Grants Upgraded and Extended
Details of Phase Two of Homeowner Assistance ProgramFrom: Office of the Governor Filed 11/20/06 GCN
Homeowners who did not qualify under the original multibillion-dollar grant program have another opportunity to apply for assistance to repair, rebuild or relocate under a second phase that has opened for public comment.
Phase Two of the Homeowner Assistance Program will provide funding up to a maximum of $50,000 for low to moderate income homeowners whose primary residence suffered flood surge damage from Hurricane Katrina. Such homeowners may qualify regardless of whether they were uninsured or under-insured and regardless of whether their homes were inside or outside the federally-delineated flood plain.
The original program covered about 15,000 families and the second phase opens new opportunities for assisting more people, Governor Haley Barbour said.
“We’ve been working with the federal government for months to develop this second phase in order to help as many as 10,000 more families,” Governor Barbour said.
Phase Two includes a special needs feature under which eligible applicants who are age 65 or over, or who are disabled, or who have household income at or below 60 percent of the Average Median Income can get up to an additional $25,000, or a total of $75,000.
Also, an additional grant of up to $30,000 is available to help eligible applicants defray the cost of elevating their homes, if necessary.
Generally, a qualifying homeowner must have a household income at or below 120 percent of the Average Median Income (AMI), or about $63,000 a year for a family of four.
As with the original program, anyone who receives a grant under Phase Two and is rebuilding will have to elevate their home out of the flood plain, build consistent to the International Building Code/International Residential Code, and carry flood insurance.
In addition, Phase Two grant recipients must agree to a covenant on their property that establishes building code, homeowner insurance, and elevation requirements for them or any future owner of the land; and agree to remain at that site for three years, or relocate elsewhere in George, Greene, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson or Pearl River counties.
Like the initial phase, this second phase of the program will be funded from the $4 billion allocated through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The starting point for each individual grant calculation will be the cost to repair or rebuild the structure based on a damage assessment approved by the Mississippi Development Authority.
In addition to the homeowner grants through the first and second phases, Governor Barbour said the federal government has also allowed the state to allocate $100 million of the grant funds for restoration of public housing in the three coastal counties. The state is also working closely with HUD to fund more restoration of rental housing and other modifications to the original grants program.
Families that have already applied for the original phase of the program or already registered for follow-on programs do not have to re-register to be considered for Phase Two; however, homeowners who are uncertain are encouraged to go ahead and re-register. New applicants should call 1-866-369-6302 to schedule an application appointment.
This proposed modification – Number 4 Phase II – is open for public comment. Copies of the entire plan are available by written or telephone request from the Mississippi Development Authority call center (1-866-369-6302), or on the Internet at www.mississippi.org. The modification will be available in Vietnamese and Spanish translations at the same website.
Written comments regarding this proposed modification may be mailed to the Mississippi Development Authority, Post Office Box 849, Jackson, MS 39205 or sent via facsimile to (601) 359-9280. Comments may also be submitted online to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments must be received no later than December 8, 2006.
Barbour orders grants increased - On average, some will receive $15,000 more
By GEOFF PENDER and KAREN NELSON
PASCAGOULA - A majority of those who have received or will receive Hurricane Katrina homeowner grant checks will be getting more money than originally estimated, per Gov. Haley Barbour's orders.
About 85 percent of those who had been approved for grants and told an amount before Oct. 23 will receive more money, an average of $15,000 more. These homeowners don't have to wade through any more paperwork or meetings for this increase, officials said. The recalculations are being made automatically and will not further delay the process, they said. But $150,000 is still the maximum, and officials stressed that not everyone will receive an increase and that $15,000 is an average.
Apparently, kinks in the months-delayed grant program are being worked out after an angry Barbour, who is ultimately in charge of how it is run, ordered changes weeks ago. The program as of Thursday morning had doled out 3,162 checks, compared to the less than 200 that had been paid out just a few weeks ago.
