17,776 apply for Katrina recovery program

Sun Herald

South Mississippi’s last Katrina recovery program brought in 17,776 applications for assistance with housing repairs or requests for help with placement of Mississippi cottages.

Coast Housing Director Gerald Blessey said the Mississippi Development Authority expects next week to request proposals from contractors who will complete the work, then be paid by MDA.

The Neighborhood Home Program was announced with great fanfare in November by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Gov. Haley Barbour and Mississippi Center for Justice senior attorney Reilly Morse. The program will provide $132 million for low-income homeowners in nine South Mississippi counties to repair Katrina damage or for permanent placement of Mississippi cottages.

Once program officials weeded out duplicate applications and applications from residents who have in the interim found assistance through other programs, 16,307 applications remained.

Blessey said a sample group of about 200 applications will be processed first to make sure the program runs smoothly. The process includes applicant interviews, income verification, duplication-of-benefits checks and repair estimates.

“This is a huge number of applications,” Blessey said. He said some people will receive notice sooner than others about whether they qualify for the program.

In reviewing some of the applications, Blessey said he was struck by “the deep poverty of these people.” Many of them, he said, are “disabled, elderly and impoverished.”

“Most of these people have worked hard all their lives,” he said, “and now they’re too old to take care of themselves. They just don’t have anyone to do it.”

Blessey expects it could be up to three months before repairs begin because of the time needed to bring aboard contractors and process applications. Applications of the elderly, disabled and residents who have not received prior assistance will be processed first, he hopes.

Once completed, the repairs will put many into a safe and decent structure for the first time since the hurricane. Blessey said many people are still living in their damaged homes.

He expects some applicants will not qualify for the program because of eligibility requirements, damage that was not caused by the storm or other reasons.