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The Long Wait:
Checks for Homeowner Grant Program to Take Time

by Keith Burton - GCN   Filed 8/4/06

Coast property owners waiting for the state to distribute checks from the Homeowner Grant program will have a long wait. Nearly 17,000 homeowners qualified for the program, which will distribute up to $150,000 to help people rebuild their homes that were flooded by Katrina's storm surge and who were outside the federal flood zones.

The Mississippi Development Authority, which is coordinating the program, says homeowners will receive notices in the mail about the checks and then will have to schedule a closing meeting where the paperwork will be finalized. Homeowners have to sign-off on covenants added to their deeds and sign statements saying they will comply with building height requirements.

The process will take time. The MDA says it will soon start sending out as many as 500 notices a day and that will take at least 34 days. It is the closing meetings that will take time. Homeowners have to appear in person at the closings to sign documents. If the MDA can handle a hundred closings a day, and each takes 15 minutes, which is an optimistic speed, it will take at least eight months to process all the claims. It is likely that many homeowners will not see a check any sooner than well into next year.

This news is likely to be tough on thousands of homeowners in the program, and for city officials hopeful that people would start to rebuild neighborhoods lost from the hurricane.

Many Coast residents who lost their homes from Katrina, including city and council workers, are finding it hard to balance work and the stresses of rebuilding their homes and lives. With the one year anniversary of Katrina just a few weeks away, many people are fighting off despair and disillusionment as they now see how long it will take to get their homes and communities back. The following is from GCN's "From Ground Zero - Part 2: What Waveland Needs" as told by Kathy Pinn, the Public Relations and donations coordinator from the City of Waveland:

"And then there are the glimmers of hope that are now turning into small tragedies.  The promise of funds for families who owned their homes and did not live in a flood zone and were not required to have flood insurance.  Newspapers announced that these monies were appropriated and were to be distributed quickly to help people get back on their feet.  This money brought hope to many.  They planned their reconstruction.  Some even got loans or paid for supplies on credit cards.  The money has not arrived and now some are faced with debtors calling for their money.  They did what they had to attain some sense of normalcy for themselves and their children."

The governor had announced early this year that the grant program would be initiated quickly, but the MDA found the process difficult to formulate as the program had to be approved by federal officials. The challenge to implement the program pushed the start nearly a year after Katrina and over six months after the program was announced.

The grant program is unique and is a first for any state. But many people are beginning to feel that the help is too slow to be viable for their families hard hit by the hurricane. A separate program that could help low and moderate income families within the flood zones is being devised by the MDA and around 8,000 people signed up, but it is unlikely that the MDA could handle that program while the current program is underway. In that case, the second phase of the program it likely many months from initiation.

Meanwhile, the state has said that they would use whatever is left of the money from the grant program to help Katrina-devastated cities. Money that would help them pay local matching money to received federal reconstruction grants. But how much will be left, and when that money will be available for the cities, will take time to determine. Time that will delay reconstruction of services and public buildings. Many of the federal funds earmarked for Katrina assistance to the cities have between a five and ten percent local match requirement, money that some communities do not have.

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