Barbour had received much praise for using his Washington clout last year to help convince Congress and HUD to approve up to $5 billion for a Katrina homeowner bailout. No such help has ever been given after other natural disasters. But as the program dragged on months beyond when Barbour and others had estimated people would be receiving checks, that praise turned to criticism from homeowners desperately wanting to rebuild and leave their FEMA trailers. Others argued - and nearly 2,000 formally appealed - that the grant amounts for which they were approved were too low.
Barbour himself criticized the slowness, although he said federal red tape and problems with insurance and mortgage companies not providing information was causing much of the delay. Barbour ordered changes, such as allowing people to fill out affidavits to sidestep logjams when insurance companies or others won't provide info. He also told administrators to err on the side of the homeowners when calculating the grant amounts.
A top Barbour advisor and an official with the company hired to run the Katrina grant program toured the Coast on Wednesday and Thursday, meeting with government, nonprofit and community leaders, and the media.
"For this to work, all these people have to play nice: SBA, FEMA, HUD, MDA, the mortgage industry, the insurance industry, the title insurance industry, the governor's office, local chancery clerks and outside contractors," said Paul Raffensperger of the Maryland-based Reznick Group, hired by the Mississippi Development Authority to run the program.
As the homeowner grant program began to stumble and miss the optimistic deadlines that state officials had set for getting checks out to people, county supervisors said they were the ones who most often heard about it.
And in Jackson County, by far the county with the most homeowner grant applicants, supervisors' phones rang off the hook. People couldn't get information through the MDA hotline and didn't have anywhere else to turn.
Supervisors John McKay and Manly Barton at a meeting Thursday explained to Jim Perry, with the governor's staff, that it was frustrating because they didn't have answers either, but tried to act as liaisons for the people and at first had trouble getting through to MDA and the governor's office themselves.
Perry and Raffensperger explained one major change is the MDA centers that have reopened in each county are now real service centers with answers for the public and workers who can be advocates to help homeowners receive the most from the program.
Both McKay and Barton said the most bitter feedback they received were in cases where neighbors with similar homes and very similar damage received very different damage assessments from the inspectors for the grants.
Though Raffensperger blamed human error and a glitch in the formula used to calculate damage, he also said that some of it just couldn't be explained. But he pointed to the fact that the governor took care of that problem, allowing the grant program to go with the highest damage estimate a homeowner receives, be it SBA or grant inspectors.
McKay said it is obvious that the state is making improvements. The number of calls he's getting has dropped off, "but there's still some heartburn out there over what makes one house 11 percent damaged and another next door 90 percent.
"All in all it is turning out pretty good. The federal government gave us the money. The governor led the charge," he said.
State Democratic leaders have been making much political hay against Barbour over delays in grants and other problems.
Perry said he doesn't know whether the problems would hurt Barbour - who stands for re-election next year - politically on the Coast. But he said he doubts the governor cares.
"The governor and all the people working seven days a week on this are not motivated by politics in this. Their motivation is to help as many people as possible.
"I would be surprised if (Barbour suffers politically) by a program that is the first of its kind, that the governor proposed and successfully got funding for and has implemented, that means thousands of homeowners get assistance they normally wouldn't have gotten, and thousands more will be soon. I would be surprised, but even if it does, it was worth it," Perry said.
"We are not working toward the election right now. We are trying to help people recover."
Q: What's been taking so long? Why haven't I gotten a check?
A"We didn't anticipate initial, fierce opposition from the mortgage industry," said Jim Perry, Barbour's chief of policy. "We didn't anticipate that would drag things out by five months to begin with. We didn't anticipate that it would take several months to get reliable, usable data from SBA and we didn't anticipate that many of the 200 insurance companies we had to deal with would be unwilling to provide information. There's still no excuse, and nobody's been happy with the pace. But you have to consider we are still only six months out from when HUD approved the money.
Some answers to frequently asked questions about the Katrina homeowner grant program, which is federally funded but run by the Mississippi Development Authority and, ultimately, Gov. Haley Barbour:
Q: Have state leaders been dragging their feet on sending grant checks in order to collect interest on the billions in federal money?
