A Backward Underclass View at Katrina
August 29, 2016 will mark the 11th year since Katrina. I wrote and tried to submit this article to a local newspaper the summer of 2006. I could not afford the $3,500 dollars a day it cost to submit.
The state of Louisiana and the Federal Government has chosen an agency to administer the billions of dollars needed to help homeowners rebuild. I don’t know anything about these people or their track record. I do understand that the state’s track record is not good and that their record, in and out of state, is reason to question their trustworthiness. Our local government’s trustworthiness is born of the state government.
During and after Katrina, our Federal government failed us also. There was fraud and mismanagement by the people, local government, state government and federal government. Because of decisions and mistakes made, I am where I am today and that’s not in a good place or situation. I am better off than most. I’m back in New Orleans managing to pay rent, mortgage, all the bills I had pre-Katrina, and the highest Entergy bills I have ever had in my life. I won’t be able to handle this much longer; bankruptcy may become an option for my wife and I in the near future. We have also discussed separation and divorce after over 35 years of marriage. When someone loses everything they’ve worked for all their lives, it can put a strain on their future outlook. What I am experiencing now makes me untrusting of the agency chosen by the state and approved by the federal government.
I lived with my youngest daughter in Atlanta until I met with my insurer’s supplementary adjuster in December 2005. After we met I was able to show that my fallen ceilings were the result of wind and rain damage, not flood waters. We were granted additional monies for damages and additional living expenses for up to 12 months. We moved back to New Orleans in February 2006. By April 2006, I received a phone call from my insurer informing me that we had exhausted our A.L.E. This information was given to me after we sent paper work to the insurer showing we had paid $1700.00 for our first and last month rent. We also had to send proof that we paid to have our utilities turned on. After approving what was sent in we received a reimbursement check. I no longer have trust in government nor private agency. I asked for something in writing and was sent an explanation as to why my insurer had reconsidered my claim and decided the damages would be split between my homeowner insurance and my flood insurance. This private agency allowed $25.00 a day for my wife and I every day that we stayed with my daughter. They claimed that the $4000.00 + check we got in Atlanta, that we used to come home and find a place and furnish it, was A.L.E payments for the months we were in Georgia. I was given a phone number to call if I wanted to appeal. There was no time to appeal, and the appeal line was long. I was forced to request rental assistance from FEMA, who had denied me before because I was insured. My wife had called them at least one hundred times in Georgia for a trailer or rental assistance.
I thank God and thanked Miss Dorsey, who was my 4th grade teacher at McDonough #6 in uptown New Orleans. In spite of the fact that when we got new text books there was no place to sign our names, year and date in the front columns of our books because it was already full of names and dates. Miss Dorsey, on her own time, taught me and many other children to read and comprehend after school was out. I don’t know if she is still alive, but I thanked her every time I saw her up until a few years ago. Her gift, although I hated her for keeping me in after school, was a blessing for me, my children and grandchildren. With that gift, given over 50 years ago, I was able to, through appeal and appeal of my appeal, get rental assistance from a federal agency that denied me three times because its comprehension was not very good. Many people who were displaced and affected by Katrina and the education offered in the New Orleans Public School system, pre-Katrina, don’t have the basic reading skills necessary to know and communicate the information necessary to get the help they need and deserve. There should be an agency to address and consider that particular handicap that the under-educated and under class will face in their attempts to return home.
I was approved for rental assistance over three months ago and it is time to reapply. I hoped not to have to reapply because I was told that this agency that is charged to allocate funds for the Road Home will start allocating monies in August 2006. Well, I wasn’t called in by them in August, and September is about to end. I really don’t trust this invisible agency that has really said nothing to the people affected by this admitted man made, life-destroying event. I only hear from them through rumors. The state and local leaders announce that things are in place, will be in place soon. The Road to Recovery is on going now. I don’t see anything going on from where I am here in New Orleans. I listen to a conservative talk radio station that I feel gave insightful information and had decision makers as guest. The guest representing that secret agency is named Walter Leger. About a month after, Mr. Leger represented himself as someone that’s inside and understands the agency’s direction and intentions. He was blind sided by the same group of people that we must depend on for aid. Our state and local leaders said checks will come out by August. Months earlier we were informed that the registration for the monies that were being approved by the federal Government would be distributed faster with early registration. Instead on live radio, Mr. Leger admitted that the rumors of the additional application was true and he didn’t know anything about it until he check out the rumors. Nobody knows what this group of people are doing and I wonder if they know how to handle a job such as this. While I wait to see, I must deal with FEMA’s rental assistance program.
