NEW ORLEANS - A new survey by the New Orleans Community Data Center showed more than 35,700 properties are still blighted. Thousands of those are likely properties that received Road Home grants, but still haven't rebuilt.
The Road Home was supposed to plug the insurance gap for more than 119,000 victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
“Many things happened after the program was put in place that we were not prepared for, even the recipients themselves,” said Tina Marquardt, Executive Director of the Beacon of Hope.
The non-profit formed in the days after the 2005 storms, working to help Lakeview residents get back and get rid of the blight.
They recently completed a year-long survey of a thousand Road Home recipients for the state Office of Community Development.
“We spent the majority of our time trying to outreach to some of the 'Option One' recipients to find out what their road blocks were,” Marquardt said.
On Orleans Parish alone, 37,000 homeowners took "Option One" from the Road Home program, where they received a bigger grant because they were planning to rebuild.
Seven years after the storm, the question now is, "How many never will?"
“We think that in the neighborhood of 12,000, nine to 12,000 people are non-returns,” said Pat Forbes, executive director of the Office of Community Development.
He said most, but not all of those are in Orleans Parish.
No one has surveyed each individual property to see if they’re non-compliant, however. The state relies on responses to requests for information.
“They have had for some time the chance to switch to option two or three. We change the grant. We take the property,” Forbes said.
About 3,000 people are in their grant recovery process, according to Forbes, but the Road Home covenants don't allow them to seize the property for non-compliance.
At the Road Home's end, it's the state of Louisiana that's on the hook for the money, and at some point, HUD and federal taxpayers will come looking to collect.
The state can simply put a lien on the properties that are non-compliant with the Road Home covenants and hope blight-reduction strategies by local governments can deal with them.