A: No. The state is not collecting interest. The money is allocated on a "draw-down" basis. As checks are issued, HUD sends the money to the state.
Q: Have any homeowners been dragging their feet?
A: Apparently. Of the nearly 10,000 who have been sent "closing packets," only 6,000 have completed and returned them.
Q: I had an SBA loan, but I have received my full grant payment. Was this a mistake? Will I have to give the money to SBA later?
A"Go ahead and cash it," said Paul Raffensperger of the Reznick Group, the company hired to run the grants. He said SBA makes its own calculations about "duplication of services" and how much of the grant should be paid to it. If you receive a check, Raffensperger said, it's yours, although you will still have to live by whatever loan repayment agreement you have with SBA.
Q: I sold my home before I received a grant. Will I still get one?
A: Only if you can get the buyer to sign an agreement to meet stipulations that include rebuilding to international code and federal flood elevation rules and carrying federal flood insurance. Officials said there is no exception for this. Raffensperger said some of the new homebuyers are signing the agreements, but others have refused. He said some are "bartering," or trying to get money from the person they bought from before they'll sign.
Found On Gulf Coast News
From: Mississippi Development Authority Filed 6/28/06 GCN
As the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) continues its efforts to assist homeowners affected by Hurricane Katrina, the agency is working to develop and refine new programs while moving forward with the approval process for the Katrina Homeowner Assistance Grant Program.
To date, some 16,500 applications were received for the Katrina Homeowner Grant Program. Officials are currently completing title searches, damage assessments and other verifications for each application.
Because of discrepancies between insurance values and replacement costs for many properties, MDA is making a modification to increase insurance values used in calculating grant amounts by 35 percent. This increase will help compensate for the increased construction costs caused by the enormity of the disaster. All the other core elements of the program are unchanged.
Second Chance For Katrina Grants
With the new grant amounts, MDA will be accepting new appointments from homeowners who did not previously apply for the Katrina Homeowner Grant because of previous award limits. To make an appointment for the original Katrina Homeowner Grant program, call 866.369.6302. Please note that Katrina Grants do not impact federal or state benefits being paid, such as veteran’s benefits or disability payments. MDA urges all eligible citizens to apply.
Fund disbursement for the Katrina Homeowner Grant program is being delayed due to a public comment from The Mortgage Bankers Association, the Consumer Mortgage Coalition and the Housing Policy Council regarding the program’s Environmental Assessment study. In their comment, these organizations challenge the adequacy of the MDA’s environmental analysis.
To resolve the issue, MDA has submitted a response to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) outlining the reasons the mortgage industry’s comments should be discounted. Assuming no further objection or legal action from the mortgage industry, MDA plans to initiate grant payments in July.
Other MDA Programs
The agency is finalizing details of the Public Housing Assistance Program, which will provide $100 million to the Mississippi Gulf Coast Housing Authorities in Jackson, Hancock and Harrison Counties that suffered damage. Draft action plans for the Ratepayer and Wind Pool Mitigation and the Gulf Coast Regional Infrastructure Programs have also been released for public comment and are available for review at http://www.mississippi.org/ .
MDA is asking all low to moderate-income homeowners whose homes flooded due to storm surge to register with the agency for future assistance programs. MDA will use this information to help develop and distribute additional assistance programs.
Mississippi Development Authority is airing a television appeal from Governor Barbour asking these citizens to register. So far, MDA has scheduled about 3,500 registration appointments.
To make an appointment to register, please call 866-369-6302.
Any low to moderate income homeowners who previously applied for a Katrina Homeowner Grant will be automatically registered for any relevant new programs. There is no need to apply again.
For more information about the above programs, visit http://www.mshomehelp.gov/ or http://www.mississippi.org/ or call 1.866.369.6302. Mississippi Development Authority · P.O. Box 849 · Jackson, MS 39205-0849 · http://www.mississippi.org/ · (601) 359-3449