Audit outlines trouble with $75M hurricane program
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's $75 million "Katrina cottages" program took years longer than expected to build homes for hurricane-displaced residents and paid significantly more per house than similar nonprofit programs, according to an audit released Monday.
The federally-funded, but state-run housing initiative had trouble finding occupants for some cottages and the housing ended up costing more than originally estimated by state officials, says the review by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera's office.
Some of the homes were so poorly constructed that families who had moved into them were forced to move out temporarily while repairs were done, the audit says.
Families living in 34 homes — about 7 percent of those built — had to leave while their homes were renovated to deal with water leakage in the walls and problems with insulation and subflooring.
The cottages ranged from 612 square feet to 1,112 square feet and cost an average of $145,216, according to Purpera's office. With infrastructure costs added, some homes cost as much as $195,452, by the auditor's estimates.
The Katrina cottages program, officially known as the Alternative Housing Pilot Program, was created by FEMA after hurricanes Katrina and Rita to build housing for displaced families while studying ideas for alternative housing in hurricane-prone areas.
Louisiana received $74.5 million from the $400 million program in December 2006.
Patrick Forbes, executive director of Louisiana's Disaster Recovery Unit for Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration, defended the state's performance and said a pilot program by its very nature is experimental.
He disagreed with comparisons about the housing cost and said the auditor's office didn't take into account the value of the lessons learned about alternative housing.
"Both the state and FEMA did gain a better understanding of how such an initiative could be implemented for intermediate and long-term housing after a disaster. The program also provided sustainable homeownership and rental opportunities for 461 storm-impacted families," Forbes wrote in a response to the audit.
Louisiana's Katrina cottages program was plagued with problems and became a poster child for a slow recovery riddled with federal and state bureaucracy. A federal inspector general's report said poor decisions made by FEMA created hurdles.
"Once construction began, each site encountered additional delays relating to correction of construction deficiencies, local partner funding issues ... and delays in delivery of power, sewer and water connections," the audit by Purpera's office says.
While Mississippi spent most of its $281 million grant within about two years, Louisiana's construction of the cottages went two-and-a-half years beyond the original grant deadline of September 2009. The program, which started under former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, was completed during Jindal's tenure.
In the end, 461 small homes were built at 12 sites in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, according to the audit. More than two-thirds of the cottages were built in New Orleans.
The state partnered with local housing and community agencies to get land, find residents and sell the homes and worked with a developer, Cypress Realty Partners LLC, to build the cottages.
The homes cost between $121 and $176 per square foot — at least $53 per square foot more than housing of similar size built by other nonprofits and above the initial state estimates that they would cost from $108 to $128 per square foot, the audit says.
The review notes that the Katrina cottages were required to follow certain FEMA requirements, like steel framing and access for the disabled, that could have escalated costs.
Forbes disagreed with the methodology used by Purpera's office to compare housing costs. He said Katrina cottages were built by for-profit companies, so the cost per square foot includes a profit margin that wouldn't be included in housing constructed by nonprofits.
"In addition, many nonprofits received donated or discounted labor and materials when constructing housing and there is no indication if this was considered in the comparison of costs per square foot," Forbes wrote.
MAY 24 Blogger Robert Mann posts this entry about the Baton Rouge Chamber's recent report on Louisiana's higher education system. It's critical to economic development, and yet our system is facing a "funding crisis" with no way to resolve it, the report says. The Chamber says control of tuition and fees must be returned to the higher ed governing boards.
MAY 24 Here's a NBC33 story about Tyrann Mathieu. He has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, inking a $3 million, four-year deal. He gets a signing bonus of $265K, but gets another, larger bonus if he doesn't get cut from the team for doing drugs. The deal reportedly includes mandatory tests and meetings for the player.
MAY 24 Jarvis DeBerry posts here about the redonkulus rhetoric that would have us believe NOLA is a safe city with a murder problem. Maybe the city's crime stats don't compare with its murder stats because you can't manipulate a murder, he says: a dead body's a dead body. It just doesn't make sense, he says, and his readers agree: a poll asks if they believe the city is safe, and more than 90 percent say no.
MAY 24 Jindal administration officials announced Thursday that the privatization of public health care is going to cost a lot more than they budgeted for, the Advocate reports here. "I'm so surprised," said no one. Anywhere. The cost they're projecting now is more than $1 billion - a lot more than the $626 million budgeted for it. And, it's more than it cost the state to operate those hospitals. So why are we doing this again?
MAY 24 Blogger CB Forgotston ridicules the recent PR campaign by the state GOP in the wake of a legislative auditor's request to both major parties. The GOP (apparently unaware that the Dems got the same request) started yammering about being targeted because it had "killed" a tax increase. CB finds that laughable, but it's also pretty funny that the GOP was comparing this episode to the IRS scandal (Because the President has so much to do with our state auditor. Right?).
MAY 24 Politico details some recent fund-raising efforts by Sen. David Vitter, which have raised the question of his future political plans. This time, it is a $5,000 per head "bayou weekend" that includes "Cajun cooking" and an all-caps "alligator hunt," the story reports. Funds raised go to a super PAC that can spend money to support Vitter in federal or state races, the story points out.
MAY 24 The pink building on Royal in the quarter was sold at a sheriff's sale Thursday, this Picayune story reports. An injunction that would have halted the sale wasn't enforced because the family failed to post a $150,000 bond, the story reports. So the owner of the mortgages on the building bought it, for nearly $7 million. Now the feuding family will have to negotiate with that company to get a lease on the building that has housed their business for close to 60 years.
MAY 23 This post in Louisiana Voice tells us about a bill by a Winnsboro lege that would require all public high school students to take at least one Course Choice online class in order to graduate. (What?) Blogger Tom Aswell says it's a monument to "waste and corruption," especially in light of the problems he's exposed with the program in recent weeks. Idaho had a similar program, but voters removed it by a 2-1 margin, Aswell says.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.