if they were not there, some crazed citizen screwed by FEMA or SBA would come and blow us all away. Hell, I might have even done it my self if I had the means to do so.

I'm certainly not defending persons who are rude. The other day a client was complaining about how rude someone was and as she was on the verge of tears we heard someone who had come to recieve help "go off" on one of my colleagues for something totally beyond his control. She smiled and said, "I guess you get a lot of shit too."

"Yeah, and I don't deserve it any more than you do. This Katrina thing should have taught us that we need to love each other more and care for each other more, but sometimes we forget." As she was leaving, my client held my hand and said thank you with tears in her eyes.

"I'll be praying for your mamma, this has been so hard on all of us." I said, with tears in my eyes.

Anonymous said...

Good article , you make some interesting points .

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