La.’s Road Home Forced to Shut Down Online Applications

A Louisiana state agency doling out $7.5 billion in federal housing aid to hurricane victims shut down its online application system after it discovered personal information was inadvertently being shared with others.

The shutdown of the application system, which was announced Aug. 28, comes nearly a week after the program, called the Road Home program, opened offices in New Orleans and other cities where applicants can be processed.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco set the agency up and it will dole out $7.5 billion in grants.

The Road Home administrators said they discovered the problems with the Web site Aug. 25 while they were working on installing larger computer servers. The larger servers were needed, the agency said, because of the “tremendous demand for online applications.”

“We discovered that under limited circumstances some applicants’ data could be viewed by other users,” the agency said in a statement.

The online application system was shut down as soon as the problem was discovered, the agency said.

Applications were not altered and no Social Security numbers were visible, the agency said.

Over the coming months, the Road Home program will issue $7.5 billion in grants to homeowners to repair and rebuild homes hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The money, which comes from the federal government, will also be used to buy out properties from people who want to relocate. There also is a separate $1.7 billion program in the works to aid owners of rental property.

About 100,000 homeowners have applied for grants in Louisiana and there are at least 22,000 more homeowners who might qualify for the grants. The grants are capped at $150,000 and largely will pay for uninsured damage. Grant money is deposited into escrow accounts that homeowners can draw from as needed, with proper documentation.

About 200,000 homes were destroyed or seriously damaged by last year’s hurricanes. Hurricane Katrina hit on Aug. 29 and flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and left much of the region south of the city – fishing villages and oil towns – destroyed. About a month later, another monster storm, Hurricane Rita, inundated many coastal towns in southwestern Louisiana.