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Louisiana is suing nearly 4,000 residents to get back $300 million in Katrina rebuilding money

Constant rule changes meant to help homeowners after Hurricane Katrina ended up hurting those in need.

David Hammer / Eyewitness Investigator

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Published: 10:23 PM CDT May 13, 2022
Updated: 6:48 AM CDT May 14, 2022

In early 2008, I sat with Paul Rainwater shortly after he was named head of Louisiana’s hurricane recovery agency and asked him how the state planned to enforce tens of thousands of separate agreements with individual homeowners who promised to rebuild and reoccupy their homes within three years in exchange for receiving federally funded Road Home grants.

He shook his head.

“That’s a very good question,” he said.

It’s a question that vexed state leaders from the very beginning of the Road Home program in 2006, and they’ve tinkered with the rules and their plans to enforce them dozens of times in the 16 years since. They were trying to show compassion for residents whose lives had been turned upside down while also complying with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s demands to recover any money that wasn’t used for the prescribed purpose.

“We had 200 amendments to the plan, but there had to be because no one had ever done this before and the situation was so different than anyone had ever dealt with,” Rainwater said in a recent interview. “So, it was a very difficult time.”