As victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita continue their struggles to rebuild homesteads and make sense of the now-infamous Road Home program, the Lower Chamber of the Legislature has created an initiative that would help 100 college graduates purchase new houses.

The premise behind House Bill 1156 by Rep. Neil Abramson, a New Orleans Democrat, is that it might help slow the tide of outmigration by enticing promising Louisiana grads. “We educate them, and then they go to Houston, Dallas, Atlanta or Washington, D.C.,” Abramson says. The Louisiana Housing Finance Agency would have oversight control and the 100 winners of the Grants for Grads Program would be selected “by random lottery,” according to the legislation. An applicant with financial wherewithal to buy a home has just as good of a shot of landing assistance as an individual struggling to make ends meet.

The maximum grant would be $10,000 per person toward a down payment on a new house. In exchange, graduates would have to work in Louisiana for no less than five years. Based on an analysis conducted by the Legislative Fiscal Office, the total cost to taxpayers could be more than $1.1 million annually.

In a 72-24 vote yesterday afternoon, the House overwhelmingly supported the bill. Lawmakers from Lafayette Parish mostly fell in line. Voting in favor were Reps. Page Cortez, a Republican; Rickey Hardy and Jack Montoucet, both Democrats; and Joel C. Robideaux, who has no party affiliation. Rep. Don Trahan, a Republican who chairs the House Education Committee, put up the sole opposing vote from the local delegation. Rep. Bobby G. Badon, a Democrat, was recorded as absent.

The bill’s next scheduled hearing is in the Senate Education Committee.

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