$62M Louisiana Road Home Settlement: $0 for Lead Plaintiffs

July 20, 2011

Two lead plaintiffs won’t get any money from a recent $62 million settlement to a case alleging discrimination in the Road Home program to help people rebuild after the hurricanes of 2005.

The Times-Picayune reports that Almarie Ford and Edward Randolph cannot get extra rebuilding cash because they’re already back in their eastern New Orleans homes. They scraped together money for gradual repairs over the past six years.

“Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy that somebody is getting money,” said Randolph, a 62-year-old retired merchant seaman and Vietnam veteran. “But I’m also really angry — I would have liked to get something.”

The lawsuit alleged that the program discriminated against black neighborhoods because grants were based on property values — not repair costs.

The settlement announced last week will provide more money and an extra year to rebuild for nearly 1,500 homeowners in Orleans, St. Bernard, Plaquemines and Cameron parishes. The $62 million is part of nearly $100 million left over in the $10 billion Road Home program, which was in its waning stages even as the suit was filed.

With money running out, plaintiffs and policy makers agreed the settlement should target the most needy. That left out about 5,000 households, including Ford’s and Randolph’s, who are back in their homes, even if they had to use all their savings or get a new mortgage.

“They were the face of the litigation but they made a very courageous sacrifice to ensure that other New Orleanians would be able to get back into their homes,” said James Perry, a lawyer for the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, which joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 2008 to file the suit in Washington D.C. on behalf of five African-American families.

This isn’t the first time Ford and Randolph were excluded from efforts to address the disparity in the grants. In 2009, the state made $473 million in additional payments to 13,361 homeowners with modest incomes. They included three of the suit’s plaintiffs: Daphne Jones, Gloria Burns and Rhonda Dents. But Ford and Randolph made slightly too much money to qualify.

They had hoped the eventual settlement would help them finish their homes. And they continued to rebuild piece by piece.

“I might buy enough sheetrock for a room, then wait another month and buy some more. That’s how I’ve been getting by,” said Randolph, who is retired.

While the Road Home estimated that it would cost almost $300,000 to repair Ford’s home, officials determined it was worth only $150,000 and cut her grant to $3,500. The 61-year-old social worker ultimately had to return most of that after settling her insurance claim.

Ford said she spent her life savings and took out loan to repair the house enough to live in. She hopes that within a year or two she’ll be able to replace remaining cabinets, baseboards, rotted flooring and siding. “I squeeze every penny from a check,” she said.

Information from: The Times-Picayune

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