NEW ORLEANS -- The Road Home program gave Richard Cortizas, executive counsel to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, a $95,000 grant to rehabilitate and move back into his home on Pratt Drive within three years.
That three-year time limit, which Cortizas agreed to meet when he signed Road Home covenants, was up just over a month ago on May 17.
Cortizas admits he failed to live up to his part of the agreement.
“It’s my fault and I take full responsibility,” Cortizas said. “I will tell you when I alerted the mayor yesterday of this, he was not happy. I was not happy about it. He instructed me to get the property in livable condition and to do it immediately. And I am doing that. And I will do that,” Cortizas said.
Cortizas says he alerted the mayor after being contacted by Eyewitness News. He also sent the Road Home program a letter to ask for an extension.
Cortizas says the house is gutted and he has installed a new roof, doors and fencing around the property. But he says his effort to rebuild on Pratt Drive was delayed in part because he bought a house Uptown for $330,500 dollars one year before getting his Road Home grant.
“Unfortunately we’ve had a really tough time selling our house Uptown. And that’s been a problem,” he said.
Records reveal his Uptown house was on the market from August 2008 until November of last year. It was then pulled off of the market.
Cortizas also acknowledges that he got a loan from the Small Business Administration for $25,000.
“A portion of the SBA funds and a portion of the Road Home grant money were actually used to purchase the house that I mentioned that I purchased Uptown,” he said.
Cortizas clarified that he received Road Home money after the purchase.
“So I used some of those funds, some of the money that I used to purchase that house. And I’ve got that very well documented, because obviously I didn’t have the money to purchase that house alone.”
Cortizas says the Road Home grant and the SBA loan were supposed to be used to repair the house on Pratt Drive.
WWL asked Cortizas if he violated the rules under which he received that $121,000 in loan and grant funding from the government.
“I’m not so sure that it violated the covenants. Beause the covenants just called for me rehabbing this property,” he said.
Research reveals Cortizas has failed to satisfy the terms of a couple of other financial agreements.
His failure to repay the Tulane Educational Fund $8,046.99 in 1991 led to a $10,500 judgment which he finally paid in 2003.
And his failure to satisfy the terms of a lease with Ford Motor Company in 2004 led him to pay a judgment of $14,170.02 in 2009.
Cortizas was Sen. Mary Landrieu’s regional director, running her New Orleans office from 2001 to 2004. He was president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (before joining the Mitch Landrieu administration) and was a member of Mitch Landrieu’s transition task force on city financial systems.
But he stresses his car and Tulane difficulties happened before he became Mayor Landrieu’s executive counsel.
“Those difficulties did not occur while I was in this position. Those difficulties, if you will note, were while I was in college,” he said.
“It’s very tough to be a Tulane student. And I actually graduated from Loyola. It’s been a tough time,” he said, though he admitted that the Ford judgment was paid just a year ago, in 2009.
As for his house on Pratt Drive, the Road Home program has issued a directive about getting an extension on a grant.
“To request an extension, the homeowner must be able to provide a current building permit to demonstrate that he or she intends to rebuild or repair the home,” the LRA directive states.
Cortizas plans to repair the house with a building permit issued in March 2006.
He said he is considering returning either the money or property back to the Road Home.
“Absolutely. My wife and I have talked about it, because we really frankly don’t know what to do now,” he said.
Cortizas said he doesn’t think he should be treated any differently than any other Road Home recipient.
“I’m not seeking special treatment. Absolutely not.”
Right now he says his intention is to rehab his house on Pratt Drive just as he told Mayor Landrieu he would.
It's not clear if the Road Home program will give Cortizas an extension. A spokeswoman says that the agency can't comment on individual cases due to privacy issues.
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