FEMA has a new form letter that I believe they are sending to all applicants for rental assistance. This application represents the opinion of the people I saw in Houston at a Town Hall meeting about Katrina evacuees. It reflects the opinion of Houston’s mayor concerning putting a time limit on help given to New Orleanians. Some talk radio host have been very unkind and unsympathetic to any and everybody affected. A part-time or ex-talk radio personality has justified arming and preparing to kill New Orleanians to make a profit with his gun store. One local parish council passed a law to keep some New Orleanians out of the parish. What are the people going to do and where will they live in America? Imagine that for whatever reason, you could not read nor write, you had no computer or computer skills, no fax, no money, no life long friends and nobody in your family of five that had finished high school. Your oldest child is twelve, but her reading and comprehension is not what it could be because the neighborhood school failed her as it did you in the 9th grade. You are in a strange city and don’t know anybody. You and your wife had worked in New Orleans in a service related job for the last 15 years. Imagine you and your wife never being confronted with a real need to read and comprehend for those 15 years. All you and she had to do to make a living was to be helpful, courteous and kind to the public. Life was easy in the Big Easy. Imagine in this strange place it is hard to find employment because neither of you can read or write and you are from New Orleans. Now, your jobs may be available back home but you lived in the Lower Nine. The small house that you could afford to buy is destroyed. You can’t get a trailer because the utilities are not back on in your area. You and your family were taken off the roof and you lost your car in the flood. You are waiting for something good to happen, a job for you and your wife. You are looking for a letter from the Road Home people, hoping FEMA sends a letter for a trailer in a trailer park near home. You have to look for the mailman because you can’t afford a telephone. You are living off $200 or $300 monthly sacrificed by your mother. There are people in situations like these and worse, thousands of them. Imagine being in such a situation and its time to request continued rental assistance. Imagine getting the same form letter I got from FEMA. The letter must be answered in writing in 14 days or you will be denied assistance. These are the questions and explanations you must supply.
1. A realist housing plan to promote self-sufficiency, on a separate sheet of paper briefly describe your plan to obtain affordable permanent housing, for examples secure a loan, hire a contractor or find a place to live. Include the earliest projected date you believe you can fulfill your plan. In your housing plan, what steps are you taking to promote yourself to become self-sufficient and be able to afford your own rent.
2. Lease with complete rental information.
3. Verifiable landlord contact information, such as address, telephone number and name of landlord.
If you can read and write and comprehend, you can’t even imagine the problems faced by this family.
I can without much effort, write and explain that I have turned my insurance proceeds over to my mortgage company. I have contacted my demolition company and they have contacted my insurer, and my insurer has contacted me to let me know that I have 3 years to do demolition and elevation. I can honestly write that my recovery is delayed by the Road to Recovery. I can’t write a projected date to fulfill my plan because the people charged to implement the Recovery Plan are still planning. I can write and explain that I lost 2 trucks and a retail business to flood waters. I can explain that in spite of the fact, pre-Katrina I had an excellent credit history, I was denied a loan by the SBA because I had no income after the storm. I can explain that after I lost my driver’s license during the evacuation, I lost my hazmat endorsement. By federal law, I had to be retested and now must wait 6 to 8 weeks for a terrorist threat investigation. For self-sufficiency, after being self-employed for the last 17 years I am prepared, at age 59, to do the type of work I did at 39, if given the opportunity. I am not stressed by FEMA’s attitude about people who still need help. I can and will fight for what I lost due to the mistakes of the government. I worry about the people who can’t fight for their rights and have no one to help them.
I really don’t know who is in charge or why the monies are not getting to the people that need it…..yesterday. I believe that the monies are available and being issued out now, but not to the people to rebuild. One reason given for the necessity of an additional application was to determine how many applicants were low income. It was said that you could leave the income area blank until called in for the interview. According to Mr. Leger, this income inquiry was mandated by HUD and federal laws because one-half of the billions allocated must be spent on low income people affected by the flood. I believe applications for that one-half of the billions is being filed and granted each day. Agencies, non-profit organizations and public utilities are filing and being granted grants to aid the low income affected. So far, the low income people affected have received an average of twenty-three thousand, on paper, not in hand. I can see that whoever is in charge knows how to deal with crowd control without guns since Katrina. The policy is don’t come until I call you, one-at-a-time. One at-a-time, drop by drop, drip, drip, drip. It is not working. I have seen commercials advertising Governor Blanco’s Road Home Program. I’ve heard Mr. Leger say that it must be done by HUD’s rules. Is HUD in charge? I hope not, I don’t have trust in the federal government. I sure hope HUD is not involved because being part of the federal government, they may redirect the monies whenever they feel the need. The governor, I think said, the money is in the bank. The bank, that is where I would like for my recovery money to go. I trust my bank and my bank has shown trust in me. About 10 years ago, after checking my credit and payment history, they sent me a check for $15,000. I didn’t request it or fill out an application for it, they just sent it and all I had to do was sign and deposit it. I appreciated it and could use the money at the time. I paid them back early. My bank, about a month before Katrina sent me another check for substantially more money. I signed and deposited that check and planned at get another truck and garment business for my wife. Katrina came the Monday she was to have her grand opening. My wife and I would have suffered without that money. Even though I have an additional bill, no trucks, and no store, I’m glad my bank thought about me. My insurance proceeds are with this institution. They will make sure that I am who I am and won’t allow me to misuse our money. My bank will make sure I rebuild the property we both have an interest in.
To whom it may concern, to whomever is in charge. Allow me and others similar and like me to proceed around the drip on Poydras St. Please establish an express line for the people who need another avenue around the Road to Recovery.